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Milking China for Product Quality Control

Fake baby formula causes permanent brain damage and in some cases, death, in Chinese infants.

“Warning – Follow instructions exactly. Prepare bottles and teats as directed. Do not change proportions of powder except on medical advice. Incorrect preparation can make your baby very ill……”

The above is typically found on labels of any brand of baby milk formula on most supermarket shelves in the West. However, following the instructions exactly wouldn’t have made much difference to little Yang Kaili, who may suffer permanent brain damage after being fed fake formula milk made in her homeland – China.

The news of the fatal formula milk, produced in over 140 factories across China, shocked the world. The LA Times reported in May 2004 that 13 babies died and more than 170 suffered serious malnutrition as a result of drinking the fake baby formula powder.

Many mothers in rural China turn to baby formula because they cannot produce enough of their own milk. The cheapest baby formula on the market, “Star of the Grasslands”, has been supplied for the past two years. The price made it very popular with many mothers, including Kaili’s mother. One month after Kaili started drinking the baby formula, her little head started to swell, her skin turned bright red and her eyes were reduced to slits. A similar agonizing fate has been suffered by hundreds of babies across China who drank the same baby formula.

In America many may not even think twice when buying baby formula for their babies. However, the Epoch Times recently reported that the fatal baby formulas made in China are also available on the streets of New York. Agriculture officials found that seven brands of powdered milk produced by Xinjiang Ili dairy company lacked the necessary requirements of protein, milk fat, calcium and magnesium set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This substandard milk formula is yet another example of the lack of quality control inside China’s factories and forced-labor camps. Numerous cases have also been reported in Epoch Times regarding other harmful products that are available to the consumers. For instance vegetables pickled in poisonous industrial salt and chemicals, and poisonous colorings added to noodles. According to the Asian Labor News database, a popular new type of rice grain called ‘laborer grain’ (min-gong liang) was found to contain carcinogens (an ingredient that could cause cancer). These incidents will no doubt make consumers think twice before buying ‘Made in China’ products.

An increasing number of major enterprises are shifting their production to Asia, attracted by the cheap labor. However one company’s cost cutting, could lead to thousand of people being poisoned. Is it worth it? Imagine buying a pair of Puma shoes that were sewn and glued by workers forced to work up to 16.5 hours a day, from 7:30 in the morning to midnight, six or seven days a week, for wages of just 31 cents an hour. According to The National Labor Committee, Puma is making a net profit of $12.24 per hour on each of their employee in China. Annually, Puma is reaping a profit of $38,189 on each worker. In a single factory, Puma’s profit from the workers can reach over $92 million a year.
With jobs and production lines shifting to Mainland China, what are the real costs and benefits at the end of the day? As China continues to report rapid economic growth, thousands of Americans are sinking into unemployment. On July 2, 2003, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) published a shocking report stating that more than 1,300 textile plants in the U.S. would have to close by early 2004, resulting in the loss of over 630,000 jobs. The U.S. textile and apparel clothing market will be entirely dependent to China if protective measures were not implemented in a timely manner.

Evidence suggests that consumers and manufacturers are finding it difficult to ignore the human cost and as well as workers’ rights when considering trade with China. In 2001, Swiss confectionary giant Nestle ordered 100,000 toy rabbits from the Beijing-based Mickey Toy Corporation. The toys were produced under inhumane conditions. Hundreds of women, many of whom were illegally detained Falun Gong practitioners, were forced to work up to 20 hours a day. Some were beaten or tortured if the quota was not fulfilled. What lies beneath the story is behind the production of each rabbit which lies incredible pain and suffering.

In recent years, the hair product industry has experienced a marked growth. Various hair accessories have flooded into U.S. and the world’s biggest manufacturer, Henan Rebecca Hair Products Inc, occupies one fourth of the U.S. market (June 22, 2003, issue of March into the International Big Circulation). Few people realize that Henan Rebecca Hair Products Inc, a multi-million dollar corporation, thrives because of slave labour.

It is naive to suggest that business is not about profits, but who said that profit and humanitarian concerns have to be mutually exclusive? Apart from the benefits of outsourcing and the increased profit margins, where do human lives fit in? Perhaps replacing “Made in China” tags with “Made in a Chinese Labor Camp” is one option? Inadequate transparency of information is not going away on the Mainland. These Asian partners will continue to do more than raise an eyebrow for the concerned consumer and prompt suppliers will have to re-consider the ethics of their business decisions.

The alarming lack of product quality control, the violation of workers’ rights in China is a grim reality hanging in the favorite business destination of the corporate world. One thing is for sure, the consumer can only hope that tragedies like the baby formula will not be exported to other countries or harm any infant wherever they are.

Alexandria Brysk is a correspondent for Chinascope.