Human Rights for Workers Bulletin

Vol. II, No. 22: December 4, 1997 

Shoes Made in China? Here's What You're Paying For

Reporters Provide a Glimpse of 'Tears behind the High Wall'
Let's say you buy a pair of shoes made in China as a Christmas gift this year. You might wonder what Chinese workers had to put up with to make those shoes. Consider the grim story that appeared in an official Chinese newspaper, the Guangzhou Evening Post, based on the first-hand experience of reporters who worked in the Yixin Shoe Factory making shoes for export.

Here are examples of abuses that the reporters disclosed in an article titled "Tears Behind the High Wall":

An isolated case? No. Rather, it is typical of the plight of hundreds of thousands of China's shoe workers, most of whom are women. So says the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, which printed the report in its October newsletter, Change. The article revealed no brand names, but the abuses are not confined to certain brands.

Order a subscription to Change for yourself and for friends, at $15 each, by writing the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, 3/F, 57 Peking Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Is There Really No Need to Worry?

Diagnosing Global Economy's Health

Despite its current troubles, is the global economy fundamentally sound? Or does it require new approaches to cope with today's international realities?

"Fear Not." That was reassuring title of a New Republic article last May by Jagdish Bhagwati, an eminent economist and writer. In it he argued against "pessimistic prescriptions," and ridiculed the notion that the world is facing an "unprecedented era that requires us to rethink the economic and social institutions of a vanishing age."

Asia's financial crises mounted after he wrote that article. But at the end of November, Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. trade representative, made the same optimistic point: "The fundamentals are there to return to very high levels of growth."

Yet other analyses of late are not so upbeat. A U.S. business executive in East Asia offers this critique in an email letter to me: "The biggest problem is the criminality of the governing class in this country (and in its neighbors)." In the 12/1 issue of Business Week, its editorial director, Bernard Nussbaum, writes:

"The command-and-control societies of Asia, designed to foster political stability and security during the cold war, are failing to manage today's fast-paced laissez-faire economics....The truth is that the political and economic structures are obsolete."
Globalization and Interdependence Aren't the Same Thing

Wolfgang H. Reinicke, senior scholar at Brookings Institution, has a similar perspective: he holds that the whole international system is out of kilter with today's economic realities. In developing this case (in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs), he draws not on recent tumult in the financial markets but on significant changes that have swept the international economy during the past decade or so.

Right now policy-makers of all kinds take for granted "the institutions and principles that have governed the world economy since the World War II." But since about 1985, Reinicke argues, there has been "a fundamental qualitative change in the international system."

 Reinicke calls that change by a familiar term, "globalization," but he applies it to a reality different from international interdependence, even though the two terms are commonly used as synonyms. Here is now Reinicke distinguishes them: 

"Globalization," he writes, "is resulting in the emergence of a single integrated economy shaped by corporate networks and their financial relationships." One indicator of this integration: in 1994, intra-firm trade accounted for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. trade. "Governments continue to register these internal transfers not because they are traded but because they cross borders."

Modern World Needs a Global Civil Society

Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, in Reinicke's analysis, are institutions of interdependence. They have yet to adjust to globalization, though he credits the IMF with a good start by focusing on matters such as global financial system regulation, money laundering, tax collection, and corruption.

Reinicke calls his alternative strategy "global public policy"--the title of the article and of a book he has just published. His alternative involves an international evolution toward "networks of governance" that include not just governments and corporations but labor and other non-governmental organizations. In other words, the time has come to build a global civil society.

Far fetched? My summary may sound that way. His article is worth reading, if only for the matter-of-fact way he dissects the global economy, neither demonizing it nor glorifying it. For information on his book, check the Web page of Brookings Institution,

'Democracy Advocate' Fits, But Not in Headlines

I have always been uneasy with pinning the label of "dissidents" on pro-democracy activists, and I'm glad to learn that I have some distinguished company.
"Do you think you are doomed to be a dissident?" Wei Jingsheng was asked by a reporter in one of his first press interviews since being released from a prison in China.

"Actually," Wei replied, "I don't think it's quite right to call me a dissident. "Most of the Chinese people all want democracy. And the people who are different are just this little group of ruling elites of the Communist Party, so they are really the dissidents."

In the first paragraph of his page one story on the interview, the reporter, Patrick E. Tyler of the New York Times, identified Wei as "China's most prominent democracy advocate." But three Times headlines on the interview and a press conference held on Nov. 21 called Wei a "dissident." "Democracy advocate" is too long for headline writers.

Need for Global Rules - IV

Cutting Down on Multinational Bribery

The U.S. government knows how to line up the support of other governments when it has a good cause and a strong commitment to it, backed by domestic support at home.

Take the success that the Clinton administration has had in persuading the world's richest nations that it is time to outlaw foreign commercial bribery by their corporations. France, Germany, and Japan at first opposed the U.S. initiative. But in more than two years of negotiations within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the U.S. overcame such objections. On Nov. 20 the OECD announced that its 29 members had signed a new treaty with the formal title of "Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions." You can read the full text on the OECD Web page at (Background information is also available from Transparency International, a non-governmental anti-corruption organization headquartered in Berlin. Check its Web page:

Thus far, the U.S. is the only country whose law makes such bribery a crime. With the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on the book, U.S. corporations that respect its anti-bribery provisions are exposed to costly disadvantages from European and Japanese competitors able to pay off greedy officials in China, Indonesia, and other countries where wholesale bribery is endemic. The new treaty, when put into law by member nations, will lay down a new set of global rules to reduce such corruption.

The new treaty has loopholes, but it's a breakthrough nevertheless.

The next step should be for rich nations to set down global rules for corporations that farm out production to contractors in developing countries. Objections abound, as usual. They can be overcome by proper leadership from the U.S. government and the international business community. U.S. and European corporations dedicated to abolishing sweatshop conditions need to join forces or else they will succumb to stiff competitive pressure from producers still shamelessly exploiting women and children.

Robert A. Senser
Editor, Human Rights for Workers
(Send e-mail to

 Bulletin No. II-22: December 4, 1997


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