As many of you know, GLS recently released a report detailing US corporations' efforts to block Chinese new labor law reforms. Our report and the resulting New York Times story has spurred a flurry of debate and activity.
We've heard from US and global unions, maquiladora activists, trade lobby groups, political campaigns, outsourcing campaigners, Chinese academics and legislators, even American banks, all asking for more information and how to get involved. Letters have been sent to Wal-Mart and other corporations; the EU Chamber of Commerce has been condemned; the Spanish version of the report has been distributed in the Mexican maquiladoras...this all just in three weeks time.
We are also encouraged that US members of Congress have so quickly stepped forward to address the concerns raised by our report. U.S. Representatives Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), George Miller (D-CA), Barney Frank (D-MA and twenty-three other House Members recently sent a letter to President Bush "protesting the efforts US corporations to undermine the most basic human rights of Chinese workers and block proposed new worker rights and labor standards protections in the proposed new Chinese labor law." They are urging President Bush to stand up and speak out to underscore the commitment of all Americans and our government to support internationally-recognized worker rights. [Here is a copy of the letter: Download china_labor_letter_final.pdf]
According to Lynn Woolsey, “We are appalled that the American Chamber of Commerce in China and some of America’s most-prestigious, brand-name corporations are leading efforts inside China to weaken, if not block altogether, significant worker rights and protection provisions in the proposed Chinese labor law. This shameful lobbying campaign is totally inconsistent with our country’s long-standing commitment to promote respect for fundamental worker rights in law and practice everywhere. It is challenging enough for hard-working Americans to compete in the new global economy without having U.S. corporate leaders seeking to play them off against the least-protected and lowest-wage workers in the world.”
Congresswoman Lee's public statement declared: “This duplicitous U.S. corporate campaign discredits the long-professed claims of many U.S. corporate leaders and testimony before Congress that U.S. companies and investors in China de facto are leading by example, to respect the basic human rights of all Chinese workers and improve their working conditions and living standards."
Specifically, the congressional letter calls upon President Bush to take the following actions: (1) instruct the U.S. Ambassador in China and the U.S. Trade Representative to deliver letters to Chinese Government officials in support of worker rights and protection provisions in the “Draft Labor Contract Law”; (2) repudiate the efforts of any U.S.-based corporations and their representatives doing business in China to weaken such provisions; and (3) urge pertinent U.S.-based corporations and their representatives doing business in China to reverse their opposition and make clear their commitment to the universal rights of all Chinese workers and to improve their working conditions and living standards.
We are very pleased that progressive members of Congress is already framing the debate in terms of US corporate activity in China, as opposed to its habitual China-bashing. We have been told that potential congressional leaders are already gearing up to make this a priority in the next Congressional session.