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China Series Continues With Pollution, iPhone Workers, Health Care Reports

The NewsHour continues its series from China this week as special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye looks at workers’ rights, environmental concerns and the country’s latest attempt at health care reform. Kaye, producer Mary Jo Brooks and cameraman Denis Levkovich traveled to the rapidly evolving nation of 1.3 billion people to shed light on some of the human costs of China’s continuing industrialization — and prosperity.

On Tuesday’s NewsHour: Balancing Growth and Environmental Responsibility

China’s furious industrial revolution over the past two decades has made its economy the second largest in the world after the United States. But that phenomenal growth has come at a price: China’s air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are some of the worst on the planet. Now, government and business leaders are starting to take action to reverse the environmental degradation. Kaye gives us a rare, behind-the-scenes tour of one of China’s largest textile manufacturers. Esquel Industries has become a leader in cleaning up what has traditionally been one of the dirtiest industries in China. And Kaye profiles a small but growing program that trains factory managers in southern China to become more environmentally responsible.

Coming Up: ‘Your iPhone Makes Me Sick’

China has paid a severe price for becoming the world’s low-cost, industrial engine. There’s been a growing undercurrent of discontent among workers, and in some places, angry protests. Now, reforms are gradually underway. Officials have raised the minimum wage and have acknowledged that too many workers in multinational supply chain factories were getting sick because of exposure to toxins.

The lethal chemical exposure has been found in a broad spectrum of industries that make consumer goods for export, from computer and cell phone components to jewelry, clothing and ceramics. But workers and activists say that reforms aren’t coming fast enough. They blame China’s government as well as foreign companies that have benefited from standards that wouldn’t be tolerated in their own countries. This report highlights a group of employees at an Apple supplier in eastern China. The workers were poisoned by n-Hexane, a toxic chemical they used to clean the touch screens of iPhones. Apple acknowledged the problem but would not agree to an interview.

Coming up: Chinese Health Care Reform

Two years ago, Chinese government officials announced a massive overhaul of the nation’s beleaguered health care system, with the core goal of providing universal health care services to 1.3 billion people. It’s a dramatic shift and challenge. Health care in China is largely privatized. The gap between the health haves and have-nots is huge. Now, 94 percent of Chinese people have health insurance, but health care is often inaccessible and too costly. One issue highlighted in this report is the financing of hospitals. Under the current system, hospitals earn income by prescribing drugs. The more prescriptions their doctors write, the more they make. Health care reform is trying to alter what everyone agrees is a perverse financial incentive to over-prescribe, but change is coming slowly.

Catch up on our past China coverage

You can watch more of Kaye’s recent coverage from Beijing, including a report on China’s reaction to the unraveling disaster in Japan. Watch a segment on the government’s tolerance for some anti-government protests and its crackdown on others. And check out two of his reporter’s notebooks on a brush with Chinese censorship and his experience interviewing industrial workers at their dormitories in Suzhou.

View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.

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