China is one of the world’s top exporters and top recipients of foreign direct investment.
China Labour Watch reports that the majority of this activity is concentrated in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province, where a sprawling network of major cities like Shenzhen and boomtowns like Dongguan draw in millions of migrants from around the country to work in light manufacturing. Many of the region’s factories produce for foreign companies.
Labour conditions in the Pearl River Delta have somewhat improved in recent years but remain devastatingly brutal, characterised by long hours, unsafe workplaces and restricted freedom of association, and are in blatant violation of Chinese and international labour law. The case of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, shows that corporate codes of conduct and factory auditing alone are not enough to strengthen workers’ rights if corporations are unwilling to pay the production costs associated with such codes.