A merry dance of Catholic social doctrine, permaculture, distributism, and other odd answers to pressing questions

Watch those last-minute ornaments.

2007 Dec 24, 12:04 Mon

[Making Christmas Ornaments for Wal-Mart] Heading out for last-minute Christmas gifts? Me too. But if you're in the market for Christmas ornaments, and you're eyeing those cheap MADE IN CHINA specials, think again. The National Labor Coalition has released a short video of men, women, and children making ornaments in the Guangzhou Huanya Factory. These ornaments are being sold in our stores as you read by companies such as Gerson, Christmas House, and Wal-Mart.

The video isn't dramatic. You won't see workers beaten. But you will see a man casually spray Christmas balls with a bright purple paint that has to be toxic, tray after tray, without so much protection as a paper mask. You will see this boy bent over a huge bag of ornaments, repeating the same tiny task...over...and over...and over...in silence.

How long does he have to do that? And what does he get paid? A few selections from the press release on the NLC investigation [emphasis added]:

  • Five hundred to 600 16-year-old high school students were employed last summer, along with some children as young as 12 years of age, toiling 10 to 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and going for months on end without receiving a single day off. Wal-Mart Christmas ornament workers are at the factory a minimum of 84 hours a week, while at least half the workers are at the factory 105 hours a week.
  • Anyone daring to take a Sunday off will be docked two and a half days' wages.
  • Some workers earned as little as 26 cents an hour, just half China's legal minimum wage of 55 cents an hour, which itself is not close to a subsistence level wage....Workers were cheated of one-third of the wages legally due them. Factory pay sheets showed just eight percent of the workers earning the legal minimum wage, while 92 percent fell below that.
  • Workers in the Spray Paint department who develop skin rashes and sores while handling potentially dangerous chemicals have no choice but to leave the factory, as management does not pay medical bills or sick days. For quitting on short notice, workers are docked one month's pay.

Will they get Christmas off? I wonder.

And thus bodily labor, which Divine Providence decreed to be performed, even after original sin, for the good at once of man's body and soul, is being everywhere changed into an instrument of perversion; for dead matter comes forth from the factory ennobled, while men there are corrupted and degraded.

Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 135. (1931)

All this having been said, the world also had plenty to be angry about at the first Christmas, and still the angels told us of great joy. So let's avoid contributing to the mess as best we can, and then have a Merry Christmas.

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