Chinese workers pay the price

Submitted by Janine on 5 September, 2004 - 8:59

Puma profits from the Olympics

From a new report by the US National Labor Committee and China Labour Watch

Puma sponsors Olympic teams and star athletes around the world. But it is unlikely that even these finely conditioned athletes could keep pace with Puma’s workers in China, forced to work up to 16.5 hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, six or seven days a week, for wages of just 31 cents an hour.

How many athletes could endure the constant production line speed-ups, the relentless numbing repetitive motions, being yelled and screamed at, humiliated, only to return home exhausted to a crowded dorm room shared by 12 workers, without hot water and forced to eat food resembling “pig slop”?

How many athletes could stand to be stripped of their most basic rights, knowing that if they ever dared to speak the truth, they would be fired immediately? Yet Puma workers in China endure just this, day in and day out, year after year.

The workers in China are carrying Puma on their backs. Puma is making a net profit of $12.24 per hour on each worker in China making their running shoes. Annually, Puma is reaping a profit of $38,189 on each worker. In a single factory, Puma’s profit from the workers can reach over $92 million a year. It is the workers in China who are actually paying all of Puma’s bills, including the $206 million a year Puma spends on advertising. Puma spends $6.78 to advertise a $70 pair of trainers — almost six times the $1.16 that they pay the workers to make those shoes.

Puma’s Code of Conduct and their “Perspective Sustainability Report” reads well. Puma even quotes Lao-tzu, a 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher, and the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky! However, Puma should worry less about the sustainability of its rhetoric and more about the real lives of the people who make their products. There is a great disconnect between what Puma says and what Puma does.

In the United States, the American people purchase two billion pairs of shoes made in China each year, which amounts to seven pairs of shoes for every man, woman and child in the country. But we never hear from the workers who make the products we purchase. Puma is certainly not the worst company. Far from it. Puma is pretty much like the rest, if not even a little better.

So what should Puma do? Certainly the workers are not asking Puma to pull out of Pou Yuen Plant F. On the contrary, they desperately need those jobs, or they would not put up with the abuse and repression. It is better to be exploited than to have no job at all. The Puma workers in China do not want a boycott, but they do want to be treated like human beings.

A worker in China makes enough Puma sneakers in the first five days and two hours of work — before the first week of the year is over — to pay his or her entire year’s wages. Suppose Puma did something utterly remarkable and said that the company would increase the base wage of its Chinese workers by just 20 cents an hour. This would increase the workers’ wages by 46.5 percent, allowing them to climb out of misery and at least into poverty!

No matter how nice corporate Codes of Conduct and company monitoring reports sound, if a worker is earning below subsistence-level wages, the factory is still a sweatshop. And, Freedom of Association is either respected, or it is not. The Puma workers in China definitely do not have the right to Freedom of Association or to organise.
Puma must seriously address these human rights issues: the right to earn at least subsistence level wages, freedom of association, and the right to organise — but should do so in reality, with concrete actions and not just words.

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