Blame corporate America, not China's workers

Updated: 2011-09-23 07:55

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Blame corporate America, not China's workers

The protest occurring near Wall Street in New York has gotten a little wild, with police making arrests of lawbreakers.

It is basically a rally against greedy capitalists who are accused of wielding excessive clout in politics and causing the economic meltdown.

The scene is reminiscent of a kind of proletarian revolution. For some reason, it also reminds me of the documentary Inside Job, which I watched nearly a year ago. The film, which won an Oscar for best documentary this year, tells of the "systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption", according to director Charles Ferguson.

Most American film viewers might feel angry that corporate greed and corruption have made them suffer dearly during the financial crisis. But what has kept playing back in my mind in the past year was a scene shot in a dingy factory building in Dongguan, Guangdong province. A Chinese worker had just lost his $80-a-month job due to reduced export orders placed with the factory, putting his family's livelihood in jeopardy.

It is only $80. And that $80 might have been doubled or tripled over the past few years as local governments in China raise minimum wage standards. But it is still a tiny fraction of what American manufacturing workers are paid.

Many Americans have not realized that US workers can no longer compete for these low-paying and labor-intensive jobs. These jobs have gone to Chinese, Mexicans or Vietnamese workers and are gone forever.

US talk show host Jon Stewart vividly demonstrated this by working side by side in a field with Mexican farm workers. He almost passed out after a short while.

But for a long time, we have heard criticism of how low-wage Chinese workers are stealing American jobs and ripping Americans off.

Does that mean American consumers are unhappy shopping at Walmart, Target or Sears for products made in China or other countries? Would they prefer to pay twice or three times as much for the goods?

I have never thought that $80 a month or even $800 a month is decent pay for a worker. But blaming underprivileged Chinese or Mexican workers for stealing American jobs is simply dead wrong.

So instead of accusing Chinese workers or the Chinese government, these critics should put the heat on corporate America and examine its greed because it is responsible for exploiting cheap labor and reaping huge profits.

Statistics show that American firms engaging in design, distribution and sales get most of these profits, while Chinese factories get only a small fee from the processing trade, which accounts for the bulk of Chinese trade surplus with the US.

Typical examples cited are an iPod, for which the Chinese get only a $4 assembling fee out of its $299 retail price, or a Barbie doll, for which the Chinese get only 35 cents apiece compared to the $9.99 retail price.

Besides the small portion of profit received by the Chinese, the high environmental and human health costs are often overlooked as multinationals make China the manufacturing workshop of the world.

It is simply unfair to blame China or Chinese workers who supply cheap and affordable goods to US consumers while they bear the hardships of low wages, poor working conditions and a deteriorating environment.

I bet all Chinese people would be thrilled if outspoken US congressmen instead choose to pressure their corporations to double the wages of Chinese workers, or stop moving polluting industries to China.

That, I believe, also reflects the message of those people protesting near Wall Street for the past week.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. E-mail:

(China Daily 09/23/2011 page8)