China Labor Watch visits Cornell to speak about Labor Rights in China
On November 11, Cornell's Chinese Students Association (CSA) and China Labor Watch (CLW) welcomed CLW Campaign Coordinators Manfred Elfstrom and Xiaomin Zhang to the Cornell campus to discuss of labor relations in China.
Xiaomin gave a detailed description of how a typical Chinese manufacturing site conducts activities, employee relations and business practices. Students heard about the many labor violations of Chinese labor law affect the life of migrant workers and got a sense of how weak the enforcement of these laws actually is. Images of timecards tracking the hours of a Chinese manufacturing floor worker were projected showing an example of extreme overtime hours and low pay. Pictures of worker housing, injured workers, and manufacturing plants taken from CLW field researchers introduced the audience to an environment seldom seen in the media. CLW conducts in-depth investigative reports which are fostered by having close relationships with many companies that source from Chinese factories. Manfred then spoke about cases studies that show how typical violations of labor law affect the lives of migrant worker. Most students in the room were taken aback by a labor law violation that took place at the manufacturing site of the iPod, a possession of numerous Cornell students. Manfred spoke of the power of media coverage and pressure on multinational corporations that operate in China on a sub-contractual basis with manufacturing sites that have large migrant worker populations. Instances where improvements were and can be made rely heavily on media attention. Media coverage is the major driver of change. The wealth of information Xiaomin and Manfred shared was reinforced in a clip based on a printing factory that produces for Disney in China.
As China continues to rapidly develop, the importance of labor rights is stronger than ever. It is organizations like CLW who’s mission is the defense of workers’ rights in China that foster awareness to students on campuses such as Cornell. CLW presents the international community with an accurate picture of the labor situation in China and encourages the development of a business framework that places the issue of workers’ rights squarely on the agenda of world trade. For more information on CLW please visit their website at www.chinalaborwatch.org.