Sunday, December 07, 2003

SHENZHEN, China — Workers at Kin Ki Industrial, a leading Chinese toy maker, make a decent salary, rarely work nights or weekends and often "hang out along the street, play Ping-Pong and watch TV."

They all have work contracts, pensions and medical benefits. The factory canteen offers tasty food. The dormitories are comfortable.

These are the official working conditions at Kin Ki as they are described on paper — crib sheets — handed to workers just before inspections.

Those occur when big American clients, like the Ohio company that uses Kin Ki to produce the iconic toy Etch A Sketch, visit to make sure that the factory has good labor standards.

Real-world Kin Ki employees, mostly teenage migrants from internal provinces, say they work many more hours and earn about 40 percent less than the company claims. They sleep head-to-toe in tiny rooms. They staged two strikes recently demanding they get paid closer to the legal minimum wage.

The minimum wage, in case you're wondering, is 33 cents an hour. The workers in this factory make 24 cents an hour (The workers in Ohio, who used to make Etch-A-Sketches, were union and got $9 an hour). They work 84 hour weeks, for which they receive no overtime, medical, dental or pension benefits. When they sleep, they're crammed together in company housing. The company they work for claims they have to do this to remain competitive. This is why you can buy $10 Etch-A-Sketchs, $20 shoes and $30 DVD players. Go, read (you might have to register with the Times online, but it's free). You might learn something about how for one person to be rich another person has to be poor (and if you're online reading this, then you're a thousand times wealthier than any of these people will ever be in their short, miserable lives).

Not to put a kibosh on your Xmas festivities ('cause, hey, we do love to spend all our crazy money, no?), but understand how Wal-Mart (of course), Toys-R-Us, Target, K-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City (and whatever it is all you overseas folk have) can give you so much for so (relatively) little. It's not 'cause they love you, kids.

Right. Out for now. Talk to you soon.

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All Contents Copyright 2008 W.H.Hardwick