APRIL 13, 2004 -

Addicted to Oil: Confronting America's Worst Habit - By Ryan Singel


MAY 30, 2003 -

WASHINGTON, DC (BRAIN)--Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate last week that would include bike commuters in the tax code transportation fringe benefit.

The transportation fringe benefit was added to the tax code as an incentive to get more people commuting in ways other than single-occupancy cars. The transportation fringe benefit's intent was to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and wear and tear on the roads, said Mele Williams, director of government relations for the League of American Bicyclists.

The Bicycle Commuter Act, S. 1093, would allow an employer to offer a monthly cash reimbursement to an employee who commutes to work by bicycle, providing a tax benefit to the employer and helping defray commuting expenses for the bicyclist.

Human Rights, Not Cheap Bikes Retailer Advocates Industry-Wide Boycott Of China


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 worker rights."

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," Schwartz said.

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," Wu said.

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.

Schwartz said the boycott will aversely affect his bottom line, but that buying non-Chinese made products "just feels good."

This story originally ran in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.