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Tag: "china"

Shoe Strike

[ 26 ] April 17, 2014 |

Chinese workers making shoes for American manufacturers are on strike:

More than 30,000 staff at the Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) factory in Dongguan city have been striking for several days in protest at unpaid social insurance payments, said US-based China Labour Watch, adding that police had beaten and detained several protesters.

China is facing labour unrest as its economic growth slows and as factories in its southern manufacturing heartland report a shortage of workers, prompting rising demands from staff.

Yue Yuen says on its website that it produces shoes for foreign brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance.

Once again, there is no good reason why international corporations should not have liability for injustice committed against workers making their products. Every cent of money not paid to the Chinese workers is profit for the corporations. Given the harsh downward pressure apparel companies place on their contractors to keep prices low, they incentivize ripping off the workers. This system exists to absolve western companies of any responsibility for what happens in the factories, even though they choose where to contract the work, what prices they will pay for the product, and how much they will sell it for. This is an unjust and morally bankrupt system that can be fought by western citizens and governments demanding accountability, including the application of a broad set of international laws that companies must follow regardless of where they site their work or who they contract it out to. Without this, the race to the bottom around the globe will continue.

Air Pollution Deaths and the Globalized, Outsourced Economy

[ 29 ] March 26, 2014 |

The World Health Organization released a report yesterday showing that 7 million people died in 2012 from air pollution. This was 1 out of every 8 global deaths and twice previous estimates. These deaths are highly concentrated in Asia and result from two sources. First, women are dying from indoor cooking stoves in nations like India. This killed 3.3 million people in southeast Asia alone. Second, air pollution in Chinese cities is killing people left and right. That led to 2.6 million deaths in southeast Asia. The first problem is certainly very real and there are a lot of experts and NGOs working on cooking stove issues. The second is more interesting because a good bit of this comes from the outsourcing of American industrialization. Of course, Chinese industrialization is quite complicated and results from many factors, the most important of which is the Chinese state’s desire for immediate modernization at all costs. But it’s not like American consumers have no culpability here.

Americans used to die from this pollution. In late October 1948, a weather inversion hit the town of Donora, Pennsylvania. A steel and zinc-producing town for U.S. Steel southwest of Pittsburgh, Donora sat in a valley where under certain weather conditions air would stagnate. As it did so, it mixed with pollutants from the smokestacks belching pollution into the atmosphere. Normally, the pollution was bad but the winds would move it out of the valley. During periods of air stagnation though, Donora’s environmental problems, already bad, became a poisonous soup. Nearly all vegetation within a half-mile of U.S. Steel’s Donora Zinc Works was dead even before the disaster struck. On October 27, air pollution and weather patterns became a deadly combination. A thick yellowish smog hung over the town as people breathed in poisonous gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfuric acid, and fluorine. The smoke lasted until November 2. Despite heroic efforts by local fire and police forces, as well as the town’s eight doctors who worked night and day, twenty people in Donora died and another 7000 became sick. Nearly 800 pets also died.

That doesn’t happen here anymore. Americans rallied to pass environmental legislation, including several successive Clean Air Acts, to force companies to clean up their operations. But the response of corporations was to move abroad in order to keep on polluting. NAFTA facilitated this. The increased air pollution companies could emit meant profit. It also meant over 36,000 children visiting Ciudad Juarez emergency rooms between 1997 and 2001 because of breathing problems. Mexican federal spending on environmental protection fell by half between 1994 and 1999 at the same time that American corporations polluted the nation like never before.

