Red Chinese Slave Labor Floods NAFTA Marketplace With Cheap Goods

The NAFTA marketplace unrestrained in the pursuit of cheap labor has driven an increasing volume of manufacturing off-shore to Communist China, where slave prison camps offer a cost of labor that is hard to beat.  

Chinese made goods ranging from electronics to toys and clothes are daily sold in mass marketing retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, K-Mart, Target, Lowes, and dozens of other U.S. corporations.  Cheap goods from Communist China increasingly line the shelves of the NAFTA marketplace under marquee product trade names that bear no relationship to the Chinese slave labor that manufactured, produced, or otherwise assembled the goods.  

Key to this thriving under-market is a flagrant disregard for human rights, on the part of the Communist Chinese, who still permit the exploitation of slave labor. U.S. capitalists and consumers as well turn a blind eye to the human suffering and abuse involved in producing the under-market cheap goods flooding the American retail market from China.

The Chinese slave labor camps set up first under Mao in the 1950s are known as Laogai.  Writing for the Human Rights Brief at American University’s Washington College of Law, Ramin Pejan explains that the Laogai system consists of three distinct types of reform: convict labor (Laogai), re-education through labor (Laojiao), and forced job placement (Jiuye).  The political nature of these Chinese prison labor camps is clear.

The PRC (People’s Republic of China) uses Laojiao to detain individuals it feels are a threat to national security or it considers unproductive.  Individuals in Laojiao may be detained for up to three years.  Because those in Laojiao have not committed crimes under PRC law, they are referred to as “personnel” rather than prisoners and they are not entitled to judicial procedure.  Instead, individuals are sent to the Laojiao following administrative sentences dispensed by local public security forces.  This vague detainment policy allows the PRC to avoid allegations that the individual’s arrest was politically motivated and to assert that they were arrested for reasons such as “not engaging in honest pursuits” or “being able-bodied but refusing to work.”

Pejan notes that even though they have completed their sentence some 70 percent of the prisoners are forced to live in specifically assigned locations where they continue to work in the prison camp.  In a cruel slogan that brings to mind the “Arbeit Mach Frei” entrance to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Penan notes that Laogai is an abbreviation for Laodong Gaizao which translates from Mandarin as “reform through labor.”  

Despite U.S. government efforts to keep Chinese slave labor goods from entering the U.S. market, the Laogai Research Foundation maintains that China represses open investigation of forced labor camps and the practice continues:

Due to strong resistance from Western nations against forced labor products, in 1991 China’s State Council re-emphasized the ban on the export of “forced labor products” and stipulated that no prison is allowed to cooperate or establish joint ventures with foreign investors.  However, the State Council’s move was merely a superficial one, and prisoners today still produce forced labor products in great numbers.  The Chinese government grants special privileges to enterprises using labor camps and prisons, to encourage and attract foreign investment and export.  Prisoners are forced to manufacture products without any payment, and are often forced to work more than 10 hours a day and sometimes even overnight.  Those who cannot fulfill their tasks are beaten and tortured.  The forced labor products these prisoners produce are exported throughout China and the world.

The Laogai Research Center “believes that as long as the Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorship exists, the Lagoai will continue to serve as its essential mechanism for suppression and prosecution.”  The Laogai Research Foundation documents more than 1,000 Chinese slave-labor prison camps still operating today, with a prison population estimated at several millions.  

A U.S.-China Security Review Commission Policy Paper on Prison Labor and Forced Labor in China concluded that the U.S. Customs Service “cannot conduct independent investigations in China” to determine if goods imported into the U.S. were made in Chinese forced labor camps.  Despite numerous treaties, memoranda of understanding, and laws, the Commission concluded that China simply refuses to supply the information needed to make factual determinations:

… we understand that since 1996 the Customs Service has sent thirty letters to the Chinese Ministry of Justice regarding either visits or investigations of prison facilities in China that were suspected of producing goods for export to the United States.  In most cases, the Chinese Ministry of Justice failed to respond to such letters.

