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THE LUXURY OF CHINESE LABOR

Cowboy hat By Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer - Sun., 1/13/08
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Officials in China have had some trouble making translations from Chinese to English. For example, a sign to alert visitors about a wet floor in a mall came out this way: "The slippery are very crafty."

You might want to keep that thought in mind if you're buying certain luxury goods. For example, high-dollar leather handbags and shoes, silk ties and scarves, designer suits and such are being marketed as the exquisite products of traditional artisans employed by small European firms. They carry the prestigious names of Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci...and they carry matching prices.

But European reporter Dana Thomas reveals that the crafty can, indeed, be very slippery. Many of these brand names are no longer proud family enterprises, but rather conglomerate-owned multinational outfits, producing their goods not by using expert artisans, but on assembly lines staffed by low-wage workers in places like China.

So, where's that requisite "Made in China" label? Some slippery conglomerates hide it in an inside pocket of the product. Some have 90 percent of the product made in China, then add a few baubles or buttons in Italy and label the whole thing "Made-in-Italy." Others simply rip out the product's China label and add a European one.

Slipperiest of all, though, are some that are making leather goods in Prato, Italy, a historic center for crafts. But Italians aren't doing the crafting here--instead, in this center of Gucci and Prada, illegal Chinese laborers have been brought in to do the work. In fact, Prato now has the second highest Chinese population in Europe, and many of the fashion factories producing luxury brand-name items pay these workers as little as $3 an hour.



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