The Chinese government is allowing Chinese firms to use prisoners in their manufacturing operations, according to a U.S. State Department cable.
The cable, released Thursday by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., reports that in Guangdong province prisons "routinely do in-house manufacturing under subcontract to local factories."The cable was cited by Sen. Helms as bolstering his case that some Chinese exports to the United States should be barred. A U.S. law generally bans imports made by forced or convict labor.
In Guangdong, the cable said, factories pay prisons for the work done in them. The prisoners, however, are not paid. Their work is called "vocational training," the cable said.
In one "model prison," the cable said, "boys" make "circuit board assemblies for the Nan Hong Co. . . .for use in television sets and radio cassette players. The prison produces several thousand of these boards each month."
The cable also reported how "girls do sewing, tailoring or simple assembly work. The products are then sent to local factories for finishing."
The cable, however, does not say whether the goods made with prison labor are exported. But an aide to Sen. Helms contended that there is "a high probability" that they are exported. Guangdong, he noted, is a major Chinese export center.
Sen. Helms is preparing a bill to enable U.S. human rights and other private groups to sue the government for failure to enforce the law barring imports made with forced labor.
The General Accounting Office, an arm of the Congress, is due next month to report on China's forced labor practices.
Sen. Helms released the State Department cable, sent from the U.S. consulate in Canton, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on textiles import quota legislation.
At the hearing, the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel claimed the Bush administration, under pressure from U.S. textile producers, may be endangering the Uruguay Round of trade-liberalizing negotiations at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Geneva.