Labor Laws & GP Factory Conditions
Many factory owners cut corners on health and safety protections in order to save costs and remain competitive. The GP BATTERIES workers were exposed to cadmium because of the factories’ poor conditions, which according to worker testimonies and factory records, violated Chinese labor laws:
Article 37 of the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China states: “The factory must provide workers with labor protection appliances that conform to national or trade standards, and supervise and educate those employed on how to wear and use them according to operational regulations.” The GP BATTERIES’ Advance Battery factory in Huizhou was so dirty that workers described eating lunch at workstations where cadmium dust freely drifted. To safely manufacture nickel-cadmium batteries, the GP BATTERIES factories should have used effective Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems that would have removed cadmium dust from the workplace environment altogether. Workers stated that at one point in production, they were given paper masks, cloth gloves, and plastic finger cots. However these items did not effectively protect workers from cadmium. The dust settled on their clothes and hair. “After working all day, we would go home and then make dinner for our family,” said one worker.
Article 21 states: “The factory shall practice safe production education and training, and guarantee to provide the necessary safe production knowledge and safe operation rules for workers…” According to one worker, “The factory only informed us on how to do their work. They never mentioned that cadmium was so poisonous.”
Article 28 stipulates that workers should not work more than 40 regular hours a week, and no more than 36 hours of overtime a week. Workers stated that it was common to work 12-hour days with only 1 day off a month. Day-shift workers worked an average of 84 hours a week and night-shift workers worked 77 hours per week.
In China, minimum wages are set specific to location. In 2004, workers at GP BATTERIES ’s Power Pack factory were paid a base wage of 380 yuan (roughly $55 USD) a month, whereas the legal minimum wage in Huizhou was 400 yuan a month.