Made in China, Made In A Death Trap

The Salt Lake Tribune has a special series written by a reporter who spent a year in China investigating the conditions in 25 factories. While Americans are running around concerned about the long-term effects of lead in toys, real Chinese workers are dying in deplorable working conditions as they put together our cheap gas grills and La-Z-Boy recliners so we can enjoy them at everyday low prices.

One is dying from silicosis from making Char-Broil gas stoves. One lost three fingers making goods for Restoration Hardware. One is suffering from a precursor to leukemia after painting and varnishing furniture bound for America. Others have cadmium poisoning after making batteries for Eveready and Energizer. In all cases, not even basic safety protocols or safety devices were observed. It was simply a matter of what was cheapest and most expedient.

American Imports, Chinese Deaths [Salt Lake Tribune]


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  1. shan6 says:

    I would like to see what the fat cats over there are banking. Because at some point you have to look at evils other than the American corporations that are sending the work over there. Something tells me that there is PLENTY of money going through those places to make the work safe for these people, but the big wigs are just as greedy over there.

  2. Hambriq says:

    “Chinese workers are dying in deplorable working conditions … so we can enjoy them at everyday low prices.

    Thank goodness. I finally have some official Consumerist validation for my “The Only Person to Blame for Wal-Mart is Yourself” argument.

  3. @Hambriq: Exactly the reason I no longer shop there. Voting with my dollar is my only recourse, as increased government regulation would likely make things worse.

  4. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    sheesh – its like the industrial revolution all over again, only with Elmo dolls and poorly made daybeds.

  5. MalichiDemonos says:

    If their stupid enough to keep producing cheep stuff by killing themselves then that’s their problem. If they keep overpopulating then there going to die of starvation rather then bad working conditions. Even though they have a limit on how many kids they can have over there they still choose to pay the fine for having more than one. Their killing themselves one way or another and if they want to go out and make cheep stuff on their death beds that’s fine with me. Not my choice on how they die. The way I see it the government is doing a little population control and even though that may seem sick and disturbing… just think of what it would be like with that many people in one location. The garbage and the sewage from all those people has to be insane.

  6. Jesse in Japan says:

    Malich, right, because it’s much more painful to starve to death than to work yourself to death producing cheap goods.

    You asshole.

  7. dualityshift says:

    If their stupid enough to keep producing cheep stuff by killing themselves then that’s their problem.

    Think a little harder than that. If there are deplorable working conditions, what do you think their environmental standards are? It isn’t just them killing themselves, these factories pump out massive pollution, causing widespread trouble.

    In the end, it’s the fault of the Chinese government for allowing next to no pollution standards. It’s the retail outlets’ fault for using questionable manufacturing sites for their contracts. It’s the fault of the consumer for buying cheaper goods. It’s your fault and it’s mine. There’s enough blame to go around, please take a share.

  8. Laz says:

    Pay attention if you are a US citizen – with a cheaper dollar it will soon start getting more expensive to manufacture, assemble, and ship those goods from China to the US. At that point, the US companies that are raping Chinese labor will have two choices: force their Chinese suppliers to even deeper depths of negligence or start looking inside the borders and *gasp* consider re-investing in our own country’s workforce. The only way those companies will make the second choice is if people top whining and moaning about the outsourcing and off-shoring and use of illegal immigrants and learn how to work for a living again instead of waiting for a gravy train to derail in the front lawn and spread its cargo all over their bank accounts.

    So many people are caught up in finding an easy way to reach their goals – interest-free loans anyone?? – they overlook the fact that only a couple of generations ago it required a decade or more to save money just to buy a starter home, and those homes were about the size of today’s standard two-bedroom apartment. I am tired of listening to my generation (yes, it is X) obsess over their Mc-Mansion, whine about paying their three leases on the latest gadget-laden cars (one of which tows the boat they use twice a year), gloat about buying TVs and gaming consoles and gigantic playsets for their kids, and then spend hundreds of dollars each week to eat over-priced food in chain restaurants instead of making dinner in their fancy kitchens.

    WTF is wrong with this country? Answer: people have forgotten what it means to be a citizen. This story from China is an example of the by-product, and *we* should be ashamed of the example we are setting for them.

