At this hearing, the subcommittee will examine sweatshop conditions in Chinese factories where toys and other children’s products are manufactured.
Byron L. DorganSenatorToday the subcommittee is holding the fourth in a series of hearings this year that relate to international trade. And the focus of today’s hearing is the prevalence of sweatshop conditions in the Chinese toy industry.Why is this an important issue? First, because eighty percent of the world’s toys are manufactured in China. Open the toy chest of any American child, and odds are that over three-fourths of the toys will be Chinese-made.Second, because these toys are all too often manufactured under inhuman production conditions that we would never tolerate in this country.And third, because these sweatshop practices ultimately have other consequences, including unsafe products that pose a health hazard to our children.In recent months, there have been countless reports of dangerous products being imported from China. For instance, Mattel, the biggest toy company in the United States, announced three major product recalls in just a five week period involving Chinese-made products, the latest involving 848,000 Chinese-made Barbie and Fisher-Price toys that contained excessive amounts of lead.These safety issues involving Chinese imports should surprise no one. When production is outsourced to Chinese factories infamous for paying their workers pennies an hour, for dumping toxic sludge into the environment, and for covering up all kinds of health hazards, it should come as no shock that the products turned out by those factories pose a danger to our own health.Five years ago, the Washington Post ran a story entitled “Worked Until They Drop”. The Post story described the story of a 19-year old girl who was literally worked to death at a Chinese factory making stuffed toys for the U.S. market. Her coworkers said that she had been on her feet for 16 hours running back and forth in the factory on the day that she died, and it had been two months since she had had a day off. The factory food was so bad that she was severely malnourished. She woke up in the middle of the night coughing up blood, and died on the floor of the dormitory bathroom.According to the Post, some Chinese newspapers have a name for what happened to Li Chun Mei: it’s called “guolaosi,” which literally means “worked-to-death.” I find it incredible that the phenomenon of working young people to death is so common in China that they actually have a name for it.This story ran on the front page of the Washington Post in 2002, but it was quickly forgotten. While I’m sure that the Post’s readers were shocked by the story, they probably didn’t really understand how it affected their own lives.Well, here is a story that hits closer to home. It happened in March 2006, when a 4-year-old Minnesota boy died of lead poisoning after swallowing a heart-shaped metal charm that came as a “gift with purchase” of Reebok shoes.The boy’s name was Jarnell Brown. The charm he ingested was found to contain 99 percent lead. The safety threshold for lead content in jewelry is 0.06%. The little boy ingested a piece of the charm, and developed severe stomach pains. He was admitted to the hospital with brain swelling. X-rays showed that the little boy had a heart-shaped object in his stomach.The charm was manufactured in a Chinese factory. Reebok recalled over 500,000 of these charms, in some 25 countries. The vast majority of the shipments had gone to the United States.It’s no accident that Chinese products are being found to contain lead. The products contain lead because lead is cheap, and because the Chinese contractors who made the products were ultimately trying to lower costs without regard to the health consequence of the products.To me, these two stories show dual sides of the same coin: if you move production to Chinese factories that cut every possible corner to lower costs, you end up with young women worked to death in China and products that end up poisoning our kids here at home.At today’s hearing, we will hear from four witnesses with a variety of perspectives on the issue of sweatshop conditions in the Chinese toy industry.Charlie Kernaghan is the Executive Director of the National Labor Committee, which investigates sweatshop abuses around the world.Harry Wu is the best-known Chinese human rights activist in the United States, having spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps. He is the Director of the Laogai Foundation, and an advocate for human rights in China.Bama Athreya is the Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, which documents child labor, forced labor, and other abusive labor practices abroad.Peter Eio is testifying on behalf of the Toy Industry Association, Inc., of which he was recently the chairman. The Toy Industry Association represents the interests of the largest companies selling toys in the United States, representing about 85% of the U.S. toy market. Mr. Eio is also a former President of Lego Systems, Inc.I thank the witnesses for coming. Before turning to their testimony, I would note that I have been working with a number of my colleagues on S. 367, the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act. This is a piece of legislation that would prohibit the importation of products manufactured in sweatshop conditions. We have a growing list of bipartisan cosponsors that now stands at 14 Senators. A companion bill in the House of Representatives has 116 cosponsors. I hope this hearing will provide additional momentum for that bill.
Witness Panel 1
Charles KernaghanExecutive DirectorNational Labor Committee
Mr. Harry WuExecutive DirectorLaogai Research Foundation
Dr. Bama AthreyaExecutive DirectorInternational Labor Rights Forum
Mr. Peter EioICTI CARE Governing Board MemberPast Chair of the Toy Industry Association
Bernard SandersU.S. Senator, Vermont