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cheap labor




奥瑞特·范·希尔登曾是一名积极反对种族隔离制度的活动分子,受到南非政府折磨和关押,最终被流放。如今,他是美国公平劳动协会(Fair Labor Association, FLA)的首席执行长,该协会在华盛顿、日内瓦和上海都有办公室。
Auret van Heerden is a former anti-apartheid activist who was tortured, imprisoned and ultimately exiled by the South African government. He's now CEO of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), with offices in Washington, Geneva and Shanghai.
公平劳动协会汇集了耐克(Nike)、阿迪达斯(Adidas)和恒适(Hanes)等跨国公司,普林斯顿大学(Princeton)、圣母大学(Notre Dame)等高校以及全美消费者联盟(National Consumers League)、Human Rights First等非政府组织的力量,致力于消除全球各地的血汗工厂现象。上周,我采访了刚刚结束中国之行的希尔登先生。目前在中国,国内通胀率已达到近5%,食品通胀率超过10%,最低工资两位数的涨幅也屡见不鲜。
The FLA brings together multinational companies like Nike, Adidas and Hanes; universities like Princeton and Notre Dame; and NGOs like the National Consumers League and Human Rights First to end sweat-shop working conditions in factories around the world. I spoke to van Heerden last week, shortly after he returned from a trip to China, where the inflation rate has reached nearly 5%, food inflation is more than 10%, and double-digit increases in the minimum wage are suddenly the norm.
Is China still an option for global manufacturers seeking lower costs of production?
It's an incredibly fast-moving situation. Labor markets which we previously thought were inexhaustible, like China and India, have actually tightened up quite dramatically. Employers can't get workers. Wages have gone up. Add to that the energy cost increases, and the factories, the contract manufacturers, are now suddenly squeezed. So they're turning around to their buyers -- to the retailers or the brands -- and they're saying, "Hey, my prices need to go up." And the brands are saying, "Whoa! We don't think we can pass those prices on to the consumer." There's something of a train smash looming.
Won't they just look for cheaper alternatives elsewhere?
They're wondering if they could push more stuff to Bangladesh or Vietnam or Indonesia and so on, but the options are limited. The last country added to the supply chain was Cambodia in 2000, and there are only one or two places left. People are looking at Africa again to see if there isn't something that they've overlooked there. Finding another cheap platform, another cheap country, was the default until now, but frankly that's no longer an option. There's nowhere else to go.
So will US consumers have to pay more for sweaters and jeans at the Gap?
Yes. I think consumers will see across the board price increases for apparel. Probably for electronics and other popular consumer goods, as well, because their cost structures are shifting, too. The end of cheap labor is not the only factor. We're also running out of cheap water and cheap land. China doesn't have enough water for domestic consumption. Yet silicon-chip factories use billions of gallons. Chinese authorities have already told Beijing that the cost of water will increase fourfold next year. Industry will have to pay more for workers, more for raw materials, more for water, and more for energy. There's just no running away from all of that.
At what point do these shifting trends begin to benefit workers in the United States and other developed countries?
在中国,我向几家重工业公司提了这个问题,事实上他们说很快。确实,我们早已到达这个转折点。我注意到几周前有一篇关于总部位于密尔沃基的标志性锁具公司Master Lock的文章。他们重新调整了生产布局,事实上公司生产业务已从中国移回至美国。Master Lock首席执行长指出,幸运的是他们从未忘记如何制锁。他们一直在美国保留了小规模生产。许多其他公司在将生产外包时,关闭了所有工厂,将制造业务全部交由代工企业。这些人可能现在有麻烦了。
I put this question to a bunch of heavy industrial companies in China, and they said quite soon, actually. In fact, we're reaching that point already. I noticed an article a couple of weeks ago about Master Lock, the iconic lock company, headquartered in Milwaukee. They re-ran the numbers, and they've actually moved production back to the US from China. The CEO pointed out that fortunately they've never forgotten how to make locks. They've always kept a small production footprint in the US. A lot of other companies, when they outsourced, they closed their last factories and gave all the work to contract manufacturers. Those guys may find themselves stuck now.
Will this be a disaster for developing countries that have come to rely on exports for jobs and economic growth?
I've never thought that jobs were a zero-sum game. But a lot of the jobs are in places right now that are not really sustainable. It would be tragic if those jobs simply left again and went to the next cheapest place -- and that cheapest place might be the US. I would rather see the companies stay and invest in training, invest in new technology, and become more efficient. Right now in China and in Bangladesh, just to cite two countries, the electricity supply is inadequate for one reason or another. And so factories are using diesel generators to make up the deficit -- which is expensive, inefficient, and very bad for their carbon footprints.
You've been at this for years. I don't know if you let yourself get optimistic or pessimistic, but what's your state of mind right now?
I see things getting worse. The ability of governments to regulate key areas of labor markets or the environment is generally declining. There are a lot of reasons for that, not only corruption. It's a bankruptcy of the political processes in many countries. That creates a lot of risk for everybody concerned -- for the buyers, for the employer, for the workers, and for the environment.
Take human trafficking, for example. We have this really globalized labor market now, and as the local economies disintegrate, more and more young people are having to go and look for work elsewhere. But they're often falling into the hands of unscrupulous labor brokers. Human trafficking is now the second-biggest criminal activity after arms dealing. It's more valuable than drugs. Companies don't have a good handle on this right now. I see it as the next big issue that socially responsible companies are going to have to deal with -- the amount of trafficked workers in their supply chains.
How does that change?
Basically we'll have to get it done ourselves. Civil society and socially responsible business has to pick up the baton. You asked about my state of mind? I'm depressed by the actual conditions on the ground. But I'm optimistic because we have been able to mobilize civil society, and socially responsible companies have responded. If we can get a critical mass, and the right partnerships of civil society and multinationals, I think we can fill a lot of these gaps.
It's not uncomplicated and it's not un-controversial. A lot of people would say, "This is the role of government. Nobody elected these multinationals. Nobody gave them a mandate." But frankly if you're waiting for government to come along and clean up your water supply or to protect your wages and your rights at work, I'd say don't hold your breath.
2011-04-02 14:54 编辑:kuaileyingyu