The head of a clothing factory in Changshu City, Jiangsu Province, has been detained for allegedly using child labor after a video went viral on China's social media earlier this week.
According to the secretly filmed video released by We Media platform Pear Video, young teenagers are transported from southwestern Yunnan Province through intermediary agents to the city, which is known as the country's clothing manufacturing capital.
With a monthly salary of less than 2,000 yuan (US$290), against the average of 5,000 yuan (US$725) for adult workers in the city, the underage migrants work at least 28 days a month from 7 a.m. to midnight.
If one finishes his or her task earlier, the foreman will definitely designate another for him or her, said a teenage worker in the video. "Sometimes we work until 2 or 3 in the morning."
'Modern day slavery'
Changshu is home to over 1,000 clothing and textile companies and has an annual production value totaling 13 billion yuan (US$1.9 billion).
Many international brands have also set up factories here, and the value of annual clothing exports can reach 340 million yuan (US$49.3 million).
"The more time you put into production, the more profit you can get," said a local business owner.
In most of the family-owned businesses, there are underage workers who toil day and night.
"There is literally no time to rest besides two very quick meals around 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.," said Lao Han, the video producer who went undercover in a small workshop employing mostly teenagers.
"The food is bad, with only rice and a few vegetables, but it at least fills the belly," he added. "Normally there is no meat in the dish, but when they do serve it, you only get two or three pieces."
As everyone is fully occupied with their work, they have literally no interaction together.
"Everyone is too exhausted after working for over 15 hours nonstop," said Lao Han. "I feel aching in every part of my body, and after I worked there for four days, my hands swelled up."
In the small workshop where he worked, 10 male workers lived in a dirty eight-bed room. “A 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old one share a small bed, and another two do the same.”
If they leave the factory before the end of the year, the boss will refuse to pay them any wages and even force them to pay for the train tickets that brought them to the city.
With bad working conditions and low wages, the work has little attraction and three young workers left for other factories. The boss found them and brought them back. Their ID cards and personal computers were all confiscated as soon as they returned and they had to pay 3,000 yuan for the cost of downtime due to their leave.
No one dared to flee again.
Some workers have filed complaints to human resources department or reports to the police, but no one has helped solve their problems. "Working and living in this unfamiliar place far away from home, young innocent workers don't think of defending their rights and are reluctant to deal with the police," Lao Han explained.
Schooling is useless
In remote and poor mountain villages, many young teenagers prefer work to school, saying that "learning knowledge is useless."
"Every spring festival, young migrant workers go back to their home villages with 'cool' hairstyles and clothes," said a school teacher in Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province. "Many school children admire them and also consider dropping out of school to follow in their footsteps."
Not all drop-outs are too poor to finish schooling, as the nine years of compulsory education don't cost much, said Lao Han.
"They just heard some people went to college and did not find a proper job, and then decided that education is useless," he said, adding that this false way of thinking is a very important reason for the prevalence of child labor.
He suggested stronger government supervision of the companies and small workshops in developed regions like Jiangsu and Guangdong in order to cut down on the recruiting of underage workers.