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Probe Sheds Light on Working Conditions in China

Reporter Loretta Tofani spent fourteen months in China researching working conditions in Chinese factories. Tofani details her investigation and the risks some Chinese workers face in the manufacturing sector.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Contaminated pet food, tainted seafood, and toxic toys, all part of a huge recall on Chinese imports in recent months, valued at billions of dollars.

  • AMERICAN CONSUMER:

    Now I will be looking at the labels to see if it is from China.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The recalls are raising concerns among U.S. consumers and in Congress and U.S. government regulatory agencies. They also have prompted crackdowns in China.

    Last month, Chinese authorities announced the arrest of almost 800 people involved in the sale or production of tainted food, drugs, and agricultural products. In July, China executed the country's chief of the food and drug administration, after he was found guilty of taking bribes and failing to supervise production properly.

    And now questions have been raised about working conditions in manufacturing facilities and the dangers to Chinese workers themselves. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Loretta Tofani wrote a series of articles that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune chronicling the human cost of poor working conditions in the factories, ranging from airborne poisons inhaled by workers to primitive machines that sever limbs.

    And with me now is freelance journalist Loretta Tofani. She spent more than a year working on her series "American Imports, Chinese Deaths." Earlier in her career, she reported for the Washington Post and was based in Beijing for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Loretta Tofani, it's good to have you with us. I want to set up a little background here. You have been a reporter for 25 years. You moved to Salt Lake City, decided to open an imported furniture store, started traveling to China. And what did you find?

  • LORETTA TOFANI, Journalist:

    I found that there were carcinogens being used by people, by the workers, in a really extravagant manner. People were spraying benzenes. There were people who had silicosis from making our metal goods.

    And it would seem like it was in every industry. It was furniture. It was shoes, clothes, marble tiles, granite countertops. Virtually every industry went through this system, where workers were living and breathing in carcinogens or using machines that were unguarded and resulted in amputations.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you started out as a business person. You were traveling to China as an importer. At some point, you shut down the business, but continued your reporting. How did you get access to these places?

  • LORETTA TOFANI:

    I continued getting access to these places while I was still on a business visa, but then I went back as a reporter with a grant, with a travel grant, and I got my way into hospitals, and I met workers who were dying of diseases resulting from making, from using carcinogens while they were making products for America.