Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why NOT buy Christmas lights made in China?

Since writing on Tuesday, I've been searching for a non-Chinese, fair-trade solution to buying lights made by prisoners and slave-immigrants and indentured servants. What have I learned?

As far as I can surmise, Christmas lights are not made in the United States or Europe at the present time.  China has a monopoly on their manufacture. Holiday lights were invented in the United States in the 1920's and were manufactured here by several companies including General Electric. Until the early 1960's, the US was the largest maker of Christmas lights in the world. Companies prospered making these lights in the U.S. until they lost most of their business to foreign competitors who were able to manufacture the light sets for less money. Because making these lights involves many processes that cannot be automated, companies located in countries where manual labor was cheap began to dominate the market.

The Western consumer wants more for less--it's that simple. In order to give the consumer cheap prices, makers of Christmas lights and other products were forced to look abroad for cheap labor. Currently, most Christmas lights are made in China because it has a  huge pool of relatively cheap labor and large supplies of the raw materials  (copper and other minerals) needed to manufacture Christmas lights. Industry experts estimate that the cost to manufacture the light sets would more than triple if made in the U.S. (source:

Reasons NOT to buy Christmas lights from China

  • Workers' Rights and the Absence of Rights- "The reform policy in China since 1980 has opened for migration from the countryside to the cities. Between 100 and 200 million peasants are believed to work in urban areas and they suffer discrimination and harassment from employers and city people. Due to a household registration system their legal status is different from urban residents. The system in itself constitutes discrimination and due to their low status migrants and their families are suffering from infringements of their rights to decent working conditions, an adequate standard of living, family life and primary education." (source: Discrimination of Chinese Peasant Workers, Hatla Thelle)
  •  Lack of Reasonable Ecological Protections for Workers and the Environment- Christmas lights carry a warning label: "Handling the coated electrical wires of this product exposes you to lead, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm". Lead also causes brain damage in children with no known safe exposure level. Prop 65 of California only addresses birth defects, so if lead only caused severe brain damage in children, but not birth defects or cancer, no warning would appear. Electrical cords contain lead within the PVC covering. Christmas lights from China (all of them) can contain quite a bit more lead since there's no effective regulation of lead in China; now that all lights come from China, there's no other option for US consumers. It might be unsafe for our children to handle these lights. It is unsafe for the workers who are exposed to lead up to twelve hours a day.
  • The Lack of Consumer Choice-  No matter what side of the political spectrum one might be on, it should give one pause that one country is becoming the sole manufacturer of our goods. We are left with little choice; it seems that the tidal wave is crashing down upon us and we will be forced to kowtow to China and yes, the multi-national corporations that benefit from monopolies.
  • The One-Child Policy and Forced Abortions and Sterilizations- This policy has been in existence for over thirty years, so it is 'just the way it is' in China. Finding information on this policy will break your heart. The world has so many problems; it would be easier to look the other way and be in denial. China is not the only country with human rights violations; Europe and the U.S. have their own problems as well. It is just that China's one-child policy is so 'in your face' with its contempt for all human life. Even if one is a staunch pro-choice feminist- and perhaps because one is a feminist- the cries of these women cannot and should not be ignored. Personally, I cannot enjoy a tree covered in the results of the one-child policy. And yes, it is a very small gesture for these women, but I will continue to not buy Christmas lights until someone (hint, hint?) makes them in a country where human rights are not violated.
My '7 Quick Takes' post tomorrow will suggest some ways to decorate for the holidays without buying new lights made in China. See you then!

For Christian friends: It is important to not despair- here are some prayers that I've been praying for the women who suffer in China (and other places)....

By Fr. Frank Pavone
The Agony in the Garden
Let us pray for mothers and fathers who are in agony because they are tempted to abort a child. May they be given the good news that there are alternatives, and may they make use of the help that is available.

The Scourging
As Christ's flesh was torn by the instruments of those who scourged Him, so the bodies of babies in the womb are torn by the instruments of the abortionists. Let us pray that abortionists may repent of these acts of child-killing.

The Crowning With Thorns
Jesus suffered the pain of thorns in His head, and did so silently. We pray for the mothers and fathers of aborted children. So many of them suffer deep grief and regret over a choice they can never reverse. So many suffer in silence, because others tell them it's nothing.

The Carrying of the Cross
Jesus was not condemned by the power of wicked people. He was condemned because of the silence of good people. Silence always helps the oppressor, never the victim. Let us pray that we may never be silent about abortion, but rather will clearly speak up to save babies from death.

The Crucifixion
As we ponder the death of Christ, let us remember the many women who have died from so-called "safe, legal" abortions. Let us ask forgiveness and mercy for them. May their memory save other women from making this tragic mistake.

