China Blue

I apologize that this is very late in coming; Todd Hudson sends word that the film China Blue will be shown tonight on PBS. Check this or your local schedule for start times. It doesn’t start until 9:30 PM out here. I’d written the film’s sales office about buying a DVD but I never heard back. Now it would seem I don’t have to buy it although I’d prefer to support endeavors like this.

China Blue is an award winning documentary about jean production in China that’s getting rave reviews. More on the film is here. An excerpt:

They live crowded together in cement factory dormitories where water has to be carried upstairs in buckets. Their meals and rent are deducted from their wages, which amount to less than a dollar a day. Most of the jeans they make in the factory are purchased by retailers in the U.S. and other countries. CHINA BLUE takes viewers inside a blue jeans factory in southern China, where teenage workers struggle to survive harsh working conditions. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, the film looks at complex issues of globalization from the human level.

CHINA BLUE, which was made without permission from the Chinese authorities, offers an alarming report on the economic pressures applied by Western companies and the resulting human consequences, as the real profits are made—and kept—in first-world countries. The unexpected ending makes the connection between the exploited workers and U.S. consumers even clearer.

With Eric out of town, I’m glad my son is home. I don’t know how to turn on the TV.

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13 comments

  1. Oxanna says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on the movie. It doesn’t appear to be playing in my area, but perhaps I can get my hands on a copy. I had never heard of it before this.

  2. Colleen says:

    PBS.org lists various days/times that “China Blue” is on; you can search using zip code.

    There is also a link on PBS.org to purchase a DVD. The link directs you to an e-mail address at teddybearproductions. I’ve e-mailed and asked re: availabilty and cost; no answer, yet. They’re probably swamped with requests!

  3. Benita says:

    Thank you for posting this Kathleen, I run into alot of people who keep telling me to get my product produced in China or India for cheap labour, and I keep trying to tell them that I won’t have slaves making my clothing and that I would like to be as ethically consciouse as possible even though I am a tiny player in the game. I also have friends who don’t realize why their jeans are so cheap and that their penny pinching means someone lives like these women do in the world.

  4. ALLISON says:

    Thank God my product is 100% MADE IN THE USA!!! Especially since we have been working towards environmentally friendly manufacturing. I am so glad that you have touched upon this topic today Kathleen!
    Dont ask me why Americans would be supporting Communist China, not to mention giving a country that does not even have the freedom to speak out against their government, our latest technology. Including militairy technology. Not to mention what this has done to our cherished textile and apparel industry!!!!!!!!
    I am so thankful for what is left of our American textile industry. Thank God they have the backbone to hang in there through all of this. I hope we can turn this around as soon as possible.
    MADE IN THE USA IS AMERICA! I am not even going to go into China’s environmental regulations right now. Although, if global warming is a reality, how are we going to be able to impose environmental regulations over there?

  5. Deborah Goldsman says:

    I was able to purchase China Blue on DVD for $29.99, plus $7 for shipping (which takes 2 to 3 weeks). You can pay with Mastercard, Visa, or a prepaid check. You may place an order via telephone, fax, or email with Sue Barker at BULLFROG FILMS, INC. Here’s her info:

    PO Box 149
    Oley, PA 19547
    PH: 800-543-3764 / 610-779-8226
    FX: 610-370-1978
    sue@bullfrogfilms.com
    http://www.bullfrogfilms.com

  6. Trish says:

    I found the film times on pbs.org. It is showing here in El Paso on Sunday: Independent Lens: China Blue; Sunday, April 8, 2:00am “China Blue.”

    Thanks, Kathleen, this blog is the best of the best!!!

