On International Women’s Day, Guangzhou Shimen’s Women Workers Are Acting!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Since March 5th, the workers at the Shimen handbag factory based in Panyu, Guangzhou have been undertaking collective action in defense of their rights. At this factory, where women make up 70% to 80% of the workforce, they primarily manufacture products for Michael Kors, a luxury brand.

Shimen factory is a company funded by Korean capital and MK’s largest supplier factory. Excluding MK, Shimen also supplies products for COACH, Kate Spade, DKNY, Marc Jacobs and other luxury brands. During 2012, Shimen also supplied products for Burberry but, in 2012, Guangzhou Shimen’s workers organized a protest against the factory’s poor working conditions and Burberry withdrew their contract with the factory as a result.
Originally, there were 5 Shimen factories in Guangzhou but presently, only one factory remains. The other factories have already been relocated to other Southeast Asian countries in the pursuit of lower manufacturing costs and following a high return on investment development model. Furthermore, Shimen’s ability to keep manufacturing costs low is not only because they have chosen an area where workers’ wages are low but also because they have thought up of every possible method to evade local and national labor laws and exploit their workers. For example, Guangzhou Shimen factory’s workers have disclosed that, at the very least, the following illegal activities are occurring at the Shimen factory:
From the day that the workers were hired, the factory has not been paying sufficient pension funds, housing provident funds, hazard pay for workers working in high temperature environments, sufficient holiday pay, and has not been following the law and ensuring workers undergo an occupational health exam.

Shimen factory’s exploitation of these female workers has already revealed the boundaries of the law. However, in comparison, these female workers have, through their blood, sweat and tears, produced these handbags that are much loved by entertainment stars around the world and even serves as a symbol for their personal identity.

Just by looking at Shimen’s major client, MK, alone, it can be seen that their products have numerous celebrity fans.

In China, Yang Mi, a household name, is MK’s global brand representative.

While in the United States, MK’s influence is even more prevalent. Oscar-winning actress, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow from Marvel’s “Iron Man” and Cate Blanchett, who has been nicknamed “Queen” by Chinese fans, they are all MK’s faithful fans and even business collaborators.
In the political sphere, the previous US first lady, Michelle Obama, as well as the UK’s Kate Middleton are both enthusiasts of MK products.

Last year, “Queen” Cate Blanchett and other influential women responded to the women’s movement that arose out of opposition to Trump. The movement also garnered responses from women around the world and developed into a “unite women” phenomenon.
On this year’s International Women’s day, these Guangzhou female workers, who manufacture MK products, are striking as they are unable to continue enduring the years of having their rights violated. At this time, the celebrities who participated in the women’s march last year and who have also worn MK products, if they could see the ill-treatment these Shimen workers have suffered, would they continue standing on the side of protecting women’s rights?
Regardless of their response, the female workers of Shimen’s defense of their rights is a wake up call for the rest of us. Women’s day on March 8th is not a consumerist holiday. Moreover, what other popular brand’s eye dazzling products are being manufactured by female workers? Are their rights guaranteed?
Supporting the Guangzhou Shimen female workers’ actions will bring back the meaning behind Women’s day. Fight for the female laborers who are striving to protect their rights!

Open Letter for Collective Negotiation between Labor and Management Guangzhou Panyu Shimen Handbag Ltd. Co.: 
We are your company’s workers. Many of us are your company’s senior employees and have worked for 10, 20 years, dedicating our youth to working here. It is because of our hard work that the company has prospered and flourished. However, the company has violated the People’s Republic of China’s labor laws and regulations. There have been the following violations: from the day that we were hired, the company has not been paying sufficient pension funds, housing provident funds, hazard pay for workers working in high temperature environments, sufficient holiday pay, and has not been following the law and ensuring workers undergo an occupational health exam, among other violations. We should be guaranteed the most basic right protections. Today, we are following what is stipulated in the fourth article of “People’s Republic of China’s Labor Contract law” and using a formal written letter to express our grievances, in addition to requesting the opening of a collective negotiation between labor and management. We hope to receive the company’s attention and for the company to appropriately resolve our grievances as well as receive a positive response so as to avoid causing a greater social impact.
Guangzhou Panyu Shimen Handbag Ltd. Co. was established in 1992, is a Korean-owned enterprise and mainly manufactures middle to high grade handbags, wallets among other leather products. Serving as employees of a foreign-funded enterprise that produces high grade leather products, we originally felt deeply honored; however, we earn the lowest wages and must rely on working overtime in order to ensure a basic living wage. We have not even received the benefits that are stipulated in Chinese law. We are now requesting for the company to change their previous illegal activities and compensate us for our past owed benefits. According to “labor law”, “labor contract law”, “social insurance law”, “housing provident management regulations”, “special labor protection for female laborers regulations”, “Guangdong Province high temperature labor rights protection law” and other national labor laws and regulations, we have raised the following appeals to your company.
1. Compensate workers for the pension fund owed to them since they started work as according to law;
2. Compensation workers for the housing provident fund owed to them since they started work as according to law;
3. Pay workers the two years worth of hazard pay for working in high temperatures;
4. Provide workers with a resignation certificate after resignation;
5. Grant female workers a day off on March 8th Women’s day. If a day off is not provided, have work done on that day be paid according to a holiday rate;
6. Pay workers their wages during periods of sick leave as according to law;
7. Arrange for workers to undergo an occupational health examination;
8. Grant female workers four periods of vacation time as according to law;
9. Pay workers their wages during paternity leave as according to law;
10. When transferring or changing positions or other instances that would affect the labor contract, it should be done fairly and voluntarily as stipulated by the labor contract. Both parties should negotiate until a consensus is reached.
11. Prohibit retaliation for reporting that the company did not sufficiently pay two employees, Rong Dafen and Dong Tianxing, their overtime pay;
12. Guarantee that workers receive a base living wage of 3,500 RMB every month during production off seasons or if affected by the company relocating;

We, workers, strongly urge the company’s management to face up to the workers’ reasonable and legitimate demands. If the company’s management refuses to start a dialogue with us and does not resolve our issues or through any method proceed to lower workers’ wages and benefits, we, workers, will take further steps in pursuing collective action. The company’s management will have to take on the responsibility for any consequences that arise during that process.