WORKING CONDITIONS IN
THE "THIRD WORLD"

by: S.R. Shearer

The following is typical of conditions to be found in one of the better "Third World" factories which produces products for consumers in the "First World." The factory is Nority International Group Ltd. of China, a Reebok Subcontractor. It should be noted that most of these same conditions prevail for the other American multinationals like Nike, Liz Claiborne, etc. which have re-located operations out of the United States to sites in the so-called "Developing World." This is what "globalization" is all about!

Nority Shoe Factory is located in Dongguan, Chang’an Province and employs 6,000-7,000 workers, most of whom are women. The factory is Taiwanese-owned and it is run like a prison labor camp. Workers are constantly yelled at by their superiors and are beaten by the security guards for leaving the factory without permission.

The normal work week, not including overtime, is 12 hours a day, six days a week, or 72 hours a week. The work is divided into three shifts: 8am-11:30pm, 12:30pm-4:30am, and 5:30am-10pm. On top of this grueling 12-hour schedule, workers are often forced to work an additional 2-5 hours of overtime. Refusal to work overtime could result in a fine of $7.23 to $21.67 (60 to 180Rmb), and a worker who refuses to work overtime three days in a row will be fired. The work is very stressful. Workers are given a quota to fulfill. Most say they are unable to fulfill their quota during work hours, and therefore they have to stay behind and work without pay. Some workers said they only got one to three days off per month. The workers can be fired for refusing overtime and female workers can be fired for becoming pregnant. (Nority–like many other factories in the area which employ women workers–finds it easier to dismiss pregnant workers.)

China is now the biggest shoe producing country in the world, producing over one-third of the world’s top brand-name sports shoes. In many ways it is an ideal setting for the sports shoe multinationals and their subcontractors. Massive unemployment, low wages, the lack of enforcement of labor laws and standards, repression of independent union organizing, and the role of the state-run All China Federation of Trade Unions in supporting management, are combined with local governments whose policies and interests lie in attracting foreign capital and ensuring the best conditions for the accumulation of profit. "First World" multinationals like Nike and Reebok benefit in every way because they do not have to deal directly with production: they can distance themselves from this "unseemly" process through subcontracting - and in doing so, benefit from low production costs without any direct lines of responsibility. Subcontracting also allows them to respond quickly to changing styles and fashions, while passing on all of the uncertainty and insecurity to their subcontractors and ultimately to the workers themselves. [Report from the International Federation of Labor]


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