From China's Sweatshops: A Wave of Prosperity from Market Forces and Ambition, Not Activism
|China's Rural Boom, Factory Workers Get the Last Laugh|
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 and apparel for Columbia Sportswear, both based near Beaverton, Oregon, 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."
MP: We shouldn't judge China's working and living standards with a 21st century American viewpoint, but we should more realistically view China with a viewpoint of America in the year 1900, when the U.S. went through a similar transformation from a rural, agricultural-based economy to an industrial powerhouse, characterized by sweatshops, poor working conditions, no safety standards, low wages, etc.
This story helps to illustrate the reality that the transition to an advanced industrialized economy includes a "sweatshop" phase on the path to greater prosperity and abundance. And to deny or condemn the "sweatshop phase" is to deny or delay a country's transition to a higher standard of living and greater prosperity on the other end. As the article points out, China's factory workers are getting the last laugh.
HT: Wayne Sanman