  7. Kathleen says:

    Rough notes after watching the film

    First, their productivity isn’t good. There’s a lot of wasted or no activity. Panning the room, I didn’t see people sewing with the intensity you see here (more below). If people are stop and go sewing, that means there’s problems with the pattern, the cutting or the machines. No one can sew quickly otherwise and no one is happy working inefficiently, there’s no “flow”. If the process itself is flawed, it’s the workers -who had nothing to do with the set up- who are penalized pay-wise. For example, they’re making 12 yuan on an operation that’s taking them an hour when if the processes were well engineered, they could be earning that same 12 yuan in thirty minutes. Most aggregious (due to the focus and proximity of the film’s vantage point) was most of the thread trimming. The thread trimming operation created quite a backlog contributing to missed ship dates; this could be avoided in two ways:

    • Using No-Fray spray or a similar product on the cut pieces prior to ever leaving the cutting and sorting tables. Much of what was trimmed appeared to be fraying goods missed by the folder.
    • Using thread trimmers on the machines. This means buying a better machine. Considering the backlog and penalties assessed due to missed deadlines owing to manual thread trimming, I think it’d pay for itself quickly.

    Once these two were done, they’d need fewer and better inspection stations, set up ergonomically. Their system was a mess. There’s no way any of the thread trimmers could do a decent job with any consistency as it stands (yet they were blamed for poor results for an activity that they didn’t need to be doing in the first place). Second, hopefully they’d pay people better with these productivity increases. However, I have my doubts about that. According to figures in the film, this factory is making 200,000 units a month. Labor costs per pair were calculated at $1 a pair. The jeans were sold to customers for $4.10 a pair. Lastly, the profit figure was quoted at 40 cents per pair. This amounts to $80,000 a month. Wow. Somehow, if this guy can’t pay workers more when he’s raking in that kind of dough, I doubt he’d do it after productivity increases augmented his return.

    Total sewing time was said to be 30 minutes per pair. That is nearly twice the timing for a pair made in the US (17 minutes). As I was explaining to someone over the phone today, foreign shops aren’t as productive as the ones in the states. We don’t need as many people to sew the same quantity of goods because we’re more efficient with better equipment and technology. Iow, well before the import crisis started, jobs were being “lost” (pdf) in the apparel industry for at least twenty years prior, due to technology and productivity increases. Still, that $4 pair of jeans from China will cost you $8-$9 to have it made here but you get faster turnaround and don’t have to wait for the ship to sail. Time is money, which will you pay for? Only you can answer that question.

  8. Ryan Brady says:

    I’m a bit disturbed by harsh comments towards China. I have been living in Hong Kong for over two years now and frequently travel to China. In fact I was there for the past five days in Panyu, Guanzhou and Shenzhen visiting various factories.
    Sure, the working conditions are not anything like they are in North America, but in some respects workers in NA are a bit spoiled. With labour protections in place there are alway people who will milk the system and hide behind their unions. There is no such thing as Ergonomics in China manufacturing, but neither is there in their homes, or communities. The Chinese prefer to “squat” instead of standing when gathering in groups, waiting for the bus or just hanging out.
    As for environmental regulations, there are factories that comply with international standards and properly process runoff water and scrub exhaust. In fact many factories are being forced to close down because they cannot comply with these strict regulations and can no longer compete on price. Just remember that it is the world’s economy that demands cheaper goods (including many many American consumers) and thus the PRD of China was born.
    Quality is rising as more international standards are coming into place and buyers are demanding higher quality control. Along with this comes upward pressure on prices, and it is also due to other factors such as the rising RMB and a shift of workers away from Southern China.

    I have worked with the Chinese and will continue to. I have nothing wrong with this since I personally visit the factories on a monthly basis. I also have manufacturing in Sweden, but I find the product quality output on par with that of China. Please don’t form opinions based on a single documentary since there are many factories that treat their employees well. It is unfortunate that not all do, but this is the case anywhere in the world.

  9. Allison says:

    I heard the Chinese skin their animals while they are alive. Have you visited those plants Ryan? Since you are so well informed, with regard to your plants, have you seen any of this going on?

  10. Robert Fonger says:

    I am a American, I have been doing business in China for many years. I have recently moved to Shanghai to take a Directors job with one of the largest publicly traded textile manufactures in China; of fabric and finished garment apparel. We make over 6 million garments a month. I visit our factories weekly and the factories meet or exceed all of international standards. Most Americans do not understand the cost of living in China is very low. These manufacturing jobs are creating a strong middle class in China that is much larger than the American population.

    Robert Fonger
    Dirctor of International
    Business Development
    Rfonger@shanghaidragon.com.cn

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