Eventually much of this production moved to China, whether directly outsourced or to be exported to the United States as the U.S. stopped producing much steel. In January 2014 alone, the United States imported 3.2 million tons of Chinese steel. American corporate interests do not own these Chinese steel companies, but they do own thousands of other heavily polluting factories in the country. Recreating pollution is why companies move from the U.S. to China. They want to avoid “environmental nannies” as companies have called Natural Resource Defense Council health director Linda Greer, who frequently writes about these issues. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, a leading Chinese environmental NGO, released a report in October 2012, detailing the massive pollution by apparel factories that contract with U.S. corporations like Disney. The report noted subcontractors for Ralph Lauren discharge wastewater filled with dyes and other pollutants into streams and do not use pollution reduction devices on coal boilers, thus releasing extra pollutants into the air. Chinese people are protesting the pollution but their government has little tolerance for these protests, which pleases foreign investors. A recent scientific estimate shows that in 2006, U.S. exports were responsible for 7.4 percent of Chinese sulfur dioxide, 5.7 percent of nitrogen oxide, and 4.6 percent of carbon monoxide. Earlier estimates suggested one million people die in China from air pollution each year, but we now see it is much higher. How many of these people fall thanks to outsourcing? It’s impossible to know, but the answer is some.

How many of those lives could be saved with better environmental standards on products imported to the United States? American companies may not be responsible for all or even most of the suffering of the Chinese working class from pollution, but they certainly contribute to it. Outsourcing production means that we as Americans look overseas and talk about Chinese air pollution, but we are completely unaware of our responsibility for at least part of that smog. In a globalized economy and integrated world, it’s dishonest to separate out responsibility based around what is convenient for us. We hear that ideas and capital and jobs flow around the world, but labor standards and environmental standards, well that’s just impossible. Not only is that an incorrect assertion–it is of course possible to set global standards at some level–but it also serves the interest of capital, as we see the pollution happening across the globe as something totally disconnected from our lives and something we can do nothing about it. This mentality generates profits for corporations.

Smog Drones

[ 61 ] March 8, 2014 |

I’m sure that dumping more chemicals in the air is the answer to the problem of Chinese smog:

Government agencies are to test a new design of aerial drone to see whether it might help tackle the air pollution that often blankets much of the mainland, state media reported.

The vehicle will spray chemicals that freeze pollutants, allowing them to fall to the ground.

The tests would be led by the China Meteorological Administration and carried out later this month at airports and ports, Xinhua said.

The drone has been developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China and has a paragliding wing, which allows it to carry three times more weight than the fixed-wing version, making it more efficient and cost-effective.

Premier Li Keqiang said in his speech at the National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday the government would “declare war” on pollution. It would focus, in part, on reducing PM2.5, the fine particles of pollutants thought to be most harmful to people’s health.

I’m sure that the impact of these chemicals on health have been very carefully tested and that this project will 1) show that technology can solve all our problems, 2) have no unintended consequences because technological interventions in the environment never have unintended consequences and human control of nature has no problems, 3) work.

China Solar

[ 22 ] January 25, 2014 |

While we all know of the environmental disaster that is China and the huge problems the Chinese government has had in managing that pollution, especially given the emphasis it places on economic growth and the control local party officials have over these matters in the their localities, it’s also true that China is eating our lunch when it comes to promoting solar power and getting facilities installed. Whether this happens fast enough to mitigate China’s enormous impact upon climate change, well I’m skeptical. But unlike the United States, the Chinese government also sees the necessity to transitioning to renewables.

Mmmmmm…..Doughnut Building…..

[ 111 ] January 12, 2014 |

Some of us like doughnuts on Sunday mornings. Others like
the new doughnut shaped skyscraper in Guangzhou.

Foxconn Labor Strife

[ 16 ] August 16, 2013 |

Glad to see workers in China fighting back against their conditions of work at Foxconn. Of course, I’m sure that the computer industry will move the factory to Vietnam or Cambodia. After all, given the lack of profits made by Apple and Foxconn, there’s no way they companies can afford to pay these workers enough to eat.

Are Your Distressed Jeans Worth a Dead Chinese Worker?

[ 20 ] July 23, 2013 |

The apparel industry’s terrible toll upon working-class Asians becomes more apparent everyday:

“Distressed” jeans are designed to make that wear-and-tear look seem oh-so-effortless, but it can be the result of someone’s body taking a real beating.

According to a recent investigation by the advocacy groups Clean Clothes Campaign, War on Want, and Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), several manufacturers in Guangdong, China—which supply global brands such as Levi Strauss, Lee and Wrangler—have used patently unsafe sandblasting techniques on their denim.

