Wal-Mart has been instrumental in making this corner of China the world's fastest-growing manufacturing zone. Last year, the company shipped $12 billion in products out of China, 20% more than in 2001.
The marriage between the world's largest and most efficient retailer and China's low-cost factories is setting a new global "cost standard" for manufactured products, according to consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
The phenomenon is rattling competitors worldwide and worrying international labor activists. They cite the Chinese government's hostility toward organized labor and its lack of worker protections.
"Wal-Mart has really been at the forefront in driving down wages and working conditions," said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, who has made two trips to China in the last year. "They're not only exporting the Wal-Mart name and the corporation and the identity. They're also exporting that way of doing business."
Wal-Mart has more than 3,000 supplier factories in China, and the number is expected to rise. But that doesn't mean workers in China are secure.
Gladpeer used to make clothes in Hong Kong. It moved production to China in the 1980s because costs were much lower, said Simon Lee, a managing director of the family-owned firm.
Gladpeer's 1,200 workers -- mostly young women -- are paid about $55 a month and live in clean but cramped dormitories, eight to a room.
But Lee is likely to reduce his employment in Dongguan soon. He is planning to open a new factory in Guangxi province, a remote region of western China where labor, electricity, housing and taxes are cheaper. "Competition is intense, and our biggest single issue is cost," Lee said. "Many customers look at cost first, then they look at the workmanship. That's why we're going to Guangxi."
Cleeland reported from Honduras, Iritani from Bangladesh and Marshall from China. Times staff writer Abigail Goldman and Hong Kong bureau researcher Tammy Wong contributed to this report.