The story behind making China's "Sanitary" Chopsticks -- Exposing Slave Labor Practices Inside Chinese Labor Camps (Part 1)
In China's small roadside restaurants, the widely used disposable chopsticks are referred to as "sanitary" chopsticks. They are commonly seen in Chinese restaurants overseas. You can see them placed together in a container or packaged separately and labeled "Sanitized For Your Safety!" According to a survey in China, over 80% of those chopsticks have never been sanitized. Fierce market competition has made it impossible to cover all the costs, so some businesses have omitted the sanitizing process. Others burn sulfur to make the chopsticks look bright and white even though they know it could make the chopsticks toxic. In order to minimize costs and increase profit, some manufacturing jobs are subcontracted out to prisons and forced labor camps where there are no controls put on sanitary conditions.
1. China's "Sanitary" chopsticks and forced labor camps.
(1) The "Sanitary" chopsticks production in Beijing's City Labor Education Bureau
There is evidence that the Department of Dispatch of Beijing's City Labor Education Bureau, a forced labor camp located in Daxing County, Beijing, forced people in the labor camp to work excessive long hours to make "sanitary" chopsticks, from 6:00am to 9:00pm or sometimes even past midnight. The chopsticks made there were far from being "sanitary". With dozens of inmates squeezed into one small room, the chopsticks to be packed were piled on the floor arbitrarily and often stepped on by workers. The inmates' job was to put the chopsticks into paper coverings labeled by the Department of Sanitary and Epidemic Prevention, though the inmates had not gone through any measures of epidemic prevention or sanitary conditions themselves. Many of them had skin diseases, scabies outbreaks, and some were drug addicts or diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases. The payment for the contracted forced labor became income for the policemen at the labor camps.
Falun Gong practitioner Mr. Yu Ming, former head of a clothing manufacturer in Liaoyang City of Liaoning Province, wrote, "In the Tuanhe Forced Labor Camp in the Daxing District of Beijing City, the Department of Dispatch forced everyone to work from early morning to midnight to make money for the policemen. Most of the work was packaging disposable 'Sanitary' or 'Convenient Chopsticks' in paper wrappers. They were then regarded as meeting "Sanitary Quality Standard" and sold to small roadside restaurants. The profit for one box of chopsticks is about 6 yuan. Each inmate finishes about 3 boxes per day and there are about 160 people per unit. You can imagine how much money one unit can make for those policemen each day." [reference: http://search.minghui.org/mh/articles/2004/2/8/66823.html] Mr. Yu also wrote, "The inmates' dormitories were used as the workshops. They were very crowded to begin with, now the chopsticks were thrown all over the floor. Sometimes they were dropped into the open toilet, but nobody cared. They would just pick the chopsticks up and put them in the paper wappers, since the total number of chopsticks could not be short, by even one. The police watched the inmates carefully on the numbers, but inmates were never required to wash their hands. The majority of the inmates were drug addicts and prostitutes, yet there were no formal medical examinations here regardless of whether a person was carrying hepatitis or sexually transmitted diseases. Any inmate still breathing was forced to work for the police. Even those people who had scabies all over their bodies were forced to work and grabbed the chopsticks with hands covered by scabies infections." "Anyone behind schedule or failing to complete the policemen's quota was beaten by the police and other inmates, forced to stand still outside for long periods, or deprived of sleep as punishment for not meeting their production quota. Every unit and every cell was crawling with lice and the inmates were not allowed to take showers for long periods. Guards patrolled, carrying electric stun batons and handcuffs. Many inmates never dared to raise their heads to look at the sky after being here for months."
Falun Gong practitioner Mr. Gong Chengxi was a senior in college, majoring in administration and management at the Changping Campus of Beijing Political and Law University. Once the chairman of the student association and head of his class, he was regarded as a righteous and kind student with excellent academic integrity. Due to the persecution against Falun Gong, he was summarily discharged from school when he would not renounce his belief. (Reference: http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2004/2/20/45228.html)
In the account he wrote to Clearwisdom.net, Mr. Gong revealed the persecution against Falun Gong practitioners by the Department of Dispatch in Beijing. He also mentioned the "Sanitary" chopsticks: (In early morning of the Chinese New Year Day, January 23, 2001, four other Falun Gong practitioners and I were handcuffed and put into a police vehicle at the Changping Detention Center. We were escorted to the Department of Dispatch for Forced Labor Personnel in Beijing near the Tuanhe Forced Labor Camp in Daxing District. Several days later, we were asked to do the work of hand-wrapping disposable chopsticks. Although the packaging was labeled "sanitary" it was not sanitary at all. All the inmates including those who had hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases had to do this job. We were not asked or allowed to wash our hands before working. In a room crowded with about 40 people, the chopsticks were piled all over the floor and on the beds. The room was filled with sawdust. The sanitary conditions in the Department of Dispatch were extremely poor. Everyone was given only a few minutes of toilet and wash time in the morning and evening. As soon as you sat down in the restroom, the police might already be shouting and calling everyone to go out and form lines. We were not allowed to take showers for extended periods. Only after the camp authorities discovered that many inmates had lice all over their bodies, were we allowed to take our first shower. Still, dozens of people were sent into a room with only two showers, for no more than a few minutes. In the summer of 2002, a hepatitis epidemic broke out in the Department of Dispatch...)
