“Made In China.” We see these words stamped into many of the products we buy here in the United States. Sometimes we criticize the quality or protest that it was not made in America, and often times it doesn’t even phase us when we see this mark. Every so often a story flashes on the news about forced labor used to make products that are imported from China. What we don’t realize is how widespread modern slavery is throughout this large country. It is in many industries and it is pervasive. It is so common, that even “normal”, working class people are subjected to forced labor conditions at some point in their life. The Diplomat featured an article that highlighted the many layers of modern slavery in China today.
It 2007 it became public knowledge that children, the elderly, and people suffering from various disabilities were being kidnapped and forced to work in brick kilns in Shanxi, China. Parents of missing children are credited with making this discovery and involved the local media, who followed the story immensely. As the story unfolded it was discovered that organized human trafficking and a blind eye from the community and local authorities allowed hundreds of victims to be held captive, beaten, and forced to work in about 5,000 kilns. Thanks to media attention, most of these kilns have been shut down, although the problem has not been completely eradicated.
Forced Electronics Internships
Another common practice for different companies in various industries in China is to use students from vocational schools for free labor. Students are forced by schools to accept “internships” on assembly lines regardless of what they are studying or its relevance to the work. The students comply due to the threat of not graduating. This was brought to the public in 2012 when it became known that many electronics companies like Apple, Sony, Dell, HP, and Acer use these workers. Fortunately, each of these companies have taken action against these practices in the last few years. Links to their supplier code of conduct websites are included.
Withheld Wages in Construction
Many workers, especially those in construction, are denied wages for as long as ONE YEAR. Many of these workers rely on their employers for food and housing and would have no other work if they were let go, so they continue to work. Legally, China treats these cases as labor disputes, although closer examination indicated Forced Labor practices. In addition to the withheld wages there are no employment contracts and excessive unpaid overtime. Although the government has put protections in place and some workers have been awarded back pay, the laws are not being enforced and local agencies are not educated on the issue.
Forced Domestic Work
Many women are being trafficked to China from Indonesia and the Philippines; forced into domestic work. They are exploited on the fear of being deported or are manipulated with debt bondage. It is believed that 1 in 6 domestic workers are working under these conditions.
It is astonishing to see how much suffering is inflicted on people in just a single county in the name of profit. It is important to note that not every product exported from China is produced under these conditions. Many Fair Trade products that we promote are ethically made in China. There are not always clear avenues to help people internationally, but what we can do is shop Fair Trade and ethically and know that modern slavery exists. By educating ourselves and our community we can end it. Fortunately, since this article was featured in 2012 many changes have been made in an effort to dispel these practices.
[pictured are men rescued from a brick kiln in Shanxi, China]