RIGHTS ACTIVIST WU PLANNING LIST OF BUYERS FROM CHINESE ARMY
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON--Harry Wu, an activist for human rights in China, together with organized labor plans to turn up the heat on U.S. retailers in an effort to stop their sourcing from factories allegedly owned by the Chinese Communist military. Wu, who this week attended the Kmart annual meeting to charge that the firm bought rainwear from such a factory, said Wednesday he was preparing a report that will cite other major retailers that use the same type of sourcing. The report is being done in partnership with the Food & Allied Service Trades, and Jeffrey L. Fiedler, president of the union, said it would be released in about three weeks. "The report will follow up with many other retailers," said Wu, who is executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, Milpitas, Calif. He was in Washington to testify before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the export of prison-made goods from China. It is not illegal for a U.S. firm to source from a military-owned factory, a Customs spokeswoman said, and Wu is not linking slave labor with production in the military-owned factories. However, the activist is raising an ethical issue. "To buy from the military is immoral and unethical," he said. Wu said he was being careful to confirm all charges against other U.S. retailers before announcing them because to name them publicly is "very, very serious." Fiedler said, "Let's just say, we'll have more charges involving a lot of apparel." Tuesday in Detroit at Kmart's annual meeting, Wu charged that the retailer had bought 145,824 pounds of men's rainwear late last year from China Taincheng, a company the U.S. government has confirmed is owned by the People's Liberation Army General Political Department. Fiedler said the raincoat brand was Stearns. While Fiedler and Wu maintain they are not timing the release of their report to the upcoming Congressional debate on China's most-favored-nation trade benefits with the U.S., they conceded it could affect the debate. But Fiedler said his real aim was to end the business relationship between U.S. firms and the People's Liberation Army of China. In recent years, Wu has become a familiar face on Capitol Hill. We once was a political prisoner in China, and he and his research foundation focus on documenting human rights abuses in China. President Clinton announced Monday he planned to extend China's MFN status for another year. Retailers have been lobbying Congress in favor of extending China's MFN status, and on Tuesday, two representatives of the National Retail Federation--Tracy Mullin, president, and John Motley, senior vice president of government and public affairs--met with White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles to pledge the industry's support. While Clinton unilaterally can extend China's MFN status, Congress can pass legislation to deny the trading privilege and muster a two-thirds majority to override an expected veto. Tariffs on goods from countries with MFN status are lowered from an average of more than 40 percent to less than 10 percent. This year's extension of China's MFN status--such trading privileges are given to all but six other countries in the world--has been complicated by the fact that Hong Kong will revert to Chinese rule July 1, by reports that the Chinese illegally contributed to Democratic campaigns last year and by repeated reports of human rights violations and nuclear weapons proliferation. Christian conservatives have entered the fray this year and are arguing against extending MFN because of what they consider China's religious persecution. On the general question of whether Chinese factories use slave labor, Wu told the Senate panel he has evidence that apparel is made in the Jieyang prison for a manufacturing company called Jixiang Knitting Factory in Shantou, Guangdong. Jixiang has contracts with a number of Hong Kong factories, Wu said, including the Sam Wing Garment Factory, World Wise Industries Ltd., the Roxy Garment Factory and Chaifa Holdings Ltd. Chaifa Holdings holds a license to manufacture apparel under the Garfield, Arnold Palmer and Playboy brand names, Wu said. Jixiang Factory has provided samples of its work to Esprit, he said, but he did not charge that Esprit had bought anything. Fiedler noted none of the apparel had been exported to the U.S. yet; it currently is distributed in Southeast Asia. Customs commissioner George J. Weise told the panel that despite agreements with China to ban export of prison-made goods, "it is impossible to determine how much came from prison labor facilities." He noted that in 1996 the U.S. imported $51 billion worth of merchandise from China. "We simply do not have the tools within our present arsenal at Customs to gain the timely and in-depth verification that we need," Weise said. "Presently, we believe that we are only seeing part of the picture."
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