They live crowded together in cement factory dormitories where water has to be carried upstairs in buckets. Their meals and rent are deducted from their wages, which amount to less than a dollar a day. Most of the jeans they make in the factory are purchased by retailers in the U.S. and other countries. CHINA BLUE takes viewers inside a blue jeans factory in southern China, where teenage workers struggle to survive harsh working conditions. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, the film looks at complex issues of globalization from the human level.
Seventeen-year-old Jasmine left her home village for a factory job in the city. There, like an estimated 130 million migrant workers on the move in China, most of them young women, she finds factory employment assembling denim clothing for export to overseas companies. She shares a room with 12 other girls and labors every day from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m., seven days a week, removing lint and snipping the loose threads from the seams of denim jeans. Jasmine’s initial excitement to be able to help her family with her wages quickly dissipates as she is overwhelmed by the long work hours and the delays in pay. The strong friendships she forms with her co-workers and memories of home are her only solace. The "new era” of economic progress in China has also created a new generation of entrepreneurs like Mr. Lam, a former police chief who is now the owner of the factory where Jasmine works. To get a new order from a promising British buyer, Mr. Lam must agree to extremely low prices and a very tight delivery schedule. For the deal to work, he cuts his workers' pay and requires them to work around the clock.
While CHINA BLUE shows how the global economic system leaves the Chinese factory owner with few choices, it also explores in detail what that means for the workers. Anxious to avoid getting fined for falling asleep on the job, Jasmine and her friend Li Ping sneak out of the factory to buy energy tea, but they get caught and are fined. Other workers resort to clipping clothespins on their eyelids to keep their eyes open. When the workers’ endurance reaches a breaking point, their only recourse may be a strike, which is illegal in China.
CHINA BLUE, which was made without permission from the Chinese authorities, offers an alarming report on the economic pressures applied by Western companies and the resulting human consequences, as the real profits are made—and kept—in first-world countries. The unexpected ending makes the connection between the exploited workers and U.S. consumers even clearer.