Hard Labor

From plantations in Africa to sweatshops in China to farms and factories in developing nations around the world, workers are being exploited by American corporations. A congressional delegation - including Senator Bernie Sanders - this week is in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where children are forced to work on cocoa plantations. A raft of reports in recent weeks detailed labor abuses in China, where factories that supply Western companies routinely shortchange their employees on wages, withhold healt

From plantations in Africa to sweatshops in China to farms and factories in developing nations around the world, workers are being exploited by American corporations. A congressional delegation - including Senator Bernie Sanders - this week is in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where children are forced to work on cocoa plantations. A raft of reports in recent weeks detailed labor abuses in China, where factories that supply Western companies routinely shortchange their employees on wages, withhold health benefits and expose their workers to dangerous machinery and harmful chemicals, according to a New York Times article. They wote: "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 Washington, Sanders has cosponsored legislation to prohibit the import, export, and sale of goods made with sweatshop labor. "I have been working hard in the Congress to end the scourge of abusive and exploitative child labor for a number of years," he said.

"The issue of the exploitation of child labor is not only a moral issue but it is an economic issue that is having a profound impact on American workers. As consumers, we should not be purchasing products made by children who are held in virtual slavery -- children who cannot go to school, children who work horrendous hours each week, children who are beaten when they perform poorly on the job and children who are often permanently maimed when they attempt to escape from their slavery," Sanders wrote in a column. "Equally important, we should not continue a trade policy which forces American workers to compete against desperate and impoverished people in countries such as China and Mexico who earn as little as fifteen or twenty cents an hour -- whether those workers are children or adults."

The legislation Sanders cosponsored was introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan. The Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act would prohibit the import, export or sale of sweatshop goods in the United States.

The measure is supported by the National Labor Committee. "Up to this point, it has been the companies that have demanded and won all sorts of enforceable laws--intellectual property and copyright laws backed up by sanctions--to defend their corporate trademarks, labels and products. Yet, the corporations have long said that extending similar laws to protect the human rights of the 16-year-old girl in Bangladesh who sews the garment would be ‘an impediment to free trade.' Under this distorted sense of values, the label is protected, but not the human being, the worker who makes the product," the committee says in a discussion of the bill on its Web site.

To read a Voice of America article about the delegation in Africa, click here.

To read The New York Times report about factories in China, click here.

To learn more about S.367, the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, click here.

To find out more about the National Labor Committee, click here.