  9. Antediluvian says:

    There’s a similar argument to be made for buying organic produce, compared to imported conventionally-grown produce: workers are exposed to far fewer chemicals (primarily pesticides). Other countries still allow various pesticides that have been banned in the US/EU. Not very healthy for the folks in the fields.

  10. cheesyfru says:

    @MalichiDemonos: “If their stupid enough…”

    The elementary school grammar error in your first four words is a bit ironic, given that you’re calling an entire country of 1.3 billion people stupid.

  11. ZekeSulastin says:

    I just wonder what the low-end workers on our side of the Wal-Mart vicious cycle think about this – or if they can even afford to give a damn.

  12. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg says:

    real Chinese workers are dying in deplorable working conditions as they put together our cheap gas grills and La-Z-Boy recliners so we can enjoy them at everyday low prices.

    But remember kiddies – if your local retailer decides to stop carrying certain Chinese imports in their store, that’s “caving to xenophobia.”

  13. savvy9999 says:

    One does not have to have a bleeding heart to also realize that all of the toxic crap that these poor workers use to make these cheap goods– the phthalates, cadmium, aromatic benzenes, etc– all eventually end up in our houses and landfills.

    It’s not just a problem ‘over there’. It’s a problem over there that gets shipped back here and stays.

  14. Hambriq says:


    Precisely. Either way, we can always find a way to blame the American. Isn’t that jolly?

  15. INconsumer says:

    its a bad deal sure, but the last thing we need is for us (u.s.) to say or do anything. at this point, we have little room to talk, not to mention, we don’t want to be the world bully, i mean world police. personally, i’m sick of acting as if we are holier than thou.

  16. Hambriq says:

    @savvy9999: the phthalates, cadmium, aromatic benzenes, etc-

    Don’t forget about dihydrogen monoxide, one of the most toxic substances known to man (it’s found in almost every single variety of cancerous cell, can cause asphyxiation if inhaled, overdoses cause death in nearly 100% of cases, etc. etc.). It’s used on a daily basis in a huge number of Chinese factories.

  17. Hambriq says:

    @savvy9999: the phthalates, cadmium, aromatic benzenes, etc-

    Don’t forget about dihydrogen monoxide, one of the most toxic substances known to man (it’s found in almost every single variety of cancerous cell, can cause asphyxiation if inhaled, overdoses cause death in nearly 100% of cases, etc. etc.). It’s used on a daily basis in a huge number of Chinese factories. Check out for more info on this.

  18. savvy9999 says:

    @Hambriq: you actually took the time to write that twice? Wasn’t funny the first time.

  19. Jaysyn was banned for: says:


    Water? I never drink it, fish f*&k in it.

    – W.C. Fields

  20. Hambriq says:


    It’s called a double post. And do you know what IS funny? You trying to rattle off a bunch of chemical names in order to sound authoritative. Just how much Dateline do you watch?

  21. says:

    We were dumb enough to locate most of our manufacturing facilities outside of america, and their communist government doesn’t care enough about their people to set up fair labor practices.

  22. Good point, Notorious (great song, BTW). Is it that we were dumb, though, or is it that we were greedy?

  23. says:

    @loquaciousmusic: greedy, lazy…name any deadly sin and that is the USA. yippy.

  24. vladthepaler says:

    Of course it’s sad if anyplace treats its people as mere means of production, but let’s not let ourselves be too impressed with anecdotal evidence. You could probably find an American factory worker who is missing a few fingers, too. So why do we demonize China for it?

  25. savvy9999 says:

    @Hambriq: Don’t know what ‘Dateline’ is… but I do have degrees in both chemistry (MS) and physics (PhD). You apparently have a keyboard and a TV remote and irrelevant, unfunny water jokes to add to the discussion. Congratulations.

  26. amoeba says:

    If it is coming from the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, it must be good. At least it is the only news paper I can tolerate and I can read in Utah. I always wondered, The living conditions and the health risk in China. We complaint about lead, but the workers work with it.

  27. dualityshift says:

    When an American loses a few fingers, there are procedures in place to ensure the damage is minimal (doctors and hospitals) and the healing time is less of a stress (employment insurance, company health insurance, etc.) In China, if you lose a hand, oh well. See you on Monday. If you don’t show, you lose your job.

