In this article, Chinese Girls’ Toil Brings Pain, Not Riches, I found something that got me thinking:
She and her friend Wei Qi, also 16 and also a Chinese farm girl barely out of junior high school, had been lured here by a South Korean boss who said he was prepared to pay $120 a month, a princely sum for unskilled peasants, to make false eyelashes.
I sometimes hear from friends here how their siblings are starting businesses in China, and how it’s the land of opportunity for young Koreans who want to make a lot of money. But I wonder how many people know what their siblings are doing over there. Certainly not all Korean business-operators in China are crooked, but… it’s not the first time I’ve heard of such a thing. Heck, after a very brief search I even found a mention of South Koreans operating sweatshops in Argentina, Mexico, and Honduras!
I firmly believe that countries have a responsibility to operate abroad observing the same kinds of rules they would domestically. It’s hard to make wages the same, but comparable wages should at least be paid, and deceit on the part of a company should be dealt with as harshly when dealing with extensions of the company operating abroad as with segments of the company operating at home.
Then again, there are indications that there’s not much public (or official) concern for the rural Koreans and immigrants who work in sweatshops in Korea, either. If nobody cares domestically, I suppose it’s too much to ask for people to care what South Korean businessmen do abroad.
And this is not to overlook the many American, Canadian, and other sweatshop owners all over the world… and often (though not always) the subcontracting done at sweatshops is for huge (American) companies like Gap and Nike. But… in Canada there are anti-sweatshop movements with lots of students involved. I wonder if there are the same sorts of things in Korea. I haven’t heard of any yet. (Though, of course, students who speak good English are usually from well-to-do families and sometimes more politically conservative as a result.)
More than anything, I am curious what Koreans think about all of this. Perhaps I shall try post in Korean on my other blog and see if I get any responses.