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Measuring “Made in China”

Yesterday I watched a documentary called A Decent Factory: Made in China on the Discovery Times channel. It’s a rather candid look at labor conditions in China. At the program’s start, when Nokia executives debate whether they are sending ethics experts to China because they want to be ethical or because they want to appear ethical, you realize the documentary will be revealing.

As Nokia’s ethics experts tour a Chinese factory of a partner that makes cell phone batteries, startling details emerge. The factory is owned by a German company, but all the workers are Chinese and management is made up of citizens from various European countries. The workers are 90% women, just as management is mostly men. The factory workers make an average of $2.65 a day. They migrate from rural areas and pay to live in rooms provided by the company, without any choice for better accommodations or food. Most alarmingly, this factory appeared to be following China’s minimum wage laws, paying roughly $80 a month, but in reality the workers were working overtime hours that weren’t documented. That, coupled with the unavoidable cost of room and board, not to mention hefty fines to workers for accidents or even lateness, meant they were taking home even less than you would think.

Of course, labor in China is only one fuzzy issue companies are dealing with as they scrutinize the rapidly growing nation considered one of the next great markets and sites of innovation. The Discovery Times channel is airing other documentaries on China this week. These programs will air multiple times — so there is no excuse not to learn more about business conditions in China. If A Decent Factory is indicative of the other documentaries coming up, they’ll be well worth watching.

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