After being found during the crackdown on November 22, Wei Junsheng and three other teenage laborers – 14-year-old Li Yilong, 15-year-old Yang Junpeng and 16-year-old Liu Jiefei – have been transferred to a local hotel. The four boys were from the same village in Guizhou and worked at the same unlicensed garment workshop that appeared in the video.
Just after the 2016 Chinese New Year, the foreman of the workshop, 40-year-old Feng Jian, traveled to the village and picked up the four children along with another six young adult villagers after being introduced by Wang Ming, a local villager and at the time also a worker at Feng’s workshop. Both Feng and Wang were arrested by the police for hiring child laborers on November 22, the day of the raid.
When our reporter met them in their hotel room, the four kids, with dark circles under their eyes, were playing games on a mobile phone, wearing the new winter coats the police officers had bought for them.
For the children, these days staying in the hotel were the first in a long time that they had felt any sense of freedom. Previously they had to work from 7am to 11pm or later. Every day at 11:10am and 5:10pm, they had just ten minutes’ break to eat.
“At first our boss didn’t set us a fixed workload and we could finish work at 7pm. But ten days after we started, the boss told me to get through 500 pieces per shift, and then he raised it to 700. He kept raising my workload and by the end it was 1,300,” Liu Jiefei told NewsChina. He had been assigned to sewing waistbands on to trousers.
As Wei told our reporter, they had only a bowl of rice for each meal, with nothing else to eat. Only on rare occasions when their workload was almost unbearably heavy would they be offered a bit of meat. Each night after finally finishing work, if they had any money, the children would buy some fried rice or instant noodles to feed themselves.
Once they had been brought to Changshu, the boss warned that any absence from work would be severely punished: 300 yuan (US$43) would be deducted from their salary if the teens asked for a day’s leave.
Of the four boys, only Wei once asked for a day off. “I had a high fever that day. I couldn’t manage to get out of bed,” the teen recollected. He did not buy any medicine, and just lay in bed in the dim dorm room the whole day. Wei felt lucky that boss did not dock his pay that time.
To stop children from leaving, the boss would confiscate their ID cards and bank cards as well as their mobile phone SIM cards. Teens who owned mobiles could use them for games and social networks, but not to make calls. The only way they could contact their parents was through the foreman and older coworkers from the same villages.
According to the footage, although the teen workers are promised a monthly wage of 2,500 yuan (US$260), they are not be paid their wages until the end of the lunar year. Teens would be paid just 300 to 500 yuan (US$43-71) a fortnight. The rest was withheld until the next Spring Festival.
“On my first day here, my boss warned me that if I quit the job before the end of the lunar year, I wouldn’t get any of my money,” says Xiaoxiong (pseudonym) in the video. The 14 year-old, from Yunnan’s Wenshan Zhuang, a Miao ethnicity autonomous region, tells the videographers: “I was asked to pay 3,700 yuan (US$532) after I went to work for another factory and was caught by my former boss. I didn’t have the money, so he took my computer instead.”
Beatings as well as the threat of violence are routine, according to those interviewed in the video. “They [the kids] will definitely get beaten if they do not obey. They work much faster after a good beat-ing,” a foreman tells Han in the video.
In order to capture the footage, Han worked in the workshop for four days and found the work unbearable himself. “Many imagine that working in a clothing factory is not really a hardship since workers aren’t out in the sun. But in fact it is extremely arduous work. Day in, day out, laborers have to repeat the exact same movement several thousand times. Teen workers only earn 5 yuan [US$0.71] an hour on average, far less than the local minimum wage,” Han told NewsChina.
“They [the employers] are boiling the frog. On the one hand, they raise the workload day by day to numb the child laborers, and on the other, withholding their wages keeps the boys from fleeing. The more of the children’s money that’s kept, the more tolerant they become towards the torturous work – that’s the strategy the boss utilizes,” Han said.