Oregon Live: Chinese factory workers cash in sweat for prosperity
WUHU, China -- Years after activists accused Nike and other Western brands of running Third World sweatshops, the issue has taken a surprising turn.
The path of discovery winds from coastal factory floors far into China's interior, past women knee-deep in streams pounding laundry. It continues down a dusty village lane to a startling sight: arrays of gleaming three-story houses with balconies, balustrades and even Greek columns rising from rice paddies.
It turns out that factory workers -- not the activists labeled "preachy" by one expert, and not the Nike executives so wounded by criticism -- get the last laugh. Villagers who "went out," as Chinese say, for what critics described as dead-end manufacturing jobs are sending money back and returning with savings, building houses and starting businesses.
Workers who stitched shoes for Nike Inc. and apparel for Columbia Sportswear Co., both based near Beaverton, are fueling a wave of prosperity in rural China. The boom has a solid feel, with villagers paying cash for houses.
"No one would take out a mortgage to build a house," said Wang Jianguo, 37, who returned after a factory injury in a distant province to the area near Wuhu, west of Shanghai. "You wouldn't feel secure living in a house you didn't own."
In the end, market forces and ambition, not activism or corporate initiatives, pushed up wages and improved working conditions. The forces originally unleashed by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping still drive China's economy, producing a manufacturing labor shortage and giving villagers viable choices beyond factory work. ...
This process of economic development is one of the hardest ones for me to watch. It is hard to justify the horrible conditions under which some work. And yet I keep reminding myself that these people chose this work because it was a better option than they have been experiencing. Maybe that speaks more to my ignorance of their daily existence than it does to the inhumanities (by American standards) of these workplaces.
Below is a video that goes along with the article. Below it is another video that I think highlights the ambivalent feelings I have watching globalization at work.
China's rural boom