by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Two activists from the China Labor Watch came to Washington DC January 15, 2008 to speak to the Child Labor Coalition, a national organization of child labor advocates and activists lead by the National Consumers League. Li Qiang, Executive Director of China Labor Watch, and David Shih, executive assistant and translator for Li Qiang, spent an hour with the CLC. Li Qiang described how he came from a union family and worked in factories until he went to law school. He was able to experience personally the exploitation of workers in Chinese factories. Li began organizing and has been at the forefront of the workers rights movement in China, encouraging businesses to develop a legal framework for the enforcement of local and national labor law. CLW has produced more than 20 in-depth reports on a wide range of topics. One of the most controversial, released in August 2007, showed that between December 2006 and August 2007, toy factories in China had violated labor laws, including employing teenagers from rural areas in their factories. Toys associated with Disney, Gosh International and Hasbro, among others, were implicated.
Li Qiang noted that Mattel has a better record than most companies because in recent years its corporate leadership determined to make improving factory and worker conditions a priority.
The CLC also heard from Han Donfang, founder and director of the China Labour Bulletin, who spoke about his work defending and promoting workers rights in China. Based in Hong Kong, CLB has ties to labor organizations and finds that child labor is “widespread, systemic, and an increasingly serious problem in China.” CLB’s report, “Small Hands: a Survey Report on Child Labor in China,” is based on research carried out in 2005, and explores the demand for child labor and the causes, including serious failings in the rural school systems. Researchers for CLB talked with school teachers, labor officials, factory owners and administrators, child workers, and their parents to develop the profile of living and working conditions of child laborers. Han Donfang talked about the report, the research, and efforts to combat the exploitation of child labor in China.