Case study 8 - Jennifer (China, 2005)

prison tower

Prison watch tower. Courtesy of Rennett Stowe

Forced labour for the state

In China there are many labour camps, where the prisoners are forced to work, making items that are then sold in shops in China and other countries.

Jennifer (China 2005)

Read information about China.

Jennifer was held in a labour camp where the prisoners were forced to do all kinds of work, some of it very heavy. This included planting grass and trees, clearing garbage, digging cellars for storing vegetables in winter, knitting sweaters, knitting cushions, making toys, producing disposable syringes and wrapping sanitised chopsticks. Most of the products were for export. One day the prison received an order for 100,000 toy rabbits. The process of making each rabbit had 30 steps.

Jennifer's story

It would take over 10 hours to make a rabbit but the fee for each one was only 20 pence. The processing fees were paid to the labour camp. We didn't get anything. Usually we began work after getting up at five o'clock in the morning, and worked until two or three o'clock in the morning the next day. Sometimes we had to work overtime, otherwise we could not finish the job. At the busiest time, I did not dare to wash my hands after going to the toilet, in order to save a few minutes. At night, sometimes I was so exhausted that I could not even count clearly from one to nine. Yet I still had to force my eyes open to knit sweaters. Long hours of highly intensive work and severe lack of sleep made me feel, for a very long period of time, that the only thing I needed in my life was sleep.

Questions and discussion points

  • Why do you think they deprived the workers of sleep?
  • What would be the worst thing about working such long shifts?
  • What are the different ways it might affect you?
  • What would Jennifer want to say to the people buying the toy rabbits?
  • What would you want to ask or say to Jennifer?

Back to case studies