Saturday, September 17, 2011

China Blue (Documentary)

This Documentary is about one factory in Shaxi, China that assembles jeans.  The name of the factory is called Lifeng and is considered to be one of the better factories in China for workers according to a Chinese/U.S. Inspector (who was fired and jailed for writing up too many factories).  Here are some of the facts provided in the documentary:

-Shift Hours: 8:00 A.M.-7:00 P.M. Manatory Overtime: 7:00 P.M.-2:00 A.M.
-Factory workers must work 7 days a week.
-Hourly wage at this factory is a half a Yuan per hour.  That comes out to about 9 cents per hour in U.S. coinage (as of 9/17/2011).
-If you want hot water for your dorm, its one Yuan per bucket. 
-You get paid once a month
-If you skip out for a quick half hour break during your shift and you are a new worker (3 months or less) get your whole paycheck taken away.

What I took away from this documentary was but might not be the average for all factory workers are:
-The average factory worker makes about 80 US dollars a paycheck after all of the deductions. Some who worked crazy were clearing $250 per month.
 -This factory hires minors (These are minors according to the Chinese Government) from ages 14-16 with illegal but real Chinese I.D.'s).
-The factory owners do not get paid great.  Just enough to get by slightly comfortably.
-The buyers make the biggest profit, sometimes up to 1200% profit on one order.

Keep in mind that this is an above average great factory for workers in China.  I could only imagine the lesser quality factories or bad factories.

For one Levi buyer out of the U.K. with the Lifeng Factory, they buy one pair of jeans for $4 (including shipping) they then turn around and sell it for $38-43 per pair.
 The factory owner does not make much profit, if he is selling a pair of jeans for $4 but then has to pay a worker, food costs, room and board, supplies, shipping.  So although an owner does not have to do the long physical labor he still has to work about 10-12 hours a day (like many workers world wide) just to provide for his/her family. 
Is it worth putting all of those factory workers through that just to live slightly better than the rest? 

Who is to blame: 

Global Over-Consumpiton or the factory workers or the Chinese Governement? 

I look forward to your comments...Pro or Con.


  1. Thanks for the info Tom. I'll watch the video this week but I have a few quick thoughts on the stats you posted.
    First, I think corporations can have a huge impact on workers rights and workplace conditions by issuing a standard for how and who produces their products. If a factory doesn't meet those standards, the company will go elsewhere. Apple did this to a small extent last year after the reports of a high suicide rate at the Foxconn plant that makes iPhones.
    My questions from your stats are;
    -What is the average pay per hour for all of China?
    -What is the average work week for the population?
    -What amenities are offered at the factory dormitory (meals, clothes, phone, etc)?
    -Are First World consumers willing to pay more for their products to improve the lives of the Third World worker?
    We have to keep in mind that we are looking at these conditions from the top of the food chain. Most countries do not have our standard of living.
    You've given me allot to think about!

  2. I think Bruce hit the nail on the head with"Are first world consumers willing to pay more to improve the lives of the third world worker". Most Americans would be sympathetic after seeing this documentary,I bet, but how many would be willing to pay more? Similar to our food culture of "cheaper is better, which I think is a big reason for obesity in America, we look for the cheapest consumer products no matter the cost in human labor.

    Maybe the answer starts with education such as documentaries like this, but we also need an easy way to know under which conditions the item we're about to buy was manufactured. How about a smartphone app that scans barcodes and gives you details related to the working conditions in which its made? I'm going to look for that and report back.

    Thanks for writing the review, Tom, wil put this documentary on my list.

  3. Students saw this film in my class last year and took it to heart. They worked with our university bookstore to find a "fair trade" apparel company that works with college bookstores and makes quality in-style clothing at a lower price point than Nike.
    Alta Gracia ( makes clothing in the Dominican Republic and pays a living wage (according to the Workers Rights Consortium) that is 338% about legal minimum wage in the D.R.
    It may not be the perfect solution, but its selling well on campus even before the education phase of their fair trade clothing campaign begins.
    Sometimes fair trade does cost more on the front end, but that's only if you do not consider what economists refer to as "externalized costs" such as local environmental degradation, social instability, and pollution/greenhouse gases produced by trade across the globe (i.e.: China v. DR).
    I love Steve's idea about an app that scans clothing barcodes and tells the story. I'll suggest that to my students and Alta Gracia.

  4. I know a couple app coders. They're not making a livable wage!

  5. There's an Android app called Barcoo, but not compatible with my phone (even though I have Android OS, which is annoying)

  6. trying out "GoodGuide" from Android marketplace, see how it goes!

  7. Great questions and I will get back to you regarding what I found...What I can say regarding the question:
    -What is the average pay per hour for all of China?

    The documentary stated that the Lifeng factory does not pay the Chinese minimum wage per hour. But I will still do the research to figure it out for I am curious myself.


    Great response. I requested a copy of China Blue to be purchased for our local library. I will let you know if we get it.

    On another note, Have you seen Store Wars?


    Thanks for the great response and it looks like I totally agree with you. Education is #1 and thanks for the info. on the apps.

  8. @Bruce
    Regarding corporations taking responsibility for the warehouses with which they do business- Tom can verify this- but part of the problem is that these manufacturers put on a show when the 'big wigs' come into town. The factory owners coerce their workers to lie- threatening pay checks, etc. There is an interesting segment in 'The High Cost of Low Prices' around how these workers are instructed if any outside party asks questions.

    How efficient are international regulating institutions for labor practices?

  9. The Pay per hour changes by Province in China so there is no Country Min. Wage like in the States. I did find an article that states there are 217 enterprises that have minimum wage violations within Shanxi:

    With that said, I will take the director and the very upset factory workers word when they say they are paid below minimum wage.

    As far as average hours go...45.4 hours for urban and 50 for Rural per 6-day work week back at the time the documentary was made.
    So the Lifeng Factory is way over the average hours. According to the documentary, Lifeng is at 77 hours per week before forced overtime.

    You can read more and I will be reading more on this 106-page document regarding Manufacturing and China

    I will also finish answering your questions as well.

    Great response Suzanne! I forgot to mention the whole acting and fake show that the workers are forced to put on or no paycheck.
    great link as well!