New Balance

Freetrend Factory
Guangdong Province, China   

Summary — New Balance Made at Freetrend

·         Workers at the factory 14 to 15½ hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., six days a week.

·         18 cents an hour base wage.  Average wage is 25 cents an hour, or $2.25 for a 10 hour day.

·         12 cents premium for working overtime hours.

·         No freedom of movement.  Workers need prior permission to leave the factory during their lunch break.  Factory and dorms are locked down at 9:00 p.m. every night, after which no one can enter or leave.  Workers need permission to use the toilet and the time away from their workstation is monitored.

·         Treated like children, workers must memorize factory quality control regulations.  Failure to recite them from memory will be punished with having to write out the regulations 100 times.

·         Harsh rules and management.  Section chiefs are very strict and scream at the women, who are frequently brought to tears.  One woman stated: “When you are in the workplace you are scolded for just laughing or standing up.”  There is constant pressure to produce.  Workers are fined for taking sick days.

·         Illegal deductions.  To get a job at Freetrend, workers must pay a 50 rmb deposit and then the first month wages are withheld by the company.

·         12 workers share one small dorm room.

·         No independent union will be permitted, nor are workers allowed to raise grievances.

Desperate for work - many seek employment at the Freetrend Factory


We know of five factories in Southern China where New Balance sneakers are currently being produced.  What follows is a report on four of those factories.

Freetrend is a Taiwanese-owned company operating a six-plant compound in Shenzhen, with two additional factories currently under construction.  Its major production is for New Balance.  According to several warehouse workers, it is common for Freetrend to also subcontract work to the Lizhan Footwear Factory, which is another major New Balance supplier.  Materials for the New Balance sports shoes come from Taiwan. 

There are more than 10,000 workers in these six factories, and as is typical in the assembly industry, the vast majority are young women aged 18 to 25 who have migrated to Shenzhen from more agrarian provinces.  At 25 years of age the workers are fired.  Though there is no written rule, the workers know that the company will not tolerate pregnancies.  One woman, an assistant, was illegally fired one week before the researchers arrived because she was pregnant.

Hours:  At the Factory 14 to 15½ hours a Day, Six Days a Week, From 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m.

The standard shift four days a week is from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.  However in June, some women reported working until 11:00 p.m. 

The standard shift:  (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday)              

·         7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
1:30 – 6:10 p.m.
7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. 

So the workers are at the factory 14 hours a day while being paid for only 10 hours and 40 minutes.  When they work until 11:00 p.m. they are at the factory 15½ hours a day. 

On Wednesdays and Saturdays the shift is shorter, from 7:30 to 6:10 p.m., so the workers are at the factory for 10 hours and 40 minutes. 

·         7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
1:30 – 6:10 p.m.

The workers are typically at the factory six days a week for a total of 77 hours and 40 minutes, while being paid for just 60 hours of work.  In the molding section there is also a second grueling night shift stretching 12 hours from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., with just one half hour break from 1:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.  These workers are at the factory 72 hours a week while being paid for only 69 hours.

Wages: 18 Cents an Hour Base Wage; Average Wage is 25 to 30 cents an Hour, or $2.55 to $3.01 for a 10 Hour Day.

The base wage at Freetrend is 18 cents an hour.  However with all overtime hours, incentives and bonuses added most workers make more, averaging between 25 and 30 cents an hour. 

In the stitching, cutting and hand work sections, the workers are paid according to a piece rate system.  The workers said they earned between 500 rmb and 600 rmb each month, or between $60.24 and $72.29 U.S.  This would mean their hourly wage ranges from 23 cents to 28 cents. 

Average Piece Rate Wage (including all overtime hours, bonuses and production incentives):

·         25 cents an hour
$2.55 a day (for a 10 hour day)
$15.29 a week (for a 60 hour, 6 day work week)
$66.27 a month
$795.18 a year 

In the molding, quality control and warehouse sections the workers are paid hourly wages which range from 28 to 32 cents an hour, or from $16.68 to $19.46 a week. 

