Hand in Hand: China, Labor Rights & the Trans-Pacific Partnership
For over 25 years, China has had the upper hand in international trade, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could change all of that.
Journalist Barry Lynn explained : “Today, the United States depends on China for myriad items that US citizens need every day. These include 100% of key electronics and chemical components. They even include basic ingredients for some of the nation’s most important drugs, including antibiotics. Given that supply chains often run on a just-in-time basis, in which goods are produced only as fast as they are consumed, there are often no backup supplies nearby.”
President Obama mentioned on a radio interview with NPR this week that China is becoming interested in joining negotiations for the TPP.
Obama elaborated: “Well, they’ve already started putting out feelers about the possibilities of them participating at some point… To us, to Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary…”
For the president, it makes sense why China would be interested in the TPP. He said: “The fact is that if we have 11 of the leading economies in the Asia-Pacific region, who have agreed to enforceable labor standards, enforceable environmental standards, strong I.P. protections, non-discrimination against foreign firms that are operating access to those markets, reduced tariffs… So, part of what we’re doing here is we’re leveling up, as opposed to a race to the bottom … We want to make sure that there is a level playing field that’s going to allow us to be successful, and will help to shape trade and commerce, not just in the region, but in the world for a long time to come.”
Speaking of “enforceable labor standards”, China has a long history of human rights violations and working in collusion with multi-national corporations who also violate labor standard practices.
According to the China Labor Watch (CLW), an industry watchdog organization, tech corporations are among the most offensive violators who commit heinous acts and unfair labor practices.
Two years ago, CLW investigated Apple’s supplier factory in China where an estimated 70,000 workers were force to labor 6 days a week for 11 hour days at a rate of $1.50 per hour. No overtime was paid to these workers.
Other labor violations include:
• Suppressed wages under the living wage
• Unhealthy work environment
• No system to handle employee complaints
• Abuse by management
• Child labor
The “employees”, ages 16 to 20, lived in a “12-person dorm room [and] lined up for a quick cold shower in one of the two dozen showers shared by hundreds of workers.”
In July of 2014, CLW reported on investigations into “labor conditions at China-based Samsung factories and Samsung supplier factories” which discovered that several violations were being enacted:
• Unpaid overtime wages totally in more than 200 monthly overtime hours
• Abuse of labor dispatch and student workers
• Occupational safety concerns
• Lack of social insurance
• Use of child labor
Professor Anita Chan, author of “China’s Workers Under Assault: The Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy”, explained how 10s of millions of Chinese workers are “internal immigrants” who have left their home towns in search for work.
Chan states that since the 1990s, China has enjoyed a lucrative relationship with privately owned factories and companies to produce low-cost products to the global market.
The tradeoff is massively abusive employment practices against the rural poor in China. These “unskilled factory workers” are coerced and threated by management to remain at the factory.
On the other side, corporations that hire these factories pressure management to cut-costs manufacturing and ultimate price-cutting on finished goods.