The Customs Service has told the Commission that the difficulty in enforcing Section 307 to block the importation of goods made by prison labor in China does not arise from the U.S. statues.  The difficulty arises because the PRC is not abiding by the 1992 and 1994 agreements it negotiated with the U.S. government.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China published in its 2005 annual report a conclusion that: “Forced labor is an integral part of the Chinese administrative detention system, and child labor remains a significant problem in China, despite being prohibited by law.”

Just above the slave labor camps is a vast Chinese under-market where millions of Chinese work for meager wages under constantly abusive work conditions.  Today China makes approximately 75 percent of the world’s toys. As noted by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), U.S. companies such as Disney, Mattel (maker of the Barbie doll), Hasbro, McDonald’s (Happy Meal toys), and Warner Brothers utilize factories in China to produce toys for virtually all major U.S. retailers, including Toys-R-Us, Wal-Mart, and Target, as well as for direct marketing.  Still, the AHRC documents that working conditions in the Chinese toy manufacturing industry are abysmal, just one notch above 21st century slave trade standards. Consider this AHRC description of a Chinese toy worker’s story:

  • Average age of a worker in a typical Chinese toy factory: between 12- and 15-years-old.
  • Typical wage of workers in Asian toy factories: from as little as 6 cents an hour up to 40 cents an hour (in U.S. dollar terms).
  • Typical number of hours worked in a day during busy periods: up to 19.
  • Typical number of days worked per week: 6.
  • Young workers work all day in 104-degree temperature, handling toxic glues, paints, and solvents.
  • Workers weakened by illness and pregnant workers, who are supposed to have legal protection, are forced to quit.
  • The typical profile of workers in these factories involves single young women migrants from rural areas to the cities in search of jobs.

With more than 1 billion Chinese vying for an economic existence, the Chinese under-market thrives in a competitive environment of labor over-supply.  One mistake, even in an abusive labor environment, can exclude a Chinese uneducated and unskilled worker from future employment, especially when thousands wait in line for the job.

Increasingly well documented is the continuing Communist Chinese persecution of Falun Gong cult practitioners. A July 2006 report released by Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian MP member David Kilgour has alleged continuing Communist Chinese organ harvesting achieved by murdering imprisoned Fulong Gong practitioners.  The report’s conclusions were clear:

We believe that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.

We have concluded that the government of China and its agencies in numerous parts of the country, in particular hospitals but also detention centres and “people’s courts,” since 1999 have put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.  Their vital organs, including hearts, kidneys, livers and corneas, were virtually simultaneously seized involuntarily for sale at high prices, sometimes to foreigners, who normally face long waits for voluntary donations of such organs in their home countries.

We have previously argued that the projections of increased containers with cheap Chinese under-market goods headed for U.S. mass marketing retailers is the demand driving the construction of NAFTA super-highways and the opening up of Mexican ports as an alternative to west coast ports including Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Reform the labor market in China or enforce traditional “anti-dumping” international trade restrictions against the entry of under-market goods and the need for NAFTA super-highways four football-fields wide open to Mexican ports operated by the Communist Chinese is largely gone.

As of yet, the black market in organ purchases has remained largely underground, hidden from public view.  Today the American people remain largely unknowledgeable and/or uncaring over the massive human rights abuses in the Chinese labor under-market including slave forced prison labor, all for lower priced toys, sneakers, T-shirts, and electronics.  Do we really think there will remain a bright moral line between using Chinese slave labor—a form of slow death for the under-market workers so abused—and outright murder of political prisoners that is required to promote an international market in human organs for the international elite with ample ready cash in hand?

Unbridled capitalism can be counted on to press for erasing national boundaries that are perceived by free trade enthusiasts as speed bumps on their way to unlimited profits.  How different today are the photographs Michael Wolf has taken of under-market labor in China from the photographs of Lewis W. Hine and Jacob Riis, who documented the human exploitation we tolerated in this country prior to the rise of the U.S. labor movement?