According to Mr. Gong' testimony, "In order to maximize the profit from the inmates' work, the department of dispatch bordered on madness. The quota for each person per day was 7,500 to over 10,000 pairs of chopsticks. Even working from 6:00am to 12:00am, it was impossible to finish the quota. Besides the unbearable pain in one's back and lower back, we also had to endure verbal abuse and beatings from the police and their aids. During my one month in the department of dispatch, each day was like that. Several elderly Falun Gong practitioners, Dao Wanhui, Yang Juhai, Li Xieliang, Chen Jingjian and Jia Lin, worked as fast as they could but still could not finish the quota, so the unit head ordered them to sit on the cement floor outside to work for several hours in icy weather. If they still failed to complete the quota, they were be deprived of sleep, and only allowed 3-4 hours a night."
Jing Yuan also provided inside information about the dispatch department of Beijing City Labor Education Bureau, "In the department of dispatch, inmates are required to get up at 6:00 am. Late risers are beaten. There are roll calls twice daily after getting up in the morning and before going to bed at night. During roll call, inmates are ordered to cover their head with their hands and squat down on the floor. Anyone who did not exhibit the correct posture was beaten. After the morning roll call, practitioner's were permitted to use the toilet and wash. There were only 5-6 toilets in a restroom shared by over 30 people. Using the toilet there is known as 'Squat-cleanup-standup" and you're limited to several seconds. Those wishing to use the toilet had to get permission from the head of the cell. If he wasn't happy, then you could forget about being permitted to go to the restroom. It was even worse if the cell heads wanted to use the restroom, since those people would occupy it for a long time. Not all the faucets in a restroom were functional and the police limited the water flow so that it only dribbled out when the faucet was turned on. Of the more than 30 people in a cell, the head of the cell certainly had the privilege to go first. The total time for toilet use and washing was only 10 minutes for all inmates, with everyone scrambling and competing to get a stall. Those who were not very aggressive had no chance to wash or use the toilet. The same was true with taking showers. It was common for new arrivals to miss their chance to use the toilet or take a shower. In the hot summer, bodies would begin to smell very bad after 7-8 days with no shower."
Jing Yuan also wrote, "In the Department of Dispatch, as long as it was not raining, everyone would squat down and eat outside. (It is reported that since October, 2001 they started eating inside instead.) Before the meal, everyone was required to recite a paragraph from the No. 23 Order and Report. At mid-day in the summer heat, a bunch of people squatting down with the burning sun on their heads bit into hard buns and drank vegetables soup infested with maggots, sweating like dogs. They had 5 minutes to finish the meal. If anyone did not finish the meal, he had to drop the bowl."
Jing Yuan said, "In the day time, most of the work is packaging the chopsticks with paper bags labeled "Sterilized in high temperature" or "Sanitary chopsticks". The hands that touched the chopsticks were extremely dirty and never washed, even after using the toilet or wiping the nose. It was difficult to get water to drink, let alone water for washing hands. The chopsticks fell all over the dirty beds and floor. Anyone who had ever visited such a place would never dare to use so-called 'sanitary chopsticks'. One would feel nauseous just recalling how the chopsticks were packed.. The quota for each day was very high. One had to start working right after getting up. There was no lunch break and the finishing time was normally around 7:00 or 8:00 pm, sometimes even midnight. Regular inmates also had to help the head of the cell for his quota. Several cell heads did not work at all, making it tougher for others.
(2) The Sanitary Chopsticks and BBQ picks made in Tianjin City Shuangkou Forced Labor Camp
In a letter to Clearwisdom.net, a Falun Gong practitioner who was once detained in Tianjin City Shuangkou Forced Labor Camp wrote, "Because of the terrible living condition in the forced labor camp, 90 percent of the inmates developed scabies. At that time, my legs, chest and hands were all infected. Still, we were forced to work."
The letter continued, "Policemen arranged for me to put sanitary chopsticks into the paper wrapper or sometimes make vegetarian kabobs with bamboo skewers. Many practitioners in the workshop had scabies. Some had yellowish liquid from the infection under their nails, which spread directly onto the food and skewers since nobody was allowed to wear gloves. The labor camp did not care about Dafa practitioners' lives nor the health of the consumers. Such products were not sanitary at all. Ironically, food and fire-proof curtains made of fiber glass were being made at the same time in the same shop, and the room was filled with fiber glasses particles. For one period of time, I was making a dishwashing product. The normal quota for one person was 170 pieces per day, but they made us produce 390 pieces per day. Those who were not nimble had to work almost until early morning in order to finish the quota. When the 'superiors' came to inspect, the policemen just wrote down 170 pieces in the record and let everyone get off work on time, but then made them get up to work at 2:00am the next day. For those practitioners who refused to cooperate, the police just arbitrarily increased their quota. Inmates in the labor camp were forced to work, like this, receiving no compensation at all."
(3) The only sanitary standard for the chopsticks in Dalian Forced Labor Camp is no hair mixed in the bag.
Dalian Forced Labor Camp in Dalian City, Liaoning Province also performed the same work and they exported those chopsticks to Japan. It was said that the only sanitary standard was no hair should be in the package.
Besides chopsticks, the Dalian Forced Labor Camp produced a series of low cost items, including embroidered products, dry flowers, hand knitted hats or cellular phone cases, selected beans, sea weed knots, plastic flowers, popsicle sticks, coffee straws, hand made wool coats and buttons. The Shibalihe Forced Labor Camp in Xuchang City, Henan Province made wigs, tapestries, garnitures and embroidery. Inmates were forced to work long hours each day. For those who failed to finish the quota, the labor camp had all kinds of torture, beyond the imagination of the civilized world.
To Be Continued