Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Deadly Jewelry

There is increasing evidence, pointed out in several articles in the NY Times over the past several months, that for Chinese workers, "Made in China" means "Dead in China:"
SHUANG TU, China, June 15 — With his handsome smile and full head of black hair, Hu Zhiguo hardly looks 44, much less gravely ill. The giveaway is his wispy voice, faint from clotted lungs.
One doctor told him he had tuberculosis. Another guessed it was cancer. The final diagnosis, based on the cumulus of gray that clouds his chest X-rays, is a severe case of silicosis, a disease Chinese workers call dust lung.

Mr. Hu got the illness making cheap necklaces and bracelets from iridescent stones like opal, sold by the containerload to United States retailers. Working long days at a factory in booming Guangdong Province, he probably inhaled more quartz dust in 10 years than China's own safety standards would permit in a thousand.


China in that sense is not only recreating the industrial transformation that brought prosperity to Europe, the United States and some East Asian nations. It is also reliving its horrors.

Even by its official count, China already has more deaths from work-related illnesses than any other country or region, including the industrialized economies of the United States and Europe combined.

Last year, 386,645 Chinese workers died of occupational illnesses, according to government data compiled by the International Labor Organization.

The statistics may understate the situation in China's thriving east coast industrial centers, where tens of millions of migrant workers like Mr. Hu produce the bulk of China's exports for well under a dollar an hour without employment contracts, health care plans or union representation.