TOPICS > Economy

Chinese Brick Factory Faces Allegations of Slave Labor

June 25, 2007 at 6:50 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: As James Fallows mentioned, China has been preoccupied with allegations of slave labor at a brick factory in central China. We have a brief report on that from John Ray of Independent Television News.

JOHN RAY, ITV News Correspondent: China’s children and China’s shame. It’s two centuries since the world abolished the slave trade, but try telling that to the heartbroken parents of Shanxi province.

“My son was a good boy,” this woman says. “All he wanted was to work.” Each photograph is a missing son. Each mother and father convinced their child has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. And each blame their rulers.

“I hate them so much,” he tells me. “We came to find our children, and they’ve already been hidden away.”

For months, no one listened to their stories, until this: Secretly filmed pictures of a brick factory, and the bleak world of child labor, and of casual brutality. No one is here willingly; no one here is paid a wage; and they’re worked to the point of exhaustion.

These brick factories were less places of work than places of sustained torture, and those imprisoned here talk of working from dawn to midnight, of meager rations of bread and water, and of regular beatings.

This boy was freed last month. Too scared to tell us his name, too traumatized to utter more than a few words, he shows us the scars on his back and the burns on his ankle. He says he was hung from a tree and beaten.

To the Chinese, this has come as a profound shock, not just because it happened, but because it’s all been reported by state-controlled media, a sign of the Beijing government’s frustration with endemic local corruption. So police now pose as liberators, but Communist cadres colluded in the slave trade. A handful of junior officials have been arrested; others are in denial.

This local party leader tells the parents we’re with they should have taken better care of their children. We will leave these desperate mothers and fathers where we found them, handing out photographs of their children, searching for lost sons.