Toxic Factories Take Toll On China’s Labor Force

Posted on January 16, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Over the holidays, millions of American children received Chinese-made toys powered by cadmium batteries.

Cadmium batteries are safe to use. They are also cheap, saving American parents about $1.50 on the average toy, compared with pricier batteries.[Cadmium Caution]

But cadmium batteries can be hazardous to make. In recent months, Americans have discovered the dark side of their reliance on cheap Chinese goods. From lead-tainted toys to contaminated pet food, the safety of Chinese products is suddenly an American obsession.

But in China, workers making goods for American consumers have long borne the brunt of a global manufacturing system that puts cost cutting ahead of safety. The search for cheaper production means dirty industries are migrating to countries with few worker protections and lenient regulatory environments.

Ms. Wang’s … recent post, in Chinese, said, “Basically, occupational disease could be prevented but it costs money. Money is the gold of bosses. And for them, the lives of workers are worthless.”

The nickel-cadmium battery illustrates this trend. Once widely manufactured in the West, the batteries are now largely made in China, where the industry is sickening workers and poisoning the soil and water.

Now, some regulators and companies are taking action. This year, the European Union is banning the sale of nearly all cadmium batteries. A few companies, including Hasbro Inc., are eschewing the battery.

In America, five years after Hasbro stopped using nickel-cadmium batteries, Mattel and Toys “R” Us are yet to follow suit, but say they are exploring alternatives. Wal-Mart no longer purchases cadmium batteries from GP but declined to comment on whether it still uses them in its products.

Mattel says cadmium batteries have some performance advantages over alternatives, such as a better ability to retain a charge when not used for long periods.

Read full from Wall Street Journal

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