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Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008 10:20 pm

Wage slaves for Jesus

Chinese toiling away in sweatshops, making Christian goods

Untitled Document If the poor are truly blessed, then God must be smiling on those Chinese workers forced to make crucifixes and other religious articles while toiling in deplorable sweatshop conditions. A highly respected workers’-rights group, the National Labor Committee, has documented the brutal sweatshop conditions at the Junxingye factory in southern China. Here, young women workers — many only teenagers — work from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., seven days a week, making Christian artifacts. They’re paid 26 cents an hour — less than half of China’s miserly minimum wage. Out of this meager pay, workers are docked for bad food and bunks in cramped, filthy dorms. This lowers their pay to nine cents an hour — less than $10 a week. They get no sick days, holidays, or maternity leave — and, ironically, they have no religious rights. The National Labor Committee found crucifixes from this factory being sold at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral — for $29.95 apiece! The cathedral has now pulled these products from its gift shops, which is an essential ethical step but barely a start. The church must use its full moral authority and enormous purchasing power to clean up China’s sweatshop factories engaged in religious commerce.
Far worse than any one gift shop is the Association for Christian Retail — a consortium of some 2,000 religious stores that do nearly $5 billion a year in sales of Christian products. Like Wal-Mart, this profitable economic entity has shifted its manufacturing en masse to China, yet it has not revealed the addresses of its factories, much less the labor conditions in them. This is one association that should ask itself: What would Jesus do? For information, call the National Labor Committee at 212-242-3002.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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