If you are going to do business in China, and oh so many are, you best come prepared.
Sure, you can glance at that hard-back book by the big consulting firm with many big-shot names listed in it.
After all, it will probably have a good map of China in it.
Once you’ve memorized that, you might as well toss it out the window, for most of what you need to survive and thrive in China is better taught on the streets of Brooklyn than the hallowed halls of Ivy League Schools.
Untruth #1: China is an excellent Environment for Workers
Fact – Chinese working conditions are brutal, and include slave labor, human rights abuses and inhumane working conditions.
“Outsourcing jobs to China is a ‘win-win’,” we are told. we provide the Chinese good working conditions and rid ourselves of menial labor jobs so we can concentrate on the pursuit of technology.
The Chinese have a saying, which translates to “You don’t have to pay a tax on bullshit. so why not bullshit as much as possible?”
It would seem that often-times the mainstream US press must agree, for much of what they write about China seems fanciful at best.
Possibly, they are merely being optimists and choose to shield us from some of the uglier truths about China. After all, who really wants to hear about forced slave labor (15) (16) of the mentally handicapped (17) (18) and prisoners (19)?
Do these people really want us to know that wholesome American companies are outsourcing our production jobs to a country where labor rights abuses abound (20)?
Although these things are true, its much easier to publish books and articles about the fact that when doing business in China, one must accept a business card with both hands.
This is the polite protocol in China, and we don’t want to offend our hosts do we? No, if one is gong to do business in China its best to stay silent and ‘go along to get along’ – and not disclose all the facts.
The fact is that accessing the billion person army, which unfortunately includes one of the largest supplies of child labor in the world, is too compelling for American companies to pass up.
Imagine how much money a company can save by working people 28 days per month and paying them whenever it’s convenient.
I bet the $40 million that Evergreen Solar got from the US tax payers could go a long way in a place like China. Sound too fantastic to believe? Read on.
Deplorable Working Conditions
“if they were very strict, you’d have to close all the factories. You can’t do that. It’s a fact that not all suppliers or all factories can comply with Chinese laws. (21)”
The following is an example of the prevailing Chinese management philosophy….
“my plant is just down the road here,” ‘Dirk’ li, a Chinese who ‘emigrated’ to Hong kong told me.
In between lecturing me on the nuances of his 2011 Mercedes, which he assured me befits a man of his stature, he advised me on how business works in China.
“You should outsource production to me because you don’t know enough about China to start a plant here. that is where I come in. I am from China, so I know how to deal with these people. I can produce for you.”
Running a hand over his spiked hair, Dirk told me that the opening of China was a gold mine or a land mine, depending how you approached it.
“You guys from the west got it all wrong. You have this ‘touchy feely’ management style that does not work in China.”
Jerking the wheel of the massive vehicle, he dodged potholes that littered the road on the outskirts of Shenzhen.
“when we reach my plant you will see how I work. in China you have to show them who is the boss.”
“Yeah. so when I arrive, I turn into a real SOB. I berate the manager in front of everyone, let them all know their work is sloppy and they are expendable. I yell a lot then I leave.”
“How do you know that their work is shoddy?”
“I don’t, and I don’t care. that is not the point. The point is to keep them fearful. to let them know that they are expendable. They need to live in fear to be productive.”
“and what about quality control how do you handle it?”
He just laughed and continued on. as the greenery of Shenzhen rushed past us and thunderclouds appeared, he slowed near a village and then stopped.
“You want to learn about quality control, look over there.”
Following his finger, I noticed what looked like a massive structure – like a walled chicken coop several hundred yards ahead.
Tucked into confined spaces were weather beaten elderly Chinese women rolling what looked to be cigar-like objects. Each one of them was surrounded on three sides by brick walls like mini jails.
“that is quality control in China,” he said.
Unable to comprehend, I shook my head.
“Those ladies are making fireworks. Each one is confined to a pen. The walls of the pen are for quality control. Fireworks are very dangerous and volatile. The slightest mistake can cause an explosion. so, if a woman gets careless and blows herself up, the walls confine the blast to one person. in this way, production is not disrupted and quality is maintained in the other fireworks.”
As I watched the ladies plod along, I began to understand China.
Driving Production to China to “Cut Costs”
“The reality is that a decade of monitoring by multinationals has not led to substantial improvement in working conditions in Chinese factories. Falsification (of audit reports) and the use of shadow factories allow underpayment of wages, excessive overtime and unsafe conditions to persist (22)”
I guess it is no wonder that companies like Apple drive production to China. not many countries allow armed police to stand guard in front of their facilities where dormitories housing 100s of people (23) are the norm.
This phenomenon is not just an ‘Apple thing’, but typical business in China.
