Robert WijnschenkDom(Supervisor Fitting at Fujian Huisman Steel Manufacturing Co., Ltd.): It is true that unfair labor conditions, if not downright exploitation, still are not uncommon in China. The Chinese deserve to have the same rights and benefits as are available in western countries. They will get there, using their own strength and with the dignity that comes from honest hard work.
To see (migrant) Chinese factory workers only as a victim of globalization always struck me as belittling them. Though limited to a few unattractive options, they possess choice and the ability to improve their life. Their hopes for their future and that of following generations are not in vain and theirs to realize.
There are also many self-employed people, as well as service or agricultural sector workers in China, whose lives are just as spartan (or worse). Does the American (or western in general) public view them with the same pity? Or is that pity a substitute for guilt over an (comparatively) extravagant lifestyle and therefore only for those who are directly involved with producing the goods associated with it?
Our (great-) grandfathers worked 6 days a week. Today many western factory workers are often more than happy to work overtime to make a little extra money. Farmers work 7 days per week all over the world. We do not pity these people, do we?
Dominique Boursier(Pharmaceutical consultant): I would like to tell my feeling about small factories i audited in China. my impression is every one in China want make business and built his own factory, if the have some knowledge for make a product. Some news businessmen do it without basic culture and without basic management knowledge and sometime the situation is really ridiculous.
I remember for a electric company, I made audit of his suppliers in Wenzhou and go from garage and the last was a kind of farm with chicken where they also made electric products.
I also some high class factories in the middle of no where, so my impression is
The Chinese factories will be more and high class, as GMP standard and the natural selection come slowly.
David Cains(Director at ARMS Group – Global Credit Solutions Australian partner): spent 6 weeks 12 months ago going thru factories in China, at one making electrical equipement where workers were housed in condo’s sleeping in shared beds 8 hours at a time , I expressed my concerns, then one worker said , where I come from we have a small house no windows or electricity , we have a small garden to feed my extended family and no local work, this job feeds me, my family and ensures my children are getting good schooling, i feel this is worth it to raise our family standards.
Ulrich O. Birch(Senior Consultant at Consenec Ltd): I have been doing business in Guangzhou for over 20 years and live here since 2005. In this time, I have seen plenty of factories of all kind.
Certainly, you find exploitation and miserable conditions. However, in general, I notice gradual improvement. The workers here are getting more and more pronounced about their needs and rights, and companies begin to listen to them.
Also, in general, I notice that foreign invested companies / factories are better in this regard than the pure Chinese or SOE’s. Recently, I visited a leading Chinese company in my city (Chongqing), and was impressed by the high standard. However, this company also cooperates with western partner companies. Still, there is room for improvement, but it is clearly a positive trend.
Therefore, it is usually helpful if there is a western influence. This usually helps to improve working conditions and safety.
For the last six years, I was in charge of a business unit in China of a multinational company, including a factory with over 350 people. We built a model-case plant facility, according to most modern standards: energy efficiency, reduced environmental impact, top notch machinery, and convenient facilities for the workers. Work-related safety was a number one priority, and we achieved a standard that is nowadays a global benchmark.
What do I want to say with this? I believe that western companies doing business in China have an obligation to help improving standards and work conditions. While the western world also had miserable conditions in factories in the early times of the last century, we had much longer time to learn our lessons. China has to do all this within extremely short time. Therefore, we westerers may support the developments here. This will help improving the conditions for workers, and also the safety and compliance / integrity situation.
I usually see some problems, if companies come to China with the “low cost” factor as the only driver. This generally risks to exploit the people (due to the relatively lax implementation of laws). However, it is good to see that more and more western companies come to China for its growing market. The increasing salaries further strengthen this move. Such companies will focus more on good quality, reliability and sustainability than on the exploitation of the local workforce.
Hence, we should not complain about the situation in China, but we shall do something about it in our FIE’s. The demonstration of a better example will support the improvements then also in other companies.
Cornelius Mueller(Director at Sinoland Worldwide Ltd): My employer (Western company) moved production facilities from Hong Kong to Shenzhen beginning in 1988, that was very early after the opening of China. Since then I have worked without interruption in China, until today. I also worked in Jiangsu province at a location which really can be called ‘countryside’ (Dongguan doesn’t deserve this description any more, since at least 10 years). I have seen the changes over almost 25 years now. In general, working conditions as well as management of factories have immensely improved, to the better part not because customers or foreign experts did insist, but because factories are owned and run by Chinese which did study overseas, returned and put into practice what they learned.
With China going more high-tech factories will improve further, the labour-intensive factories (usually the ones with the poor working conditions) are moving or disappear altogether. The children of many migrant workers I worked with 25 years ago are now white collar workers, engineers, managers, running their own businesses or are still at universities. And that, after all, will make it possible for China to overcome its still existing problems and shortcomings.