The exploitation of Third World countries by major U.S. corporations and the impact on national unemployment is an ongoing story not told by the mass media.
In order to find cheap labor and escape health and safety regulations, as well as the unions, many American corporations are setting up branches or contracting out jobs in Third World countries.
American electronics firms are big exporters of jobs abroad. California based companies alone have at least sixty-five Asian branch plants, mainly in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea.
In 1977, the Zenith Radio Corporation’s Chicago plant eliminated 5,000 U.S, jobs which paid an average of $5.25 an hour and $1.75 in fringe benefits. According to a company spokesman, workers in Taiwan now produce the same circuit boards for Zenith for an average wage of 36 cents an hour, plus 26 cents in fringes. Because of the mental and physical strains of the job and working conditions, the average working life of these workers is estimated at about ten years.
Conditions in other American firms’ branch plants in Asia are similar. Two representatives from the American Friends Service Committee investigated conditions in the National Semiconductor plant in the Free Trade Zone, Penang, Malaysia. They found the average wage to be about $2 per day making integrated circuits for calculators and computers. During the assembly process, the circuitry units are dipped into open acid vats from which noxious fumes arise. The women wear rubber gloves and boots but these sometimes leak and they are burned. Workers doing microscopic work on mica wafers in an assembly plant in Korea developed severe eye problems during the first year of employment: 88 percent had chronic conjunctivitis, 44 percent became nearsighted, and 19 percent developed astigmatism.
Similar conditions exist in the textile and apparel industry. In the U.S., health and safety problems have become a major issue in strikes in Southern textile mills (dramatized by the campaign to unionize J.P. Stevens Company). Now that unions are beginning to make headway in the south, the jobs are moving abroad, and the health and safety hazards move along with them.
The media’s failure to publicize this U.S. corporate exploitation of Third World people through low wages and hazardous working conditions qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1979.
SOURCE: The Nation, August 25 – September 1, 1979, “Asia’s Silicon Valley,” by Diana Roose.