As a matter of fact, the housing that Apple provides is a step up to what many local businesses provide.
Some local firms stuff a dozen people into rooms with matted floors where the workers sleep the half of the day they are not working – and those are the good jobs.
Consider places like Giuyo, China (24), an e-waste dump where workers mix toxic chemicals to reclaim useful parts from discarded PCs and the like. They nearly all work in grueling conditions with little to no protection from the burning of pvc’s, which can cause cancer (25).
For the laborers, however, it is much worse.
A Labor Job in China
Often times, construction workers are housed in makeshift military tents alongside their work sites.
Peering into the tents, one quickly realizes how good the Apple workers have it in comparison. inside each hooch are a dozen men who sleep on cots or the floor, and eat from communal bowls.
No running water nor restrooms are provided.
Although there are no guards in front, there is no need. At work sites like this, upon employment the workers must surrender their ID cards, which limits their mobility.
Adding to the misery, these people do not get paid until the end of the project, if at all.
Thus, if they needed their money, as all of them did, there was little chance of them ‘escaping’. unfortunately this type of system can lead to even further abuse.
A testament to this fact was borne out by what I saw in the southern suburbs of Beijing. when I first arrived, I was amazed by the fact that certain work sites always had large crowds of laborers settled in front of them.
When I inquired as to what the problem was, I was told the workers were protesting.
The boss, it was said, had not paid them for their most recent job. as most of them were poor and come from thousands of miles away, they could not leave.
Their only recourse was to have ‘strike’ or ‘ sit in’ and hope the boss relented and gave them their wages.according to CEC’s annual report, non-payment of wages is “rampant” and in the construction industry it is the most pronounced (26).
But that is not as bad as being one of the 2000 workers for Hubei Huadou Construction co. Fed up with a boss who had not paid them, the laborers initiated a strike to demand back wages of over $3 million.
The boss, who had surreptitiously canceled their contract, did as most fair-minded people would. he allegedly sent 20 truckloads of ‘thugs’ to ‘clear the building site’ of the laborers. in the ensuing melee, at least 46 workers were injured, some at the hands of the executives and developers themselves (27).
I bet companies like Levi Strauss and Owens-Corning can steal away China’s best and brightest from companies like that. I just wish they would leave some jobs for the people back home.
And what’s not to like about China’s sketchy labor law enforcement?
Although the law states otherwise, 28 day work months at 12 hours per day is the norm. if one takes the time to ask, they would know this, but then again maybe the truth is not what people are really after.
Sure, the Chinese press will attack a foreign company every now and again for abusing Chinese labor laws. The sad fact, however, is that this is, in fact, business as usual in China.
If ever one had any doubts, just ask the waitress at the local dinner how many days a week she works and unfailingly she’ll tell you seven. Two weeks on, one day off, twelve hour days.
Nimble little Fingers – Child Workers
And if nimble little fingers is what a company needs, then China’s got that too. where else can companies find ‘workers’ as young as 12 willing to toil away for 16 ours a day (28)?
Is it any wonder that companies like Hasbro defect to a system that allows for the exploitation of child labor (29)?
And perhaps one of the most gut wrenching facts about China is the lack of regard for human beings.
Take for instance the case of a man known as “A” (30), who produced car parts for a supplier of Ford Motor. in an attempt to lower costs and pass along those savings, this company allegedly was “kind enough” to instruct mr. “A” to disable the safety equipment that was meant to protect him from bodily harm.
As far as the company saw it, such measures were a useless impediment to productivity and speed.
Being an obedient man, mr. “A” switched off that protective device and the machine, which was unburdened by the safety precautions, worked at a breakneck pace.
Unfortunately for mr “A”, this meant that the machine was now a ticking time bomb. With the safety equipment disabled, the machine was unable to monitor where its user’s limbs were, and the press subsequently mauled his hand, leaving him permanently disabled (31).
The stockholders of Ford Motor Corp needn’t fret such matters, however, for in a country with 1,300,000,000 people, fresh limbs are a dime a dozen.
References and Image Credits:(1) sxc.hu(2) CS Monitor(3) PixGrove(4) Mobiledia(15) Chinalaborwatch.org(16) DailyMail(17) MSNBC(18) QualityInspection.org(20) ChinaLaborWatch.org(21) The China Price- Alexandra Harney(22) The China Price (Alexandra Harney)(23) DailyMail(24) Time.com(25) NationalGeographic(26) CFR.org(27) WantChinaTimes.com(28) China-labour.org(29) The China Price, Alexandra Harney “The company’s inspectors were trained to do quality assurance, not determine the age or treatment of workers; they “don’t ask unless it’s a blatant issue.”(30)(31) globallabourrights.org/reports?id=0629