  28. bbbici says:

    Step 1: Stop buying so much stuff. Choose quality over quantity. Repair things instead of discarding them.

    Step 2: Choose fresh over processed food. Grow as much of your own food as possible.

    Step 3: When possible, choose a product that has been produced in your own country. Pay a small premium.

    China is growing and industrializing because of Western civilizations’ disgusting appetites for junk. Stop contributing to their (and India’s) economy.

  29. backspinner says:


    I’m too lazy to list their definitions but LOOK THEM UP.

  30. Hambriq says:


    And you apparently have an overblown sense of accomplishment, and an inability to detect sarcasm. Let me spell it out for you: the “water” joke was a jab at your self-serving appeal to our chemical-phobia. Because saying “aromatic benzenes” is like saying “carbon based methanes”. Or, more approriately, “dihydrogen monoxide”. It’s redundant, unnecessary, and self serving.

    Of course, your “I have a PHd!!!” outburst only confirms my suspicion that your presence in this post is more of a self masturbatory ego boost than an attempt to lend anything of value.

  31. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:



    If you have something to contribute to this thread, fantastic. Otherwise, please take your pissing contest elsewhere.

  32. Kurtz says:

    Where is the moderator when you need her? Stumping for votes and telling us about her celebrity crushes.

  33. clickertrainer says:

    And yet, right below this article is the Morning Deals, with cheap stuff for us to buy, with most items presumably made in countries such as China….

  34. This is ANOTHER good reason for forcing companies that sell their products in America to adhere to American environmental, human rights, and employment laws, no matter what country they outsource their manufacturing to. Those laws exist to protect workers, and if we really believe in the values we claim to believe in (cough cough so-called-Christians cough), then we’d want them to apply to everyone, not just American workers.

    Not to mention, the mass exodus of manufacturing from the U.S. to “cheap” countries like China would stop BEING so cheap if we made Chinese (and other) factories that want to export to America follow American (or at least International) rules. Business in America would experience a huge resurgence if corporations (American and otherwise) couldn’t get around our labor, environment, and human rights laws by simply outsourcing to countries where they don’t apply! would put Wal-Mart out of business, but you’ll notice the lack of tears on my cheeks over that loss…

  35. mconfoy says:

    @MalichiDemonos: too bad our government isn’t doing the same though.

  36. mconfoy says:

    @cheesyfru: actually my second grade son has better grammar.

  37. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    Jeez, I’m right here. Did you not see my post IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING YOURS?

  38. mconfoy says:

    @Hambriq: i only blame republicans

  39. mconfoy says:

    Going to be fun at the Olympics when no one can breath and all the world’s reporters are set loose on China. I think China is going to find out what a huge mistake winning the Olympics will be. They won’t be able to control the message at that point. They really don’t have a clue how the rest of the industrialized world sees them.

  40. Techguy1138 says:

    China pegs the yuan to the dollar. It floats a little but as teh dollar falls so the yuan, making sure that it is NEVER cheaper to make things in America.

  41. JiminyChristmas says:

    @Mary Marsala with Fries: My sentiments exactly.

    I think the state of American manufacturing would look a lot different if the Chinese had to adhere to the equivalent of our: EPA, OSHA, wage & hour laws, civil rights (e.g.: labor organizing, environmental activism), workmen’s compensation, etc. Even then, our standards are relatively lax compared to what is required in the European Union.

    It would be interesting to add up all of those costs that Chinese manufacturers frequently, um, externalize and see what the ‘real’ price would be relative to American-made goods.

    Another thing I wonder about: With oil approaching $100/barrrel, what happens when shipping massive quantities of goods across the world becomes a less-than-negligible cost of doing business?

  42. tcabeen says:

    It makes me want to cry that this is blamed on wal-mart, and that people think boycotting one store will stop all this bad ‘stuff’.

    Your iPod proudly displays that it was designed by Apple in California, but where was it manufactured?

    The article mentions Restoration Hardware. What country made your clothes, pots and pans, desk, tv, computer, toothbrush?

    I don’t care where you shop. If you don’t read Every Label, you support China.

    And I’m not casting stones. I support China, too. I hate it, but I don’t delude myself.

    In fact, just now, my boss delivered a halloween bag to our desks. Inside are 2 little toys, both made in China. sigh.

