Monday, July 2, 2007

Made In China

I remember when I was a kid we were poor, we use to have to shop in the discount stores before Wal-Mart. Usually they were mom and pop dime stores as they were called back then. Nothing ever cost a dime, but the name let you know that the merchandise was cheap and usually not very good. Most of the merchandise was made overseas in places like Korea, Japan, and China and at the time they seemed like exotic and mysterious places. We use to buy our toys there and they wouldn’t last very long, sometimes they would break as soon as you unpacked them. But again they were cheap and as a child it was always the getting that was important.

As I grew up those exotic names were replaced by others like Indonesia, Honduras, and the Philippines. The names changed, but the quality of the merchandise didn’t. Fortunately, my economic status improved to the point where I didn’t have to buy those items any longer and I could afford a little better quality merchandise. As the world has grown to embrace the global economy and the corporate pariah continue their race to the bottom, it appears that China is becoming the epicenter of the free trade showdown. In the past few months we had story after story and multiple investigations into how the Chinese do business. In their effort to secure access to the billion consumer market that is China, many businesses and governments have allowed themselves to be seduced into ignoring basic safety and inspection practices. The results of course have been a series of poisonings, deaths, and slave labor reports, not just here in America but the world as well. How is it possible that we can be exposed to these dangers in this century? Where are the safeguards that should be in place to protect us from exposure to these hazards? Eating food from another country should not carry with it a possible death sentence.

The answer lies in a large part to our globalization and free trade policies. It also lies in our desire to save money and enlarge corporate profits. Our trade deficit with China last year alone was 232,588.60[1]. That’s right; that is two hundred million dollars more we are receiving than we are sending out. Because we are importing so much from China there is no way to inspect it and defend ourselves once it arrives here. This means we have to do our due diligence prior to it getting here, but of course this is not being done.

China manufactured every one of 24 kinds of toys recalled for safety reasons in United States this year, including popular Thomas & Friends wooden train sets; consumer advocates, parents and regulators are alarmed at fact that over all, number of products made in China that are being recalled in US by Consumer Product Safety Commission has doubled in last five years, driving total number of recalls in country to 467 last year, an annual record; this makes China responsible for 60 percent of all product recalls, compared with 36 percent in 2000; this may reflect fact that toys made in China now make up 70 to 80 percent of toys sold in country; string of toy recalls has inspired new demands for stepped-up enforcement of safety by US regulators and importers, as well as by government and industry in China; Thomas & Friends trains are made for RC2 Corp of Oak Brook, Ill, at plants it oversees in China; RC2 declines to comment on safety control measures at its company plants in China, as does Toy Industry Assn; consumer advocates say staff of consumer product commission has been cut by more than 10 percent in Bush administration, leaving fewer regulators to monitor safety of growing flood of imports.[2]

The level of products entering our ports from China is too massive and our inspection is too lax to not expect a brewing catastrophe. Yesterday it was Fido; tomorrow it could be our children. Our business and government leaders must take a more active role in insuring our protection from Chinese imports. It is irresponsible to expect a country like China to police itself; their focus is to maintain their cheap labor force and high exports. China has shown over and over again that it will act only in its national interest and will resist any efforts to change how they do business. It is up to our government to do a better job through legislation and policy changes to make the Chinese aware that protecting our citizens is important. Instead what we have is once again placing profits over people; the WTO and other trade organizations have little or no method of combating the problems lax local inspections and policies.

Western companies have been so anxious to transfer manufacturing to China’s cheap factories that they have been happy to close their eyes to what else goes on over there — just as Google or Yahoo were happy to assist in repressing information to get a toe into the Chinese market, or as Washington and other Western capitals compete in trying to please visiting Chinese leaders. The ultimate source of China’s failings is a Communist Party that has jettisoned worn-out Marxist economic theories but clings to its authoritarian rule on all other fronts, creating a dangerously unbalanced behemoth.

This is not an argument against trading with or investing in China. Globalization can be a potent force for democratization. But human rights violations cannot be relegated to untouchable internal affairs. Just as the world has not hesitated, rightly, to lambaste the United States over issues like Guantánamo Bay, it should not be shy about systematic and widespread violations of human rights in China.[3]

The things that are being uncovered are just the tip of the iceberg; if we are to participate in these trade agreements and organizations we must do so with more emphasis on people and less on profits. We can no longer remain silent to these abuses to save a few cents at Wal-Mart, what are the lives of our children worth? Free trade is only as good as our trading partners and any partners that do not take safety first are not good partners. It appears the tag “Made in China” hasn’t changed much since I was child, have we?




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