Sandblasting usually involves spraying chemicals and mineral dust against textiles to create a weathered look. It is commonly done by hand, using an air gun, though some manufacturers use mechanical sandblasting performed inside special cabinets. Without adequate ventilation and other protections, either technique can expose workers to damaging particles that increase the risk of silicosis, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung and respiratory problems.

In the case of the denim workers in Guangdong, SACOM is demanding that the global brands using the sandblasting factories take responsibility. SACOM advocate Pui Kwan Liang tells Working In These Times via email:

The brands are not required by the law to make compensation but since the workers are suppressed by the suppliers in China and the brands are making huge profit every day with the workers’ sacrifices, it is no doubt that the brands are ethically responsible to such issue.

Under pressure from international advocates for garment workers, several apparel brands, including Levi Strauss and H&M, have in recent years announced plans to phase out sandblasting, which has previously been used in factories in Bangladesh and Turkey. But SACOM’s investigations show that in the apparel industry’s twisted supply chains, “regardless of whether a brand has ‘banned’ sandblasting or not, the practice continues—to the point that some factories have taken to hiding sandblasting machinery in sealed rooms to avoid detection, while others have simply subcontracted the procedure.”

Meanwhile, the real distress of global capitalism is surfacing all over Guangdong, as workers continue shredding their lungs so Western consumers can wear perfectly abused denim.

But wait, there’s more! Because the capital mobility of the apparel industry, scouring the planet for people and ecosystems to exploit, has also created terrible pollution in Mexico, similar to the purple water of Bangladesh I pointed out yesterday.

That picture is from Tehuacán, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Yep, the distressed jeans industry dumps a tremendous amount of chemicals into local water supplies, poisoning humans and other animals. And then of course there’s Bangladesh. Turkey banned the manufacturing of distressed jeans in that country in 2009, after at least 6 workers died from lung diseases so that apparel corporations could market a cool new look that made them boatloads of money, but the apparel manufactures don’t care if a country bans the practice. They just move to Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, wherever they can exploit people and nature with the greatest intensity.

Once again, we need to create environmental and labor law that transcend international borders so that companies, especially in the apparel industry, cannot circle the earth to find the most easily exploitable people. We need a set of labor and environmental law that empowers workers at the point of production to take on the corporations without the threat that their factory will close and move to Cambodia or Vietnam or Indonesia. Without this, industrial democracy and sustainable living on this planet will not take place.

Model?

[ 2 ] June 29, 2013 |

Interesting story here:

On June 25, Chinese officials were confronted with what appears to be the first public legal challenge arising from the Snowden affair. Xie Yanyi, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer, announced that the NSA leaker had inspired him to ask the Ministry of Public Security, China’s main security agency, to disclose “information on methods used by Chinese authorities to conduct surveillance on Chinese citizens,” according to the NGO Human Rights in China. “From a civil rights angle, China’s monitoring of the Internet and cell phones is a very big problem,” Xie said by telephone in an interview with Foreign Policy.

Xie, citing China’s constitution and regulations on “open government information,” believes that he is legally entitled to learn “the detailed measures” Beijing uses to prevent privacy violations; whether the Ministry of Public Security “has obtained approval and supervision from the National People’s Congress,” China’s rubber-stamp legislature, “when conducting surveillance;” the parties “legally and politically responsible” for “approving Internet surveillance methods;” and the “remedies for surveillance activities resulting from abuse of official power,” according to his petition.

A few thoughts:

  • The issue is less the direct analogy of Xie to Snowden (they don’t really have much in common, given that the latter isn’t leaking anything), than the symbolic meaning of Snowden; if his example provides a rhetorically compelling opening for dissent against the Chinese national security state, then all the better.
  • As some have suggested, the Chinese decision to approach Snowden and his revelations with caution rather than celebration may have been based in concern that Snowden’s example would cause external action against or internal dissent within the national security bureaucracy. Snowden was, potentially, more of a problem than an opportunity.
  • A broader question involves how states balance concerns about legitimization of authority against the desire to use NGOs (or even poorly defined networks of individuals and NGOs) against other states. Will states interpret future Snowdens as opportunities to poke each other in the eye, or will they see such actors as a general threat to state authority and security? Even phrasing it in those terms egregiously simplifies reality, as states have always engaged in such a balancing act with respect to what they allow (or encourage) non-state actors to do.

