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November, 18 2007 |  Download PDF |  Share

Today Workers Bear the Cross

Crucifixes Made Under Horrific Sweatshop Conditions in China

"Jesus, take pity on me!  I'm going to die of exhaustion."
--Chinese worker after 19-hour shift

Sweatshop Crucifixes Sold at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church, and Nationally by the Association for Christian Retail 

 

Update: Sweatshop Crucifixes Pulled from Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity Church (November 21, 2007)

Read Archdiocese's Letter to the Institute and our director Charles Kernaghan's Response (December 16, 2007)

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Crucifixes Made Under Horrific Sweatshop Conditions in China
Linked to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church and
The $4.63 billion Association for Christian Retail

  • At the Junxingye factory in China, the mostly-young women—including several 15 and 16-year-olds—making crucifixes are forced to work 14 to 15 ½ hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 or 11:30 p.m., seven days a week.  There are also frequent 18 and 19-hour shifts ending at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.  Before shipments of crucifixes must leave for the U.S., there are even mandatory, all-night 22 ½ to 25-hour shifts from 8:00 a.m. straight through to 6:30 or 9:00 a.m. the following morning.  Workers are routinely at the factory over 100 hours a week, including being forced to work 51 hours of overtime, which exceeds China's legal limit by 514 percent.  Young women go for months on end without a single day off.
  • After being forced to work a 19-hour shift, one worker cried out, "Jesus, take pity on me!  I'm going to die of exhaustion."
  • Workers paid just 26 ½ cents an hour, less than half China's legal minimum wage of 55 cents, which is itself set at below subsistence levels.  Workers earning just $2.12 a day and $10.61 a week.  After mandatory deductions for primitive company dorms and food, the workers' take-home wage drops to a shocking nine cents an hour, 74 cents a day and $3.70 a week.  Workers toiling 91 hours a week are paid just $30.61, which is only 43 percent of the $70.71 they are legally owed.
  • Workers housed in primitive and filthy company dorms, sleeping on narrow, double-level bunk beds.  Workers drape old sheets or plastic over their cubicles for privacy.  There is no other furniture, not a table, chair or bureau.  The walls are smudged black, spider webs cling to the ceiling and moss is growing on the bathroom floor.
  • Workers describe the company food as "awful."  The soup is a large pot of water with a few vegetable leaves and drops of oil floating on top.  In the so-called "meat dish," the bits of meat are so small that the workers cannot lift them with their chopsticks.
  • Workers fear they may be handling toxic chemicals, paints and solvents—whose fumes sting their eyes and skin contact causes rashes—but management refuses to provide even the names of the chemicals, let alone their potential health hazards.
  • Illegally, workers are not provided an employment contract, which strips them of the legal rights afforded full time workers under China's laws.  The crucifix workers have no paid sick days, no paid maternity leave, no paid holidays and no health insurance—all of which are mandated under China's laws.  Anyone missing a day will, as punishment, be docked 2 ½ days' wages.  Every single labor law in China is being grossly violated at the Junxingye factory along with the United Nations/International Labor Organization's worker rights standards.
  • It appears that the $4.63 billion Association for Christian Retail has decided, en masse, to follow Wal-Mart to China, where they can exploit defenseless workers and pay them pennies an hour to produce their religious goods.  The workers in China have no freedom of religion.
  • Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church and the Association for Christian Retail—with their 2,055 member stores and suppliers—are ten years behind Kathie Lee Gifford, lacking even rudimentary corporate codes of conduct pledging to the American people that their religious products will be made only under humane conditions by workers whose legal rights are protected and who are fairly paid.  Nor do these religious organizations have any factory monitoring program.
  • The National Labor Committee is eager to work with Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church and the Association for Christian Retail to guarantee that the human rights of young workers across the world producing religious goods are finally protected.
  • As things stand now in the global economy, corporate trademarks and products are protected by enforceable laws backed up by stiff sanctions.  But there are no similar laws to protect the rights of the human being who made the product.  This is immoral, and it must change!

 

Sweatshop Crucifixes Made in China

By Charles Kernaghan

First it was toys, then clothing and sneakers, sporting goods, furniture, and now crucifixes.  Crucifixes are being made at the Junxingye Factory in Dongguan, China, by mostly young women—several just 15 and 16 years old—forced to work routine 14 to 15 ½-hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 or 11:30 p.m., seven days a week.  There are also frequent 17 to 18 hour shifts ending at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. and even monthly all-night 22 ½ to 25-hour shifts before shipments must leave for the U.S.  All overtime is mandatory, and anyone missing even a single overtime shift will be docked a full day's wages.  It is common for the workers to be at the factory at least 100 hours a week.  Workers are paid just 26 ½ cents an hour, which is half of China's legal minimum wage (already set at a below-subsistence level) of 55 cents an hour.  After fees deducted for room and board, the workers take-home wage can drop to just nine cents an hour.  Workers are housed in primitive dorm rooms sleeping on narrow double-level metal bunk beds that line the walls.  There is no other furniture, and the rooms reek of perspiration.  The walls are filthy, smudged with black, while spider webs cling to the ceiling.  The bathrooms are so damp and dirty that moss grows on the floor.  Workers describe the soup they are fed as water with a few vegetable leaves and drops of oil floating at the top.  Anyone missing a day due to sickness will, as punishment, be docked two-and-a-half day's wages. Workers fear that they may be handling toxic chemicals, but they are not told the names of the chemicals and paints, let alone their potential health hazards.

Every single labor law in China is very being violated in broad daylight, leaving the young workers trapped in an abusive sweatshop, stripped of their rights, voiceless and with nowhere to turn for help.

