Harry Wu and the Quality of Labor

Posted on | oktober 13, 2012 | No Comments

Laogai Map.jpgThere has been a great deal of talk about jobs and China in the US presidential campaign this year. One of thethings that has not been addressed is the nature of that employment. There is a considerable difference between jobs done willingly by people treated humanely and forced labor under brutal conditions. Candidate rhetoricemphasizes the number of jobs that have been outsourced, but not the quality of the positions. After all, there are many jobs in the United States that the unemployed could take, but they are unwilling to do so – this is why we have illegal immigration to this country. Refusing work, even under the most unpleasant and dangerous circumstances, is not an option for the people imprisoned in the PRC’s labor camp system, or laogai (literally ‘reform through labor’). Foreign companies willing to work with (or turn a blind eye to) laogai industries are not only giving China an unfair labor advantage, but are encouraging a multitude of human rights abuses. This is an issue no presidential candidate can afford to ignore.

With over a thousand laogai camps estimated throughout China, operating under a myriad of rapidly changing corporate names, it is difficult to track exactly which products are coming from forced labor. Such products are illegal to purchase in the United States, but enforcement is difficult, and the availability of such inexpensive and pliable labor lowers the bar for working standards across the developing world. Over four million people are currently incarcerated in laogai camps, and since the founding of the PRC as many as fifty million have been imprisoned there – many to the end of their lives.

Aspiring politicians seeking to make jobs and China an issue should not just focus on the sheer number of jobs moving abroad, but the nature of them and what can be done to combat labor abuses. Someone who has been doing this for many years is Harry Wu, who will deliver the 2013 Center for Asian Democracy’s annual democracy lecture in January. His work chronicling the laogai includes several books, establishing the Laogai Museum in Washington, D.C., and founding the Laogai Research Foundation, for which he currently serves as Executive Director. Wu introduces people to the nature of life in these camps through the powerful perspective of his own experience. For nearly twenty years, he endured starvation, abuse, and torture with his fellow inmates whose only crimes were possessing a certain political viewpoint or being born into a particular socioeconomic class. Anyone interested in learning more about the real substance of international relations, domestic human rights issues, or the nature of the global economy, should make a point of attending his talk.

AUTHOR: Dr. Jason Abbott
URL: http://profjabbott.blogspot.com
E-MAIL: jason.abbott [at] louisville.edu


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