January 9, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

It’s been almost a decade since U.S. corporations, facing a consumer outcry over sweatshops, launched high-profile efforts to ensure that their products were manufactured under fair labor conditions. David Barboza of the New York Times reports that investigations by labor rights groups find dangerous and unfair working conditions persisting nonetheless:

The groups say some Chinese companies routinely shortchange their employees on wages, withhold health benefits and expose their workers to dangerous machinery and harmful chemicals, like lead, cadmium and mercury. …

And so while American and European consumers worry about exposing their children to Chinese-made toys coated in lead, Chinese workers, often as young as 16, face far more serious hazards. Here in the Pearl River Delta region near Hong Kong, for example, factory workers lose or break about 40,000 fingers on the job every year, according to a study published a few years ago by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

In other news:

HealthDay News: A new study suggests that farm women who come into contact with some widely used pesticides may be at increased risk of developing allergic asthma.

Occupational Hazards: After 35 years, OSHA is proposing updates to its shipyard employment standard to reduce the hazards employees face. 

Bloomberg News: Workers at Smithfield Foods’ Iowa plant have ratified a new contract that includes increases in wages and sick pay; UFCW Local 1142 President Warren Baker wonders why there’s such a contrast between how the company deals with its Iowa workers vs. those in North Carolina.

Associated Press: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited MIT for two violations after an employee at its nuclear research reactor was exposed to a “surprisingly high dose of radiation.”

Economist: In Japan, employees often work far more hours than they’re paid for, and “death from overwork” is all too common. A court case involving a quality-control manager who died at the age of 30, after collapsing at work at 4am, may pressure companies to treat “free overtime” as paid work.

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