 

Tracking the Sweatshop Crucifixes

We purchased crucifixes at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and on the Cathedral's website which appear to match exactly the photographs of crucifixes made at the Junxingye Factory in China, which workers were able to smuggle out of the plant.  (Nor are the crucifixes cheap.  The crucifix purchased at the Cathedral cost $29.95 while the one purchased from the website cost $27.95.)  What was odd though is that neither the crucifixes purchased at Saint Patrick's Cathedral nor the boxes they came in listed the country of origin.  We even, very carefully, separated the figure of Christ from the wooden cross, to see if the country of origin was hidden somewhere, but we found nothing.  However, one of the boxes had the word "Singer" on it, which turned out to be the Singer Company, based in Long Island City, across the East River from Manhattan.  Singer lists 66 different crucifixes on its website, many exact matches with the crucifixes made in China, but it was the system of serial numbers used by the Singer Company to identify its various crosses that confirmed without a doubt that many of Singer's crucifixes were made under deplorable sweatshop conditions at the Junxingye Factory.  These were some of the crucifixes sold at Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity Church.  In fact, using a Singer Company production order smuggled out of the factory, we were able to purchase the exact crucifix at both Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity Church, two of the largest New York outlets for Singer crucifixes.

 

Just the Tip of the Iceberg

We had stumbled upon the tip of the iceberg.  The Singer Company is just one of 2,055 stores and suppliers across the United States that are members of The Association for Christian Retail, which did $4.63 billion in business last year.

Though The Association for Christian Retail says its real mission is, "The spread of God's word" working together to see lives transformed by God through the power of Christian products sold through the unique and caring environment of Christian Stores," it appears that The Association for Christian Retail has decided, en masse, to follow Wal-Mart to China, where it can exploit defenseless workers and pay them pennies an hour to produce their religious goods.

Take the Singer Company, for example, which describes itself as "a dominant player in the religious gift industry."  In advertising its religious products, the Singer Company sounds like "Crazy Eddie" or Wal-Mart:  "All at the most competitive prices you will find in the industry.  Look at our new wall cross and wall crucifix pricing and you will be pleased at our selection and prices.  We will not be undersold."


Mark-ups That Would Make Even Nike Blush

The Christian Art Gifts Company in Lombard, Illinois, makes its 100 percent polyester "Bible Bags" with "cross pullover" in China.  The Bible Bags enter the U.S. from China with a total cost of production of just $1.40 each, which the Christian Art Gifts Company then turns around and retails for $17.99, a $16.59—1,185 percent— mark-up over  the $1.40 cost to make the Bible Bags. 

 

More Than a Decade Behind  Kathie Lee Gifford

We searched, but could not find, a single reference by Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church, the Singer Company, the Christian Art Gifts Company, or the Association for Christian Retail pledging that their religious products, crucifixes included, would only be made under humane conditions, by workers whose fundamental human rights are respected and who are paid at least a fair wage.

Even the lowest purveyors of cheap sweatshop garments were forced, more than a decade ago, to adopt corporate codes of conduct and factory monitoring schemes—even if just to give lip service—committing to American consumers that any worker, anywhere in the world, who makes their goods would be treated with dignity and their legal rights respected.  Evidently, The Association for Christian Retail is more than a decade behind, feeling no need to address respect for even the most fundamental rights of the human beings who make their religious goods. 

Something has gone terribly wrong.  As things stand now, crucifixes and other religious items are being made in China by young workers who are not only being exploited and paid pennies an hour, but who also have no freedom of religion, no freedom of association, no human or worker rights, and in a country that has no freedom of the press.  Following the extension of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China, these crucifixes enter the U.S. duty free.

Especially during the Holiday Season, the American people can help draw a line in the sand, refusing to allow crucifixes and other religious items to be turned into just another cheap sweatshop commodity.  It does not have to be this way.  Certainly, the combined stature, power and prestige of Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity Church can influence the Association for Christian Retail, calling for an end to sweatshop abuses and for concrete steps to guarantee that all religious items are made by workers whose rights and dignity are respected.

The Junxingye Factory in China also produces medallions, pins, key chains and other memorabilia for the University of Michigan, Rutgers, Auburn, Washington, Brigham Young and others, along with medallions carrying the insignias of the U.S. Army and Navy, and the PGA. 

 

"Jesus, take pity on me!  I'm going to die of exhaustion."

A worker describes being forced in April 2007 to work a 19-hour shift, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., while making crucifixes for export to the U.S.  After just four hours of sleep, the workers were called at 8:00 a.m. that same morning to return to work.

"The products had to be finished by [April] 25th and all of the workers in our department had been working until three o'clock in the morning.  We had been working nonstop for just about 16 ½ hours.  We were making crucifixes.  All the workers were extremely tired and eager to go to sleep.  Starting around midnight, everyone was beginning to get hungry as well.  But the boss was so stingy that he didn't provide us with snacks to keep us going.  We could only sneak out of the factory to buy snacks with our own money, and psyche ourselves up to keep working.  At 8:00 a.m. the morning of the 26th, it seemed as if our heads had just hit the pillows before our coworkers began to call for us to get up and get back to work again.  The manager arranged for me to load the boxes for shipment.  I, along with everybody else, was busy moving things onto the truck.  In total, we had close to 300 boxes of crucifixes and other things as well.  Everything was so heavy; each box was about 20 kilograms [44 pounds]! We were so tired.  My shoulders, legs, and waist went weak.  While we were moving the boxes of crucifixes, one of my coworkers suddenly cried out: "Jesus, take pity on me! I'm going to die of exhaustion."  This was one of my coworkers, 'X.' He has been at the plant for less than a month.  He was short, no more than 1.65 meters [5.4 feet] tall.  This job was just too tiring for him.  Listening to him also made me feel bad for myself.  I am planning to leave this plant.  Even if they don't pay me the rest of my wages, I have to go!"

 

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