A documentary shot with forbidden, and at times hidden, cameras that portrays the daily life in a Chinese jeans factory, where its industrious teens, many less than 16 years old, do not even enjoy the labor rights stipulated by the Chinese government.
Potentially shaming to those of us with the purchasing power of rich country consumers, the documentary China Blue shows us the life of a group of workers in the Canton region, one of the most important cheap labor centers in China, with entire cities specialized in the manufacture of clothes for Latin-American, Europe, and primarily US businesses.
The “maquiladoras” of the Mexican border have a powerful competitor in China, whose businessmen have the freedom to cater the price of their production to the pressures of rich country businesses.
As reflected in the Cantonese jeans factory of the documentary, prices are trimmed by means of the imposition of unpaid overtime and marathon workdays.
How our clothes are produced
In a jeans factory, two industrious teens, Jasmine and Orchid, try to survive the marathon working days that are imposed on them.
Their lives are inter-cut with those of other workers and with the director of the factory where they work, Mr. Lam, an old police chief who now drives a Mercedes and tries to please western buyers through the practice of the Chinese art of calligraphy.
The documentary offers us a critical vision of the complex problems of a globalized world, where the responsibilities of businesses seem to be blurred as they cross the border to join the new producers of the world, with China as a banner example.
Jasmine’s illusions of obtaining money to send to her family quickly become second priority as her life becomes focused on surviving the long hours and payday delays, including the retention of her first salary to obligate her to stay with the factory. Her only consolation is the true friendships with her coworkers.
To maintain control of the jeans business of western buyers, and to grow his client list, the owner of the factory where Jasmine and Orchid work agrees to extremely low prices and too short delivery times, given the productive capacity of his factory.
Mr. Lam, considered by some of the foreign businesspeople who appear in the documentary as a businessman who offers “better conditions than the average for the country”, trims salaries and forces his workers to produce without stopping during sometimes even 24 hour days.
If the workers sleep, they are fined with a considerable deduction in their salary. When the company posts the monthly paycheck amounts on the bulletin board, nearly all of the girls and teens who work for Mr. Lam verify that the penalties discount a good part of an already abysmal salary, somewhere around 50 euros per month.
Up to what point this situation has been caused by Mr. Lam, the Chinese government or the economic pressures established by western companies, as well as the human consequences of the phenomenon of global production, is something that the viewer can begin to discover with this revealing testimony.
First objective: to comply with established labor rights
China Blue does not explain to the western consumer, the documentary’s audience, that the most populated country in the world is not the country with the worst labor laws: China complies with most of the minimum requirements of worker protection (with the indispensable exception of the right to associate freely and gather peacefully) established by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Nevertheless, these rights, established by a country with one party- Marxist, but with capitalist policies for economic development-, are routinely broken: with a huge supply of cheap labor and without more powerful worldwide union rights, the Chinese oligarchy prefers to position their country as the main manufacturing producer in the world.
- Title: China Blue
- Director: Micha X. Peled
- Company: Teddy Bear Films (with the help of The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Sundance Documentary Fund and NAATA)
- Genre: documentary
- Duration: 87 minutes
- Year: 2005