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Cheap Labor and Fat Campaign Contributions: Why the Bush Administration Won’t Condemn China. A Look at China As a Source of Cheap Labor for Wal-Mart, Nike, and Other US Corporations

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As the U.S.-China standoff enters its 10th day, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called US statements to date"unacceptable" and reiterated China’s demand for an apology. The spokesman acknowledged Secretary of State ColinPowell’s remarks to Fox News Sunday that Washington was sorry about the loss of the Chinese pilot, but said that itwas only one step in the right direction.

China’s unfaltering stance has put President Bush in an awkward position. The New York Times is reportingtoday that the administration is under growing pressure from conservatives in Congress to threaten stronger action,which could include restricting trade or selling advanced arms to Taiwan. But the administration has also beenwarned by business executives to assess any boomerang effects on the American economy before threatening tradesanctions. As a result, President Bush has issued only the blandest warnings to the Chinese about the diplomatic andeconomic risks they run in continuing to hold the 24 American servicemen and women.

Business leaders are not only closing ranks around the promise of opening China’s markets to American exports. Chinahas become an important source of labor. According to a May 2000 report by the National Labor Committee, U.S.companies import 36% of China’s total exports worldwide. Major U.S. companies, including Nike, New Balance, andTimberland shoes, Kathie Lee, Wal-Mart, and RCA TVs have factories in China. And the labor is cheap. InTimberland’s factories, 16 and 17 year old girls work 14 hours a day, seven days a week for 22 cents an hour. Youngwomen, some of them only 14, also make RCA TVs. They work from 7.30 am to 9 p.m. or sometimes midnight, for a basewage of 25 cents an hour. They are fined 10 hours pay if they make a mistake on the production line. Young men andwomen work in Wal-Mart factories for 14 hour shifts, 7 days a week, 30 days a month and take home an average of 3cents per hour.


  • Charlie Kernaghan, Executive Director of the National Labor Committee.

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