Shoppers walk past an advertising billboard for shoes in the central business district (CBD) of Beijing November 3, 2008. A measure of Chinese manufacturing activity showed factory output shrank sharply in October in the face of waning orders, while officials pledged further steps to boost domestic demand to keep the economy from slowing too much. Capital controls and the relative conservatism of China's banks have largely insulated the world's fourth-largest economy from direct hits from the global financial crisis, but its reliance on exports to the United States and Europe makes it vulnerable to a drop-off in Western demand.    REUTERS/David Gray    (CHINA) - RTXA6ZX

New Strike Breaks Out at China Factory That Michael Jordan Made Famous

The largest supplier in China for Nike, Adidas and Reebok is under fire (again) for alleged labor violations

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Ten years ago, the world’s most famous professional basketball star visited a previously unknown factory in Dongguan, China, to witness firsthand the production of his Air Jordans. After the visit, some workers alleged that the factory had been employing children and was forcing people to work long hours without commensurate pay. Those claims prompted Air Jordans’ parent company, Nike, to audit more than 600 factories over the next two years.

Now thousands of workers are striking at the same factory. Michael Jordan may have since switched allegiances from Chicago to Charlotte, but it seems that not much has changed in China when it comes to labor conditions.

On April 5, workers at the Yue Yuen factory in Dongguan went on strike over what they said were invalid contracts and false pension promises. According to Radio Free Asia, the government attempted to evict the protesters, who were blocking roads in front of the factory. Multiple arrests were made, though RFA did not say how many.

A spokesman for Yue Yuen called the labor dispute a “misunderstanding” on Tuesday and said the factory hopes to resolve the issue by April 14. Nike did not issue a statement, but Adidas said its local supplier is “in talks with local authorities to address workers’ concerns.”

The Taiwanese company Pou Chen Group, which owns this factory, has been in business since 1998 and is the single biggest supplier in China for Nike, Adidas and Reebok. One employee who has been working there since the famous Jordan visit says his supposedly permanent work contract was called invalid by local school administrators—he was trying to use it as proof of employment to enroll his child in the school.

From The Nanfang Insider:

“In addition to cheating workers by using invalid contracts, workers discovered that many of their social insurance schemes were downgraded to temp staff packages. According to the report, the downgrades were not only discovered in one of Yue Yuen’s factories, but several other factories under Yue Yuen as well. Workers had been negotiating with the factory, but nothing fruitful had come of it. It eventually escalated into Saturday’s protests.”

Saturday’s protest blocked the roads for three hours, according to users posting to Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter.

(Bei Piao Nongmin Gong/Weibo)
(Weibo)
"The essence of capitalism is exploitation," wrote one user on the social network. "Punish those profiteers!" wrote another.
(Shan Ye Cun Fu 65/Weibo)
Chinese authorities try to disperse the protesters. An unknown number of arrests were made.
(Weibo)

This isn’t the first time workers from the Yue Yuen factory have organized for better labor conditions. In 2011, 7,000 workers went on strike to protest wage cuts and layoffs. A Yue Yuen spokesman at the time said the protest had only a “minor impact, with its business orders expected to remain steady.”

The latest protest is part of a drumbeat of factory strikes in China, led by the iPhone-making Foxconn workers and spreading to employees at other factories that manufacture goods for U.S. companies. Some examples from the past month:

  • March 3: More than 1,000 workers strike at an IBM factory in Shenzhen over layoffs
  • March 4-5: Foxconn workers in Tianjin strike to protest the company’s failed promise to fulfill subsidies
  • March 5: workers at various Pepsi factories across China strike to protest company layoffs and pay/benefit cuts

Despite some efforts by Nike and Apple to improve conditions at their factories, unhappy workers in China are channeling their frustrations into multiple strikes and protests. Some of those strikes are covered by the Western media, and some aren’t. The New York Times, for example, covered the March 3 IBM protest, but no other publication of note picked up on this weekend’s strike.

That—plus the fact that the Yue Yuen factory’s production hasn’t been interrupted by the weekend strike, according to local media—means the striking workers may still have a ways to go before experiencing real change.

Respond Now
  • I have a novel idea. If Nike is so committed to improving the lives of the workers that make the shoes that make them rich, why dont they just pay the workers U.S. minimum wage themselves, and just have a contract with the company that owns the manufacturing plant to produce the goods, but they are not required to pay the workers at all. Instead the workers become “Nike” Salaried. Or if Nike refuses to do that because of liability concerns, they could negotiate into the contract that each employee must make the minimum wage of the USA, not the minimum wage of whatever country they are in, and add the cost of that into the contract. Our federal government has such contracts with companies such as general dynamics, vangent, and medicare workers. It’s time for the execs at Nike to stop exploiting their workers and to start being human. 

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