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Trade Union News from Finland

A new study found both improvement and serious deficiencies
in working conditions of Chinese workers


Helsinki (28.06.2012 - Juhani Artto) The Swedish watchdog Swedwatch collected data in spring 2012 on working conditions at four Chinese factories that produce products for Biltema, Clas Ohlson and Fiskars. In the Nordic countries these three companies are well-known to most consumers looking for garden, hobby and/or home accessories.

The Finnish watchdog Finnwatch published its own analysis* on Monday based on the data put together by Swedwatch. The data concerns working conditions at four factories in Guangdong. The new data enables us to understand and draw conclusions on how working conditions have changed in recent years as Swedwatch made a similar study in 2005.

The analysis conducted by Finnwatch summarizes the most significant positive changes as follows:

  • almost all Chinese workers have now a written employment agreement,
  • they are paid the mandatory minimum wage or more,
  • in most cases overtime work is compensated properly
  • and the total working hours of most workers has decreased (although working hours still exceed the maximum norms set down by Chinese legislation).
However, many serious and systematic deficiencies in working conditions prevail. Thus the study at hand confirms results of other recent studies on China's factories, made by several other independent research organizations. The most important negative findings are as follows:
  • employees do not have the right to freely elect their own representatives,
  • employees risk retribution for even daring to voice grievances,
  • occupational safety and health work is far below a satisfactory level
  • and work days are often very long (partly due to the low level of basic wages).
The authors of the study, Henri Purje and Kristina Areskog Bjurling, stress the responsibility of companies importing goods from China. But not only the importers should be more conscious and demanding concerning working conditions at the Chinese factories where consumer items are produced. "Consumers should be alert to the origin of the goods and on the working conditions of the workers and be prepared to demand information about these things", they write.

In addition, politicians should actively broach the subject of problematic working conditions and lack of rights when meeting representatives of China, the authors urge.

*Hikistä hommaa  (a 38-page pdf-file), Finnwatch 3/2012