During our last session we watched a documentary film about young girls working in a jeans factory in China.
Jasmine is one of 130 million migrant workers who travel from all over the country in search of work. She gets a job cutting loose threads on denim jeans. Each pair takes her around 30 mins to do. She earns half a yuan per hour. Thats about 5 pence. Workers sometimes work 20 hour shifts without breaks and can go months without a day off. They don’t get paid overtime and labour unions and strikes are prohibited by law.
Retailers send investigators, in response to growing public concern. However, the supplier gets warned in advance giving managers time to train their staff in what to say but of course, they are forced to lie about things such as pay and working conditions. Child labourers are even given fake ID cards. If the investigator finds out the truth then the retailer will most likely places their orders elsewhere leaving the factory and its workers out of a job. It’s really just an elaborate game played by both parties so the supplier can stay in business while retailers reassure their customers with false reports.
The factories deduct workers pay in a number of ways. Workers are fined if they so much as laugh, if they fall asleep, or if they aren’t working fast enough. Jasmine was fined 20 yuan after she snuck out after her midnight snack to buy some medicinal tea. It will take her 2 full days to make that money back.
Meanwhile, due to a late shipment, a client from Newcastle is threatening to take his business elsewhere. Mr Lam, the factory owner has to negotiate with the client to convince him to stay. The client asks him to lower his price and Mr Lam is forced to agree meaning he makes a lot less money. As a result he is forced to cut the workers pay while the client sells the jeans for 10 times what he paid for them and keeps most of the profits.
If factories worked acceptable hours and paid minimum wage they would not be competitive enough to do business. International retailers demand such low prices that the factories are forced to violate labour laws. Jasmine made about 500 yuan – £50 – in her first month but the factory kept it as a deposit to discourage her from leaving. Mr Lam had a good year. He was able to let his workers off for new year family reunions. New year is the only time migrant workers can go home to be united with their families. For most, the journey takes 2-3 days and costs about a months pay. Not all workers are lucky enough for that. Sometimes they will be forced to work more or they simply cannot afford it.