Female Factory Workers in Asia: Resource Pack

We chose the topic of women factory workers in Asia.  Aspects that we focused on in particular include female workers in blue jean factories in China, the GAP Corporation, the harsh conditions that women are forced to work under, and some of the ways that organizations are advocating for changing these conditions.

We were inspired to research this topic further after watching and discussing the documentary “China Blue”, which is about young female migrant workers in China and the unfair labor conditions that they work and live under.  We were appalled by such horrific conditions – the fact that workers are underpaid, the number of hours that they work, the lack of regard for their mental and physical health, their cramped living conditions, and the strict deadlines that they must meet in producing goods.  A typical day in the life of a factory worker includes a fourteen hour workday, with few to no breaks, meals provided by the factory (although the cost for these meals comes out of the workers’ paychecks), and little sleep.  After watching the documentary, and realizing that the majority of factory workers are young girls or young women who leave their homes to help provide for their families, we were inspired to expand our research to encompass all of Asia.

In thinking about why we chose this particular topic, we realized that American consumers (and consumers in other countries as well) contribute to the conditions that these women work under every day, by purchasing products that are produced in such factories.  By purchasing name brand products (the GAP, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Nokia, etc.), and even by shopping at Wal-Mart, we contribute our money, however indirectly, to the continuation of factory production in Asian countries.  Even before watching the documentary, we as a group were aware that our consumerism contributed to unfair labor conditions; however, it seems to be a predominant view that buying such products is easily justified by the fact that they cost less.  Overall, we chose this topic in order to make you think twice about what you buy, where you buy it, and the fact that your money is really going to the large corporations, at the expense of young women in Asia.

Relating the topic of women factory workers to the general course themes, our initial thought was to raise awareness about women’s rights in other countries.  This is directly related to Sex, Power, and Politics because the majority of what we focused on this semester has in some way been related to women, the societal expectations that are placed upon the different sexes, and how women in other countries are much farther behind in gaining equal rights than we are in the United States.  As for politics and social intervention, we realized that if such conditions existed for any worker in the United States, it would be a much more visible problem.  A recurring theme throughout the semester has been privilege, which is why it is so easy for us to ignore the problem when we are not personally affected by the lives of these women – we do not drive by such factories daily, nor do we know women who work in them.  So in thinking about what we have read this semester, particularly Ayres and Brown and “Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries”, we realize that it is important to do something that advocates change, rather than silently complying with injustices that exist throughout the world.

Megan, Leah, Leigh Ann, Ali, Jaime

1)      “China Blue” Documentary:


This documentary is what gave us the idea to research female factory workers in Asia, specifically the conditions they live in and the terms/conditions of their work in the factory.  Hours are long (sometimes into the early morning), and pay is little (oftentimes withheld until the following pay period).  In addition, workers receive little time off, and much of this time is spent on personal care, such as washing clothes, sleeping, or visiting family.

2)      Alternatives to buying products produced under unfair conditions:

“Clean Clothes Campaign”


Although this website doesn’t solely address women workers in Asia, it provides information about the largest world companies who allow unfair working conditions and pay, as well as numerous ways that one can take action to either raise awareness about such conditions or actively participate in changing them.

“Behind the Label”


This website focuses on worker rights and how to fight sweatshop conditions globally – it does provide links to specific Asian labor campaigns under the “Suggested Links” section.  In addition, under the “Video & Audio” section, there are numerous links to videos and interviews relating to different parts of Asia where such harsh conditions exist.

3)      Programs to Support Migrant Women Workers:


This article posted by The Asia Foundation focuses on the foundation’s work in Guangdung, China.  The article discusses the types of services, programs and workshops the Foundation has implemented in Guangdung.  Services include: education, health services and legal aid services.  The article also highlights some of the dire conditions of the factories and lack of support women factory workers receive.

4)      GAP:

Woman Worker in Garment factory Producing for GAP and Benetton Dies from Excessive Work


According to the co-workers of this Philippine woman, she was killed by her 14 hour workdays everyday plus her 8 hour overtime on Sundays. The horrible part was that the 14 hour shifts are normal at this factory. “The factory produces garments for the GAP, Guess, Jones New York, Eddie Bauer, May Co, Macy, Liz Claiborne, Ellen Tracy, Head, Benetton, Ruff Hewn, LeQ, Chachi, Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic.” This article brings to light the terrible working conditions of these factories.

Ethical Trading Initiative


Pradeep Kumar works as the Director of Monitoring and Vender Development in Delhi for GAP Inc. He and a group of co-workers monitor over 300 factories across Asia with the goal of improving the standards for garment factories. Although he feels lucky to be where he is at, he is dedicated to improving the work environment for the factory workers. He has seen some horrible things during his time monitoring these factories, but it is helpful to know that someone is doing something about the horrible conditions for these workers.

5)      Thailand & Globalization:

The impact of globalization on the textile and garment industry in Thailand


This article describes how the factory work environment has been changing. The conditions are not the only thing changing, but also the type of work and the type of materials that they have to work with. It discusses the impact that globalization has had on the garment industry over the years.

6)      HIV/AIDS in Vietnamese factories:


This article addresses the complete lack of knowledge factory workers have regarding safe sex and HIV/AIDS.  The article suggests that resources and information should be made available to migrant women factory workers in Vietnam.  This article also emphasizes the lack of time women factory workers would have to learn about this information even if the resources were made available, because of the horrific hours they work. 

7)      Video Clips:

Chinese Factory Workers Protest


This video clip depicts Chinese factory workers protesting at the factory where they are employed, because the company will not pay them for any of the overtime they have worked. The employees also take this opportunity to protest the conditions they are forced to work in, such as stifling heat.

China factory workers living quarters


In this clip from a CNN news report in 2008, a reporter investigates the dormitories provided by Chinese factories for their workers, who are mostly migrants. There are up to 12 beds in a room, and many of the bunks are made up of only blankets and plywood.

Made In China (Wal-mart)


This video depicts a factory which manufactures goods for Wal-mart. It starts out with the CEO of Wal-mart essentially describing how good their relationship with China is, and then switches to tell the tale of a female migrant worker in the Wal-mart factory. She describes her long hours at the factory for meager pay and the effect this job has on her relationships.

8)      Hope for China’s Migrant Women Workers:


This website shows that even though migrant labor has increasingly helped China’s economy, the government still has not provided protections for migrant workers (who are mostly female) that experience substantial violations of their human rights.  This website provides a considerable amount of statistical data and interesting facts, as well as detailing various measures that have been taken to help these migrant women workers.
9)   Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace by Pun Ngai:

*This book is available in the GAC Bernadotte Library General Collection, call number HD6200 P86 2005.

This book by Pun Ngai is an ethnography detailing the eight months she lived as a dagongmei, or working girl, in an electronics factory in China’s Guangdong Province.  She endured the hardships and poor conditions of industrial labor that these young migrant women are increasingly pressured to face by global capitalism, the socialist government, and the patriarchal based family.  This book will really make you realize what a problem this has become recently – it will make you want to make a change!

Comments are closed.