JMSDF in Action!

[ 37 ] June 24, 2013 |

What a wonderful image of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force in action!  

Note the sinking PLAN carrier Liaoning in the background.  Obviously there’s been some sort of dreadful accident– apparently near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands– and the Hyuga is rendering desperately needed assistance to the Chinese ship. Those Ospreys are undoubtedly rescuing scores of Chinese crewmen.  I can only hope that the goodwill and generosity evident in this artwork helps serve as a bridge between the two great East Asian nations.

Anyone Notice the Summit Thing?

[ 3 ] June 18, 2013 |

Back from Kansas City, but still running behind… this is last week’s Diplomat column, on the differences between summiting in the Cold War and in the Era of Sino-American Ambivalence:

Early indications suggest that last week’s Sunnylands summit will have few lasting impacts on US-China relations; beyond a couple of minor embarrassments, the summit appears to have neither created any breakthroughs nor been marred by any significant gaffes. In the United States, national security leaks largely overwhelmed interest in the summit, overshadowing genuine concerns about cyber-conflict between China and the U.S.

This is a far cry from the great summit meetings of the 1980s, when every interaction between the U.S. president and the Soviet premier was covered in exhaustive detail. Of the many differences between the China-U.S. and U.S.-Soviet relationships, perhaps the greatest is that the former involves nearly constant interaction across a great variety of commercial, social, and political fields, while in the latter the moments of confrontation and dialogue were concentrated, sharp, and newsworthy.

One implication of this difference is that the summits between the U.S. and the USSR represented critical opportunities for shaping the superpower relationship in consequential ways, if only within the confines dictated by ideology and power. These were the only moments in which, so to speak, the two men on the train could communicate clearly. By contrast, the Obama-Xi summit was a more managerial affair, in which the two leaders essentially shared information on the performance of their respective outreach teams.

Overextension

[ 2 ] May 1, 2013 |

In this week’s Diplomat column I concern troll China:

Nevertheless, it is not clear why China has determined to assertively pursue both of these disputes at the same time. Historically, states with wide-ranging security problems are best advised to resolve those problems one at a time, hopefully in isolation with one another. In this case, it’s not completely clear that the same people are making decisions on policy in both the Himalayas and the East China Sea; the Chinese foreign and military policy-making process is sufficiently complicated that local authorities have some influence over border policy.  However, it hardly makes sense for China to antagonize both of its powerful neighbors at once, even if it is in the right in both cases.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the strategic logic of a strong India-Japan relationship. Tokyo and New Delhi have each other on speed dial, and in any case Washington is surely eager to connect the call . Some Indian commentators have already called for more robust responses, including calibrating Indian support for China’s maritime disputants in accordance to the situation on the border.  Japan’s moves to negotiate its long-running border disputes with Russia put the Chinese problem into stark relief. Whether or not Japan and Russia manage to finally secure a peace treaty, the effort indicates that Tokyo takes seriously the need to make its international crises manageable.

 

Book Review: China’s Search for Security

[ 31 ] April 25, 2013 |

I reviewed Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell’s China’s Search for Security for H-Net:

Nevertheless, Nathan and Scobell argue that, despite its growing power, China’s international position remains almost uniquely precarious. China borders more countries that any nation on earth, and continues to have border disputes with several of the most powerful. Other strong states, such as the United States and Japan, threaten China’s littoral. Internally, political discontent threatens Beijing’s control of outlying areas, including Tibet and Xinjiang. Concerns about political discontent and the maintenance of economic growth continue to draw the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) focus inward.

On a related point see here, although I suspect that there are some translation issues regarding the terms “invasion” and “occupation.”

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