Friday, October 13, 2006

By the way, what does it say about multinational corporations when even the Chinese government starts to seem more tolerant of the labor movement than they are?

China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers' rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980's.

The move, which underscores the government's growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here....

The skirmish has pitted the American Chamber of Commerce -- which represents corporations including Dell, Ford, General Electric, Microsoft and Nike -- against labor activists and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Party’s official union organization.

..."You have big corporations opposing basically modest reforms," said Tim Costello, ... a longtime labor union advocate. "This flies in the face of the idea that globalization and corporations will raise standards around the world." ...

It's not clear whether how much real reform there's going to be -- though you have to assume something is going to change if the companies are so upset.

There's more in a related article about the fact that workers at all the Wal-Marts in China are now represented by unions (albeit government-sanctioned unions):

Labor unrest is common these days in China, particularly among the 150 million migrant workers, and some specialists suggest that an improved network of official union branches could assist the authorities in defusing protests that could potentially pose a threat to Communist Party rule. The heightened unrest is one reason that the Chinese government has announced plans for greater worker protection, including a crackdown on sweatshops.

"They are afraid that public protests or strikes might get out of hand," said Robin Munro, research director of the China Labor Bulletin, a workers' rights group in Hong Kong. "Hence, the big drive to impose unions and provide greater union coverage; I think this is seen as a way of crisis management."

So this is nothing to get too excited about, but at least the government is bending a little bit. The corporations don't want to do even that much.

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