Restoration of the Holiness and Protection of the Womb
Oh Holy God, our Rock and our Fortress, you used the womb of Mary to be a tabernacle for the dwelling of the Incarnation, where the Holy Son of God was to be nurtured and protected. You created the womb of woman that the miracle of human life might be nurtured and protected. Many women have been deceived to believe that their womb is not a place of holy protection for a human life, but that it is simply another appendage of their body. Renew and restore your purpose and will concerning the womb of all women throughout the earth, that you may be glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

For Governments

Oh Ruler of the nations, many of the kings of the earth have set themselves against you; they rebel against your rule. Yet you have set your King on your holy hill of Zion so that in every local, state, provincial and national government you would rule in the midst of your enemies. We pray that you would strengthen and uphold those rulers that, by your grace, are following your ways and purpose. Make your enemies a footstool for your feet, that all people in all nations would kiss the Son, so they may know that happy are those who take refuge in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, forever and ever. Amen


  1. Oh, dear Priest's Wife, how I have loved these posts. They break my heart, but it's so important that people become aware of these issues!! You go, girl! Move to OK so we can go get coffee. And I can babysit your precious babies. :D

  2. This is so discouraging and frustrating. ALL Christmas lights? I had no idea.

    Again, thanks for raising the topic. I look forward to what you'll share in the way of alternatives!

  3. Thanks Kassie for the kind words!

    Especially after I heard of the woman with an 8 month forced abortion (my last baby was born very healthy but small at 7 months)- this issue has been on my heart.

    As I keep saying- we have to start somewhere!

  4. Megan- First of all- thanks for visiting my tiny corner of cyberspace

    I was shocked with my research- I could find nothing for sale that isn't made in China. And again- politics and human rights aside, I believe it is bad for any country to have a monopoly on an industry.

    I might have my big girls (10 and 11)write letters to Walmart and Target :) Walmart is big enough that it could have a factory for lights- and charge 3 times as much and give consumers a choice!

  5. Abuse of workers is a terrible thing. However, I don't think that the lot of Chinese workers would be improved if Americans refused to buy Chinese products. Americans boycotted Nike products because Nike used child labor in Pakistan. When Nike stopped using child labor, the children found other occupations out of necessity, many much worse than their previous jobs. I'm not endorsing the exploitation of workers, I'm just saying that there could be unintended consequences of well intentioned boycotts.

  6. Patrick- Thanks for commenting! What you say is true and probably I have convinced 10 people to not buy lights this year- not a serious boycott.

    All politics aside- isn't it shocking that the entire industry is purely Chinese? Usually, if one is willing to pay 50 to 100% more, a fair trade option is available,

    I personally cannot enjoy my decorations if they are made with labor such as this. So I buy almost nothing or at least thrift or exchange with another family to change things up.

  7. Priest's Wife: It's too bad that there are no fair trade Christmas lights. There are many fair trade tree ornaments however.

    God Bless!

  8. I LOVE 10,000 Villages! Thanks for mentioning it- I'll have to check out

  9. Patrick- you have created a monster- I LOVE!!! I collect fair trade nativity sets....and I love the cute people ornaments...

    of course the solution to not buying lights from China is to use candles- CAREFULLY

  10. In the past I have purchased Italian-made lights. I forget the name of the company, but it has some Renaissance angels on the box. We live in northeastern Massachusetts and got them at a few local garden centers. Looking again for them. It is probably possible to purchase non-Chinese lights. Will pass on the info if I do find it. Beckie

  11. I found this page when looking for Fairtrade Christmas lights. Is there still nothing? I don't care what nationality they are or where they're made, but want Fairtrade ones if possible.



    I started to ask about this question. A friend found the link above - it may be a better alternative.
    I saw a young woman from China speak of this issue on the program The Suffering Church on EWTN a few years ago. She spoke of where the lights were made, and quietly said that she would "not buy these lights". Her witness was quiet but more powerful than an expensive TV ad.
    I find it difficult to completely not but cheap stuff from dollar stores, but the whole problem is kind of put into a context you can't ignore when you think of Christmas tree lights, a symbol of peace and hope, made by political prisoners working long hours in labor camps half way around the world.
    I also came across this book:Coping With A Bad Global Image:Human Rights in the People's Republic of China 1993-1994 John F. Cooper and Ta Ling-Lee. You can google it. It speaks of this issue on page 113.

  13. I am wondering about making origami lights with glow-in-the-dark spray paint? It's worth looking into and experimenting. I love paper crafting. :)


thanks for commenting! (comments on old posts are moderated)