Directed by Micha X. Peled
Documentary, 2006, Teddy Bear Films, 88 min.
The anti-sweatshop movement is growing rapidly in the United States and, along with labor and fair-trade organizers, young people are taking the lead. That's fitting, because the workers making our clothes are also very young.
The movie China Blue introduces us to 16 year-old Jasmine, a thread-cutter at the Lifeng Factory, a denim manufacturer in Shaxi, South China. We meet Jasmine on her first day at the job, arriving straight from her parents' village with an aspiration shared by young people everywhere—to create a life for herself, one that's better than the one she left behind.
But at the factory, optimism quickly gives way to disillusionment. Unpaid overtime is the rule, and when an order is due, workers are forced to work day and night. Wages are paid out late and withheld until urgent orders are fulfilled.
China Blue shows us how conditions in the factory are tied to the cut-throat competitiveness of the global marketplace. We see how European and American companies negotiate foreign factories down to the last penny, and how buyers impose tight deadlines that force factory owners to speed up production.
These hard-nosed negotiations allow companies like Wal-Mart to sell jeans at rollback savings—at the cost of rolling back working conditions. Big-name brands play the same game, but parlay low production costs into high profit margins.
Jasmine wonders throughout the film: “Who are the tall, big people wearing these jeans?”
We know the unspoken answer: it's all of us.
Watching the movie, I realized there's a tightly-woven connection between me, a consumer in the United States, and workers in a Chinese sweatshop.
But our intimate connection to the problem also points to the obvious solution. Since we buy clothes from companies outsourcing to sweatshops, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to influence their actions abroad. We need to let them know that we care about the workers half a world away and, whenever possible, spend our money accordingly.
We have the purchasing power to reclaim jeans into a symbol that fits our values, again. How often can we say that we are truly sitting on a solution?