The deciding World Women’s Longboard Championship event, the first significant event run by the ASP in China, will be held on an island in the South China Sea, in the province of Hainan. Hainan is the largest Special Economic Zone in China. Consequently, the ASP and its immediate partners, will enjoy Hainan’s preferential policies, which include special tax breaks and exemptions for foreign businesses.
My decision to boycott this and other World Longboard Tour events this year, is an attempt to use the platform I have to focus attention on the significant movements of the ASP World Tour, surf companies who are currently doing business in China, and those who are in the process of moving their manufacturing there.
China is an evolving country with economic opportunity and human rights complexities that should not be ignored in the interest of profit. Actively committing to influence change in China will foster a better environment for China’s citizens, and may even foment a more secure system to protect the economic and property rights of legitimate foreign investments. I have listed some of concerns that are salient as well as some examples of how surf businesses might affect change in some of them.
For the last 31 years, China has required two-thirds of its population to exercise a birth control policy known as China’s One Child Policy. This has lead to disparate gender ratios with over 120 boys born for every 100 girls, a fact that suggests the frightening reality of a gendercide at work because of this policy. Because of traditional views on gender, most families prefer a boy to a girl in China. When a woman becomes pregnant with a girl, she may choose to abort, abandon or sell her little girl to make room for the boy that is more desirable. Recently, a man was stabbed and killed by a member of a group led by Family Planning officials in Shandong when they tried to force his sister to undergo a birth control procedure. This institutionalized policy has ethical implications above and beyond simple population control.
In 2009, the Chinese government revealed a National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), the first official human rights action plan of its kind in China. While this in itself is a welcome symbol, reports over the last two years have shown that many of the key commitments listed in the NHRAP have fallen short of their objectives and that, in some cases, certain situations have actually worsened (e.g. rights of detainees, the right to a fair trial and the rights to information, redress and expression) or were simply not addressed (e.g. China’s household registration system).
In the introduction to the NHRAP, the Chinese government emphasized that it prioritizes “subsistence and development” over political and social rights. The idea here is that a strong economy is perceived as a guarantee for “greater enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The growing affluence of the Chinese middle-class in urban and coastal regions seems to support this.
The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2010, by contrast, is critical of the Chinese government’s “single-minded pursuit of economic growth”, stating that it has created environmental and economic conditions that have decreased the quality of life for Chinese people. With the Chinese government offering no transparency and censoring its own citizens, it is difficult to uncover the whole story. Specifically, what of the interior, rural areas and the migrant workers of China?
With a government that holds that the highest goal of national politics is a rigid definition of social stability, those rights that are endowed by law are sacrificed readily. An example of this is occurring today as fears of a revolution, inspired by those in the Middle East, might upset the “harmony” of China. In an unprecedented, proactive crackdown by the government that began this February, a growing number of Chinese activists have been beaten, jailed or have disappeared, including Liu Xiangbin, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail after a conviction of “inciting subversion of state power” under a week ago.
The Chinese government controls how and what information is disseminated through censorship that sometimes includes violence toward the foreign press. Freedom of the press is protected under the Chinese constitution.
Admittedly, China’s economic growth is stunning, but what is the current cost? This is essentially the question I am posing to the “foremost governing body of surfing,” the surf companies who are currently doing business in China, and those who plan to move there soon. What is the true cost of growing your profit margins within the current socio-political environment of China? I believe that the surf companies doing business within China have a moral duty to conduct business in a manner that benefits society, otherwise they are tacitly assisting the continued infringement of human rights violations.
Already, one of surfing’s largest brands has had affiliations with Mainland Headwear Holdings Ltd., a company that, in 2008, drew ire from a business rights watch group for hiring underage children, paying below legal minimum wage, excessive work hours, no legal maternity leave and intentionally misleading inspectors and customers about their factory conditions. Working with NGOs and instituting a greater transparency in the supply train will help surf companies create better work environments for those who manufacture their products while avoiding damaging the ethos of their brand.
The surf industry is a $7.2 billion industry. This is a respectable amount of economic leverage that can be used to address and actively engage in changes that need to happen in China.
An example of an opportunity the surf industry has in directly impacting the people of China, is through the legal system used by those courageous citizens who choose to file complaints against and sue their government through the Administration Litigation Law (ALL).
Specifically because of WTO legal reform requirements, China’s Supreme People’s Court issued an edict, in 2002, that required foreign corporations to use the same legal system as citizens who bring civil suits against the government. Most citizens go up against the government representing themselves, but western companies can afford lawyers who in turn can impact this system by setting legal precedents or stare decisis. A more consistent legal system, one that has a judicial appeal process and is independent of the government, would directly benefit the citizens of China in challenging the institutionalized policies of the government (like the One-Child Policy) as well as working to legally end practices that undermine the Chinese constitution. However, if the surf industry in China chooses instead to take advantage of guanxi, and/or avoid the legal system, then an opportunity to positively impact this system will be lost.
Transparency, working with NGOs and a willingness to engage China’s legal system are all steps the surf industry can take in the right direction. I urge the surf community to insist that the surf industry not simply take advantage of the economic situation in China, but instead help effect positive change for the salient human rights issues that are taking place there today.