BY BEN DELANEY
SANTA BARBARA, CA-Eric Schwartz, owner of Commuter
Bicycles, wants the industry to join him and others around the
nation in a boycott of Chinese made products.
An organization called Boycott Made In China Campaign
is spearheading the charge. Begun last year, the boycott is
backed by groups like the AFL-CIO, the umbrella union organization
for workers in the United States.
Schwartz admitted that sourcing low-end products
from anywhere else is difficult, but said that China's long
record of human rights abuses makes it impossible from him to
simply buy on price.
The Chinese government's brutal treatment of its
citizens and the Tibetan people has been documented by media
like the New York Times and National Geographic for years.
Citizens are imprisoned, beaten and executed for
minor crimes. Union organizers are arrested. Prisoners are forced
to work and their organs are harvested for sale. And the Tibetan
people, invaded 50 years ago, have lost 1 million people from
starvation, malnutrition and execution under Chinese rule.
Schwartz-and Boycott Made In China Campaign-believes
a boycott could influence Chinese and international leaders
to bring China's human rights policies more in line with those
of North American and European nations.
Schwartz is trying to coordinate American manufacturers.
"It's not that I think U.S. manufacturers would necessarily
care about social issues, but it may be to their benefit to
reduce the influx of Chinese-made goods," Schwartz said.
America's trade deficit with China swelled to
$103.1 billion in 2002, according to U.S. Department of Commerce
statistics. The United States exported $22.1 billion of goods,
primarily aircraft, industrial machines and organic chemicals,
to China last year. China, by contrast, exported $125.2 billion
of goods, primarily toys, sporting goods and electronics, to
the United States.
The AFL-CIO has called for a United Nations High
Commission on Human Rights resolution to condemn China's violations
of human and labor rights. The AFL-CIO cited China's gross human
rights violations and unfair trade practices as its reasons
for discontinuing trade.
The union also asked the Clinton and Bush administrations
to bar the country from the World Trade Organization (WTO) until
there is "real, demonstrable progress on adherence to international
trading norms and basic democratic principles, especially internationally-recognized
China was granted permanent normal trade relations
with the United States Oct. 10, 2000. However, the House Bill,
(H.R. 4444) that granted normal trade relation included lengthy
clauses requiring China to curb its human rights violations.
Bicycle imports from China climbed from 5.78 million
units in 1997 to 14.26 million in 2001, according to figures
from the U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. exports, by contrast,
are a drop in the bucket with just 14,541 units going to all
of the Pacific Rim countries in 2001.
Trade deficits aside, Schwartz and others are
concerned about products in U.S. stores coming from prison factories
where workers are often beaten and tortured.
"China is just off the charts with human
rights abuses. People are executed for stealing. They harvest
prisoners' organs to sell to people in countries like the United
States. And they've killed 20 percent of Tibet's population,"
Chinese factories fall into three general categories:
army labor, prison labor and citizen factories.
Harry Wu, an author and former Chinese labor camp
prisoner, testified before the U.S. Congress on the prison labor
camps, known as Laogai. Wu estimated that some 15 to 20 million
prisoners work in thousands of labor camps.
In his book, Laogai: The Chinese Gulag, Wu explains
the central role such camps play in the Chinese economy.
"Never before has there been a nation with
a prison system so extensive that it pervades all aspects of
national production, has such careful planning and organization,
and composes such an integral part of a people's economic and
productive system," Wu wrote.
In testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee
of Commerce, Science and Transportation, Wu argued against the
theory that increased foreign investment brings expanded human
rights to the Chinese people.
"We have seen the 'dollars to democracy'
theory fail over the past twenty years. The Chinese people may
have more brands to choose from at the store, but they still
risk arrest, torture and imprisonment because of their political
beliefs or their faith. China continues to imprison political
dissenters and labor activists, to repress religious freedom,
to execute more of its citizens than any nation in the world,
to violate the rights of women in its population control policy,"
In the general labor camps, workers are also repressed.
A national union exists, but it is run by the government and
does not defend workers' interests. Those who attempt to form
unions are imprisoned.
Cao Maobing is a recent example. According to
a Feb. 9, 2001 New York Times story, Maobing was arrested and
imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital after speaking out for
hundreds of workers at a silk mill.
Additionally, China leads the world in forced
abortions, sterilizations and executions.
The International Olympic Committee denied China's
request to host the 2000 Olympic Games due to its "gross
and systematical human rights violations."
The bike industry, however, is not turning down
China's offer for business. An increasing number of companies
are leaving Taiwan for China, or are opening factories there
to produce cheap goods.
The vast majority of bikes under $500 have benefited
from Chinese labor in some way.
Back in Santa Barbara, Schwartz takes inventory
of non-Chinese bikes he can sell at the lower end.
"Van Dessel is a great mid-range, non-Chinese
made bike," Schwartz said. "We like Fuji. And Redline
makes a solid cross bike in Taiwan."
"On the lower end really all we have to offer
is Van Dessel and kids bikes. We try to offset this by giving
discounts on higher end bikes to active members of social organizations,"
Schwartz said the boycott will aversely affect
his bottom line, but that buying non-Chinese made products "just
This story originally ran in Bicycle Retailer
& Industry News.