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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
However, over the past few years, fishery resources in the river have witnessed a severe decline, with the river’s ecological system currently on the verge of collapsing, according to Zhao Yimin, head of a fishery resource office with the Ministry of Agriculture.
According to statistics, the Yangtze River used to have some 1,100 species of wild aquatic animals, including more than 370 fish species of which 142 were unique to the river and some 20 had been categorized as endangered animals.
In recent years, however, the amount of fish has sharply declined, with particular species, such as the shad and blowfish, not spotted for several years.
This is believed to be the result of excessive fishing, the construction of water conservancy projects, water pollution and unregulated drainage.
Currently, most fish caught in the Yangtze River are only six months-old and some are even less than two months old, leaving them with no chance at any offspring.
Oh wait, you mean fish is central to Chinese food? And that this is really just a somewhat worse version of a worldwide phenomenon? Oh dear.
Once again, our children will think of most fish as they do the passenger pigeon. We will have to explain to them what a “fish” is. There will be some examples in the Museum of Natural History.
My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at China’s approach to naval aviation:
Ranging from the Colossus class carriers distributed across the world at the end of World War II, to the Spanish Dedalo, to the modern Hyuga class Helicopter Destroyer, the USN could and can depend on allies to conduct escort missions. The USN could also rely on access to airbases worldwide in order to support land-based sea control aviation.
China has none of these advantages. No Chinese ally is likely to devote treasure to the construction of sea control ships in the near future (Pakistan might be the best long term bet), and China lacks access to good bases for counter-sea aviation. For sea control beyond China’s littoral, the PLAN has few, if any, good options.
In a structurally similar position to China (although much less dependent on foreign trade), the Soviet Navy started with what amounted to Sea Control Ships, in the form of the Moskva class helicopter carriers and the Kiev class “heavy aviation cruisers.” Although these ships weren’t designed specifically with commerce protection in mind, they were specialized for anti-submarine warfare, with allowance for air superiority and surface warfare in the Kiev class. Moreover, Soviet naval aviation evolved over time, with new platforms benefitting from experiences earned with older vessels.
China has been determined to leap several stages, with consequences for training that are already becoming apparent. But perhaps more importantly, by skipping ahead the PLAN has left itself bereft of the kind of low cost, medium size platforms that can support sea control operations at a distance from home.
Struggling to stand upright against a howling wind, Bragi Benediktsson looked out over his family’s land — a barren expanse of snow and ice that a Chinese billionaire wants to turn into a golf course — and laughed. “Golf here is difficult,” said Mr. Benediktsson, a 75-year-old sheep farmer.
It was 11 a.m., and a pale sun had only just crawled sluggishly into the sky. The snow, which began falling in September, will probably continue until May. Even for Icelanders accustomed to harsh weather and isolation, Grimsstadir is a particularly desolate spot.
But thanks to a poetry-loving Chinese tycoon with a thing for snow, it has become the setting for a bizarre Icelandic saga featuring geopolitical intrigue, tens of millions of dollars and a swarm of dark conspiracy theories. At the center of the drama is Huang Nubo, a former official in the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department who, now a property developer in Beijing, wants to build a luxury hotel and an “eco golf course” for wealthy Chinese seeking clean air and solitude.
Extra points for working in the phrase “Icelandic saga.”
This piece on Hong Kong’s out of control light pollution is a good reminder of one of the least controlled means of pollution. While maybe it isn’t as damaging as water or air pollution, humans have made evolutionary adjustments for night and constant light could potentially have long-term damage on human health. In the short-term, the absence of night can be devastating for many animals, as we may well be seeing in the Hong Kong area with fireflies and other insects.
A few interesting pieces on Asian food and history.
1. This is an interesting discussion of the origins of pad thai, a dish that is fairly minor within Thai cooking but is the singular dish of Thai food overseas. It’s connections are closely related to a nationalistic, modernizing project developed by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram in the mid-20th century:
In between surviving multiple point-blank-range assassination attempts and a failed kidnapping in which he emerged alive from the burning wreckage of a battleship his own air force had just bombed, Pibulsongkram decided that Thailand needed noodles that would advance the country’s industry and economy. After all, he had already changed the name of country from Siam to Thailand as part of a series of mandates meant to shroud its people under a modernized Thai identity. Forks and spoons would be used instead of hands. More European-style clothing must be worn. Thai products should be preferred above all others. Pibulsongkram wanted to create a new Thai diet while making more rice products available for export. According to his son’s suppositions in the 2009 Gastronomica article “Finding Pad Thai,” the codified modern variant of Pad Thai may have originated in Pibulsongkram’s household, perhaps the devising of the family’s cook. Its recipe was disseminated throughout the country, and push carts were sent into the streets to make this newfangled on-the-go meal available to the masses. To eat Pad Thai would be a patriotic act. Thus was born the Volksnoodle for an emerging Thai nation-state.
The name Pad Thai, however, negates the considerable non-Thainess of the dish. Noodles were the domain of Chinese immigrants in Thailand, and pan-fried rice noodles like Pad Thai likely arrived with them hundreds of years ago when Ayutthaya had been the kingdom’s capital. The thin rice noodles used in making Pad Thai is also similar to Vietnamese noodles, like the ones used in making pho. It’s no coincidence that the Saen Chan noodle used in many Pad Thai recipes took its name from Chanthaburi, an eastern province close to Vietnam and Cambodia. Had Pibulsongkram been more purist about his nation-unifying dish, Pad Thai should have been a clump of rice smothered and fried with fiery Nam Prik chile paste, arguably the most Thai of all Thai food. His nationalist ideals of Thailand weren’t deeply rooted in reverence for the past; they were synthesized new from whatever was most expedient.
His choice of a noodle dish is all the more curious in light of his policies against the Chinese ethnic population—immigration quotas, bans on Chinese associations, and the seizing of Chinese businesses. Pibulsongkram had not only decided to curtail the growing Chinese influence in Thailand (China, at the time, sheltered his political rival) but also to subsume its culture under the Thai umbrella. He would later choose to ally with the U.S. in its nascent war against communism, and just a few decades later, GIs on R&R leave would be part of the first wave of Americans to taste Pad Thai.
I’m not an expert on southeast Asian history, but I do have some knowledge and this passes the smell test. It’s really almost a prefect 20th century nationalist project, combining stealing ideas from minority populations while demonizing those very people.
Also, as the article states, most of the pad thai served in the United States is an abomination.
2. Who was General Tso? Zuo Zongtang. And at least according to this article he was the Chinese version of William Tecumseh Sherman, although I have no idea what that means. He also seems to have loved pork, though the dish named for him is a chicken dish. Also, Henry Kissinger shows up in this article.
3. Korean death soup. I lived in Korea for a year. The idea of a place serving a soup so spicy that it causes most customers to vomit, yet is extremely popular, makes a whole lot of sense to my experiences.