Capitalism with a communist face
October 11, 2018 2:23 PM   Subscribe

You buy a purse at Walmart. There’s a note inside from a “Chinese prisoner.” (vox.com)

“First, a shopper in the US or Europe finds a note in the pocket or on a tag of a product from a big retailer — Walmart, Saks, Zara. The note claims the product had been made using forced labor or under poor working conditions. The writer of the note also claims to be in a faraway country, usually China. The shopper takes a photo of the note and posts it to social media. It’s reported on by all sorts of publications from Reuters to Refinery29, where the articles reach millions of readers.

Then the hysteria cools, and the story falls into the viral news abyss.”
posted by sudogeek (16 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
After Walmart issued its statement about there being “no way to verify the origin of the letter,” the company launched an internal investigation. It was found that the factory that made the purse didn’t adhere to Walmart’s standards, which stress the need for “labor to be voluntary” and state that “slave, child, underage, forced, bonded, or indentured labor will not be tolerated.” As a result, the company cut ties with the supplier, a decision the company only disclosed after it was contacted for this story. Walmart declined to clarify whether the supplier in question had contracted with Yingshan prison.

And now that a previously-impossible internal investigation revealed a supplier using prison labor in violation of Walmart policies (and common sense ethics) - Walmart will now take a random sampling of all of its suppliers and conduct due diligence on them...right?

Of course, they won't -- because conducting hundreds or thousands of these investigations is expensive and time-consuming, and you might find out that quite a few of your suppliers might have been using "slave, child, underage, forced, bonded, or indentured labor" after all, which then would force you to just conduct proper due diligence on every new and existing supplier, and then you'll find out other unsavory and horrific things that might impact your ability to sell shitty purses for $5.99.
posted by drawfrommemory at 3:23 PM on October 11, 2018 [25 favorites]


Given that the Walmart that sold the purse is in a country whose constitution explicitly allows forced prison labour, and which imprisons a larger proportion of its population than any other country in the world to take advantage of that clause, is it any wonder they're not so bothered?
posted by howfar at 3:54 PM on October 11, 2018 [41 favorites]


Wait what country are we talking about?
posted by Karaage at 4:28 PM on October 11, 2018 [9 favorites]


Müller says the monthly salary specified in the note (2,000 yuan, or $295) is “unusually high,” but speculates that it may be because the prison “makes good money because of high-quality workers.”

Does the note say the monthy salary is 2,000 yuan? I thought it reported that the boss pays 2,000 yuan monthy so the prison laborers will get better food than the standard prison fare but they don't get it because it's eaten by the guards.

Did I miss something?
posted by layceepee at 5:04 PM on October 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


I remember when I was workign at a small business phone company back before the crash in 2008 and we'd get the handsets for the phones from China. I remember opening one of the boxes and someone had written inside "Help, trapped here" or something along those lines, and two or three Chinese character. I kinda wanted to believe it was a joke, but part of me suspected it wasn't. Either way, what could I do? It's not like there was any information to find out where they were actually from...

Now I'm wishing I'd have tried to figure something more out.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:45 PM on October 11, 2018


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights. Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.
posted by xammerboy at 8:20 PM on October 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


Horse, cow, goat, pig, dog.
posted by M-x shell at 9:01 PM on October 11, 2018


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights. Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.

Because the lifestyle the "Western world" enjoys is supplied by those countries that violate human rights. If they started sanctioning trade with countries that violated human rights, everything would become much more expensive and the really rich people who get to call the shots wouldn't be able to make a buck quite so easily.
posted by dazed_one at 9:02 PM on October 11, 2018 [21 favorites]


Very well done story. Thank you for sharing.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:05 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights.

I imagine it would cost Western countries quite a bit of money to level sanctions against the United States.
posted by thedward at 9:23 PM on October 11, 2018 [15 favorites]


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights. Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.

This seems like a no brainer for the Tea Party-America First people. It is certainly a no-brainer for democratic socialists like me. Could we not start with the common ground here? Randy the un-employed widget maker in Indiana is out of a job because billionaires replaced him with slave prison labor in China. What is it that the U.S. sells to China that would be so catastrophic to lose if we stopped trading with them?

Oh, wait a minute. The billionaires that manipulate us and engineer elections would make slightly less money and the rest of us schlubs would probably be able to buy slightly less crap at the higher prices non-slave labor would command.

Capitalism!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:24 PM on October 11, 2018 [9 favorites]


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights. Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Slavery never ended in the United States. Just chattel slavery. Regular slavery is still very much a legal and practised thing.
posted by srboisvert at 5:30 AM on October 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights. Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.

A major part of this is that the consensus on trade is bipartisan in this country.

Just go look up the struggle on minimum wage in Haiti, and whose fingerprints are on the efforts on behalf of the US to keep it low.

There's no political route to fixing this in the current US system without major realignment of the incentives for our political leadership.
posted by turntraitor at 9:02 AM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights. Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.

I want human rights of China to improve too, but I don't know if such a public rebuke and shaming with sanctions would work. And, yes, China's is very interconnected to the world today and so would have some vulnerability to sanctions. On the other hand, that interconnectedness also means China has levers that affect the world and in turn can be used to respond. And I'm talking about both economic and political levers. And at that point, does the West have a plan to follow-up or is this just a stalemate where human rights are still bad in China, but now the West can feel better because it buys stuff from another place?
posted by FJT at 9:19 AM on October 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


Why does the author appear to take the suggestion that the notes were planted by activists at face value? I believe that Zara was actually proven to have used slave labor.
posted by Selena777 at 11:26 AM on October 12, 2018


I don't understand why the Western world can't simply make a rule sanctioning trade with countries that violate human rights.

Because good intentions don't make good policy. Let alone effective policy. Sanctions punish everyone in the target country, in addition to us. They haven't changed Cuba. They haven't changed Iran. They have harmed Cubans. They have harmed Iranians.

Lets suppose we never opened up relations with China. China never gt access to Western markets, and remained the good ol' China of 50 years ago. Does anyone think this would be better for Chinese people? Or Americans?

And don't even get me started about the hypocrisy.

Every story I hear about China scares the crap out of me.

The same way Fox-watching grampa is scared to death of how MS13 is in control of California. Thing is, China is a vast country, with a huge and very diverse population and a robust economy. One of the reasons notes found in goods are treated with skepticism is that they are a very easy hoax to pull off. And indeed, some of these incidents seem to have been hoaxes, including the Zara one. Americans are primed to impulsively blurt out "slave/child labor" without effort when talking about Chinese manufacturing, even on a forum like Metafilter. As if it's completely impossible to believe those shirts or gizmos could come out of a plain old factory, employing plain old Chinese people. And all the prosperity one can observe in places like Shanghai and Shenzhen is some kind of hoax to fool the world.

This seems like a no brainer for the Tea Party-America First people. It is certainly a no-brainer for democratic socialists like me. Could we not start with the common ground here? Randy the un-employed widget maker in Indiana is out of a job because billionaires replaced him with slave prison labor in China. What is it that the U.S. sells to China that would be so catastrophic to lose if we stopped trading with them?

Clue number 1 is that if Tea Party-America First people think something is a good idea, it's immediately suspect. If they and democratic socialists find common ground here, we're truly fucked on both ends.

Think doing business with Chinese companies is evil because China allows prison labor? How about the evil of demanding millions of Chinese forego their own betterment because their government is not as virtuous as we would like them to be?
posted by 2N2222 at 6:51 PM on October 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


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