Please watch this three minute video before we arrive in southern China (called “Factory of the World” – features a factory in the Taishan province) by the NY Times’ Nicholas Kristoff of China Wakes fame.
Two thoughts came to mind as I watched this video.
One, the NY Times is often criticized for being “too left”, yet in this video it’s the Times making the argument that the human rights criticism of these factories is overblown.
Two, the general thrust and point of the video has been my own experience. Most of the factories I have seen and visited in China I would grade as a low “B” or high “C” on the treatment of workers issue (I define a high “C” as satisfactory). A very, very small number I would give an “A”. I have been in a small number of D and Fs – they do exist and they are ghastly by Western standards, but to the extent the video argues most in China are not D and Fs, that has also been my own experience.
Also be sure to check out this subsequent blog post, “In Defense of 12 Hour Days”, that Kristof made about this video in response to those who disagreed with his praise for the Chinese town of Dongguan and his comments about the woman who works 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Very insightful, in my view. But also stuff that people won’t hear or listen to if they have their mind made up.
Finally, remember … before you lecture or preach to the Chinese on labor and factory issues, and to help you put the issue of the factory working conditions we will see in China into a comparative historical context and perspective, you must read this Wall Street Journal article, Lemonade Stands? Children Used to Toil 14 Hours, Every Day. See also this recent Daily Beast article, Before Condemning Foxconn, Americans Should Examine Their Own Labor History.
On the flip side and for a different perspective, check out this thoughtful and interesting Washington Monthly article I came across, Confessions of a Sweatshop Inspector. And see also this recent C-Span broadcast (click HERE to watch the interview and segment – 7.30-24.0 = the China bit); this segment is an interview of Mike Daisey, the story teller behind the well received show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” (note in March 2012 Daisey was flushed out for having lied about certain things he said or represented in the show or in some of his interviews — a basic Google search will turn up some of the articles on this development and his mea culpa in response).
And back to the original question of this blog posts, “Is China the Factory of the World or Market?”
No debate on the first category (factory of the world).
Re: the second (market?), as an example, I recently spoke with a former Nike executive who noted that 80 percent of what Nike makes in China it in turn sells there in its domestic market. As a second example, see this Wall Street Journal article, Vespa Looks both Ways: China, India.
This Wall Street Journal article, For Some Manufacturers, There Are Benefits to Keeping Production at Home, also does a nice job highlighting for you what type of manufacturing moves to China and what type tends to stay home here in the US. To gain a feel for how the services industry and market for foreign firms is developing and set to take off in China, see this recent China Law Blog post, China New Investment Rules ….