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The new Chinese stain on Levis 


Last fall, Levi Strauss announced that, because of a worldwide glut in the production of jeans, it was shutting down 11 of its U.S. manufacturing plants and terminating 6,400 workers. Just five months later, however, Levi Strauss has reversed itself, saying it will now expand the number of factories it has for making jeans.

Guess what though? The factories will not be in the U.S. and those 6,400 good American jean-makers are not being called back. Instead, Levi's expanded production will go to China! Proof again that today's corporate executives have all the characteristics of dogs -- except loyalty.

Levi Strauss is also abandoning its principles. In the early '90s, it had been one of the few global manufacturers to say no to the low-wage lure of China, correctly deciding that the intolerable labor practices and human rights abuses in that country are so gross that doing business there puts an indelible stain on a corporate name.

Now, however, Levi executives have had a change of heart, announcing that they are willing to accept that moral stain in exchange for the financial gains of human exploitation. CEO Peter Jacobi put it curtly: "Levi Strauss is not in the human-rights business."

Besides, said Jacobi, "It's clear to us that the [labor] environment is getting better there." Oh? That'll come as news to Chinese workers. Just the month before Jacobi tried to put his rosy, conscience-salving PR gloss on Levi's move, a firsthand report on Chinese factories found 96-hour work weeks, no freedom for workers to assemble, 13-cents-an-hour pay and arbitrary firings.

Harry Wu, the renowned Chinese dissident, says flatly: "The business opportunities are improving, but human rights conditions are getting worse."


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