Average Hourly Wage

·         30 cents an hour
$3.01 a day (for a 10 hour day)
$8.07 a week (for a 60 hour, 6 day work week)
$78.31 a month
$939.76 a year   

Overtime hours are paid at a rate of up to 36 cents an hour.  Also, workers who meet their daily production goal will receive a 72 cent bonus each day.   


Average Hourly Wage at Freetrend

·         30 cents an hour
$3.01 a day (for a 10 hour day)
$8.07 a week (for a 60 hour, 6 day work week)
$78.31 a month
$939.76 a year   

Working Conditions at Freetrend / New Balance
No freedom of movement. Factories and dorms locked down at 9:00 p.m. every night.  Fines for sick days.  Section chiefs scream at the women to work faster.  12 workers to a single dorm room.  No independent union allowed.

Illegal Deposits, Wages Withheld

To prevent or discourage new employees from seeking better conditions and wages elsewhere, Freetrend charges each worker a 50 rmb deposit ($6.02) upon entering the factory and then illegally withhold their first month’s wages (about $66 U.S.) neither of which will be returned if the worker leaves the factory before their first year is out.  The workers only receive their first pay at the end of the second month.

No Freedom of Movement

Workers are not permitted to leave the factory compound to walk outside during their lunch break without prior permission from factory managers.  Then every night at 9:00 p.m., the factories and dorms are locked down, after which no one is allowed to enter or leave.

Treated Like Children.  Harsh Factory Rules and Treatment.  Fined for Sick Days.

Workers must memorize their supervisors and managers’ names and the factory’s regulations regarding quality control.  Failure to be able to recite the regulations in full, upon demand, will be punished by having the worker write out each regulation 100 times.
There are strict factory rules at Freetrend backed up by a system of demerits and fines.  Workers who forget to wear their factory I.D. cards, are out of proper uniform, or fail to sign the registry each morning will be fined.   

New Factory construction at Freetrend. In China, construction workers are paid 18 cents 
an hour and work 12 hour shifts, seven days a week.




every night at 9:00 p.m., the factories and dorms are locked down, after which no one is allowed to enter or leave.

No Paid Vacation

After a year’s service, the law entitles each worker to a paid annual vacation.  Freetrend permits only unpaid leaves.

12 Workers to a Dorm Room

Workers are housed 12 people to a small dorm room.  There is one toilet on each floor.  The workers are charged 70 rmb ($8.43) every month for lodging and food.

Spending $3.00 a Week On Yourself

One young woman explained that she attempts to send $48 U.S. a month home to her family in Hunan, but to do so she can only spend about $3.00 U.S. a week on herself.  So, for example, on her day off, rather than go into town which would cost money, she instead stays in the industrial zone and just takes a walk.

No Union at Freetrend

Most workers have no idea what a union is.  They have no experience with independent organizing, since anyone attempting to form a real union would be immediately arrested and imprisoned for 5 to 8 years without a trial.

Workers are fined 2 rmb for taking a sick day.  Workers who lose their I.D. card will be fined 100 rmb, or nearly five day’s wages. 

To use the bathroom, a worker must first gain the permission of their line supervisor and receive an “off-duty permit”, without which they cannot leave their work station.  The length of their bathroom visit is monitored. 

The workers say there is a lot pressure on them to work faster, to meet production goals, and that the sections leaders are very strict, screaming at and scolding the young women, leaving many of them in tears. 

One worker commented that there were more regulations in the factory then there had been in junior high school: “When you are in the workplace, you are scolded for just laughing or standing up.”

Heavy Dust Powder in the Air

Workers in the stitching section complain about a heavy dust-like powder which fills the air they must breath.  Despite the lack of proper ventilation they are not provided safety masks.

No Social Security, Health Insurance or Pension Plan

Illegally, Freetrend has not joined and inscribed the workers into any social security health or pension plan, to which both the company and the workers would have to contribute.  As China privatizes its health and pension system, the Freetrend workers are left with no long range protections whatsoever. 

There is a factory clinic at Freetrend, but the workers must pay for all medicine.


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