14-hour shifts, 7 days a week, 30 days a month.
Housed 16 to a room and fed two dismal meals a day.
There are 1000 workers at the factory;
90% of them young men 16 to 23 years of age; almost all migrants are from
Wal-Mart started producing Kathie Lee
handbags at the Qin Shi factory in September, 1999. The workers passed us a
Qin Shi/Wal-Mart invoice form dated September 2, 1999 which calls for the
production of 5,400 Kathie Lee handbags (style #62657 70575) to be delivered
no later than October 20, 1999.
Before that Qin Shi produced handbags for Payless carrying the Predictions label. (In 1999, Payless was the eighth largest importer by weight of goods entering the United States. Wal-Mart was, of course, the first. In the latest six-month period available—October 1999 to March 2000-a search of U.S. Customs Department shipping records made available in the PIERS database, show that 53 percent of Wal-Mart’s total imports worldwide come from China.)
The daily work shift at the Qin Shi Factory is 12 to 14 hours, seven days a week, 30 days a month. At the end of the day the workers return “home” to a cramped dorm room sharing metal bunk beds with 16 other people. At most, workers are allowed outside of the factory for just one and one half hours a day. Otherwise they are locked in.
Working up to 98 hours a week, it is
not easy to find the time to go out. But the workers have another fear as
well. Before entering the Qin Shi factory, management confiscates the
identification documents of each worker. When someone goes outside, the
company also takes away their factory I.D. tag, leaving them with no
identification at all. If you are stopped by the local security police you
could be detained and deported back to your rural province as an illegal
When you need to use the bathroom the
company again confiscates your factory I.D. and monitors the time you
spend. If you are away from your workstation for more than eight minutes
you will receive a severe fine.
All new employees are illegally charged a deposit of 80
rmb ($9.64 U.S.) for a three year work contract, along with another 32 rmb
($3.86) for the first 10 days living expenses, which includes two dismal
meals a day.
Further deductions from the workers’ wages are made for
the temporary residency and work permits the workers need, which the factory
management intentionally delays applying for for several months. This also
leaves the workers trapped and afraid to leave the factory grounds, since
without these legal permits they can be deported at any minute.
Qin Shi management also illegally withholds the workers
first month’s wages, so it is only at the end of the second month that the
workers receive, or may receive, their first pay. Because of all of the
deductions and fines, many workers earn nothing at all after two months
work, and instead, are actually in debt to the company.
Fines for violating any of the strict company rules are
severe, a practice made even worse by the fact that armed company security
guards can keep 30 percent of any fines they levy against the workers.
The workers making Wal-Mart Kathie Lee handbags
report being subjected to body searches, as well as physical and verbal
abuse by security guards and quality control supervisors.
The workers are charged 560 rmb ($67.47 U.S.) for dorm
and living expenses, which is an enormous amount given that the highest take
home wage our researchers found in the factory was just 10 cents an hour.
There were others who earned just 36 cents for more than a month’s work,
earning just 8/100th of a cent an hour. Many workers earned nothing at all
and owed money to the company.
Seventy percent of the workers said they lacked money
for even the most basic expenses, and were forced, for example, to go
without even bread and tea for breakfast.
Lacking money and with constraints on their freedom of
movement the Qin Shi workers making Kathie Lee handbags were being held in
conditions resembling indentured servitude.
In a vicious trap, they did not even have enough money to travel to look for other work.
A Wal-Mart Production order was carried out of the Qin Shi Handbag Factory by the workers. The production order was signed on September 2, 1999 by Yu Lin Chen and Su Chun Wong.
Kathie Lee Handbags
Kathie Lee Handbags
The Qin Shi
Handbag Factory was to produce 5,400 Kathie Lee handbags, style
#62557 70575 with a delivery date of October 20, 1999. The invoice
notes that Wal-Mart will accept no late deliveries.
Label notes: “A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this product will be donated to various children’s charities.”
The Qin Shi factory has such a notorious reputation
for cruelty and exploitation that the workers admit they are ashamed to
tell anyone where they actually work – to endure such conditions must
mean that you are very, very poor and down on your luck.
Wal-Mart carried out an inspection/audit at Qin Shi
in early November 1999 and the factory passed with flying colors. The
audit was obviously a farce – as will become clear later – and one can
only conclude that Wal-Mart simply does not know and does not care what
its contractors are doing.
Eventually the workers at Qin Shi could stand no more abuse, and fought back. Eight hundred workers were fired in December, but they did at least win some of their back wages.
The “regular” daily
work shift is:
7:00 a.m. to 12 noon
1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
· 6:30 to 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30 p.m.
The workers are at the Qin Shi factory up to 115˝ hours per week, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., or 16 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week. This was the schedule in September, which is their busy season, when they were making the Wal-Mart handbags.
But they were paid for only 14 hours a day, and 98 hours a week.
Working seven days a week and 30 days a month, essentially the workers would receive one day off every other month.
All overtime work is mandatory. The 98-hour workweek
at Qin Shi exceeds the legal limit on total overtime by 200 percent.
(China’s labor law states that overtime cannot exceed 36 hours a month, or 9
hours a week over the regular 40-hour, 5-day workweek).
Despite these excessively long hours, the workers receive no overtime premium, earning always the same standard piece rate.
All the workers at Qin Shi are paid according to a piece rate system, which varies given the type of operation required. Piece rates per unit completed ranged from 1/10th of a cent to 4/10ths of a cent, with the average being just a little over 2/10ths of a cent. So, for example, if a worker sewed 100 pieces for the Kathie Lee handbags, he or she would earn 24 cents.
In September and October, when the factory was
producing Wal-Mart, the range of the workers wages varied wildly, but no
one came even remotely close to making the already below-subsistence legal
minimum wage of about 31 cents an hour, on which no one can possibly
The highest take-home wage we found in the factory was
just 10 cents an hour, or $1.20 a day -- $44.22 for 37 days
The average wage in a sample of 24 workers amounted to only 3 cents an hour. However, of that sample 46 percent of the workers earned nothing at all after more than a month’s work, and in fact owed the company money due to all the deductions for company dorm and food expenses, fines and other illegal withholdings.
One worker earned 36 cents for the entire month of August, which would amount to 8 cents a week, or 8/100ths of a cent an hour.
The Kathie Lee handbag the workers make at
the Qin Shi Factory retails at Wal-Mart for $8.76, which by American
standards is quite cheap. However from the perspective of the average
worker in the factory, earning just 3 cents an hour, the Kathie Lee handbag
is very expensive indeed. At 3 cents an hour, he would have to work 299
hours to purchase such a handbag for his girlfriend.
Because of the pitiful and illegally low wages at the Qin Shi factory the workers were forced to go without even the most basic necessities. Seventy percent of the workers reported lacking the money for even a tiny breakfast. Kept in the position of indentured servants, the workers had no money or savings even to leave the factory to look for other work.