  43. Voyou_Charmant says:

    OMG XENOPHOBIAAAAaaaa !!!!!!!!111111

  44. paco says:

    @cheesyfru: I couldn’t read the post. My inner editor kept tripping up.

  45. TechnoDestructo says:


    How much are they banking? A lot.


    (Granted, a lot of those people are in industries which exploit the exploiters, rather than directly exploiting the workers, but still…)

    I’ve only been to Shenyang, one of China’s poorer major industrial centers, but I saw more large black European luxury cars than I’ve seen anywhere except Tokyo. Except in Tokyo they aren’t rolling past crumbling factories (I was staying in a kind of slummy neighborhood…one where the well-off, like my friend with her retired army officer dad, live in gated apartment complexes set back from the main roads) and mothers begging on the street with their infants. The contrasts were pretty STARK.

  46. gibbersome says:

    dihydrogen monoxide…you mean water?
    lol, almost got me there!

  47. girly says:


    Well, apparently you can read every label and still support China, with those prisoners attaching “Made in America” labels to products!

  48. Eric Lai says:

    Everyone’s at fault here – US consumers for demanding cheaper goods, and China for turning a blind eye to corrupt manufacturing practice and regulatory oversight over there. The motive of a some Chinese companies seems to be profit – first, last, and only – but remember that there’s a push-pull dynamic here. If we didn’t demand the cheap things that big box retailers seem to be so good at marketing to us, then the problem wouldn’t be so huge.

    There seem to be some manufacturers and retailers that are better than others. I’ve heard first-hand accounts (from relatives that make textiles in Hong Kong) of Walmart’s strong-arm tactics where huge orders will be put in that will maximize a factory’s production capacity, at which point the order will be cancelled. Walmart will then send in its pundits to ‘do them a favor’ by acquiring all this made-to-order merchandise – for pennies on the dollar.

    Meanwhile, Terry Gou’s Hon Hai Precision/Foxconn (iPods, iPhone, computer hardware) has a factory in Shenzhen with over a quarter-million workers, and yes, I’ve heard reports of where workers were making iPods in sweatshop conditions, but I’ve also seen other accounts that indicate they’re better paid than average, and they all live on a big factory campus bigger than many U.S. cities – and there are bookstores, gym facilities, and a clinic, which aren’t required by law.

    As American consumers, we keep buying imported goods, but if we could bridge the gap between the people who make them and us as consumers, the fact there’s a human on the other side investing a lot into making something so simple as a t-shirt would be a lot more tangible. Dole is doing this with its produce – they have unique codes on them, and you can go online and see the facility and workers that grow and harvest your food, facts/stats, etc. Obviously, there’s problems with this (easily faked, for example) but bridging the disconnect between ‘those migrant workers’ and you as a consumer would seem like a start.

  49. rikkus256 says:

    chinese government doesn’t care about the death of workers, nor death of any chinese. How many people they got? 13 billion?

  50. girly says:

    The demand for cheaper goods is a frequent excuse for our current situation, however I think consumers balked how much was going to profits vs what employees were paid.

    The remedy found by companies was to delve deeper in the wrong direction.

  51. pamm says:

    I wanted to list a forum were we are trying to compile more information on this topic. It’s a heavy complicated topic that seems to only get worse the deeper we dig.
    Thank you Consumerist for the great posts.

  52. seamy1 says:

    Well, I’m not at all surprised that China is killing United States citizens, since that country has been an enemy of the United States for years. They have nukes pointed in our direction and have stated that if the USA lifts a finger to defend Taiwan, well, those nukes will be fired and all will supposedly land in the western United States. As for me, I am and have been an enemy of China, and I exercise that while I am purchasing items in stores in the USA. I DO NOT BUY CHINA-MADE ANYTHING!!! YEP, A BOYCOTT FOR YEARS AND YEARS, NOW. I take it personally that big companies in USA have put millions of Americans out of work. Thank God that I can make my own clothes, and do alterations.

  53. khooray says:

    Funny that none of the items named are ‘cheap’. The companies who are having them made in China and buying dirt cheap, then selling for ridiculous profit here are the ones who should feel guilty. The Chinese gov’t doesn’t give a crap about their people, so this isn’t going to stop.