Quality Magazine

From The Publisher: China's Workers are Critical

October 1, 2005

"Treating people with respect will gain one wide acceptance and improve the business."

The Chinese government, and U.S. companies looking to do business in China, would do well to remember the words of this ancient Chinese businessman, Tao Zhu Gong, assistant to the Emperor of Yue in 500 B.C., particularly as it relates to the welfare of China's workers.

Abuses in China include sweatshop conditions where employees are forced to work 13 hour days, seven day weeks, for as little 33 cents per hour; the use of "laogai," which are prison camps where forced labor is used to manufacture products; industrial pollution, that in some cases have poisoned local residents' children; and forced abortion and sterilization practices that undermine the cultural, economic and moral values held by the majority of Chinese citizens.

The U.S. government offers little direct hope in affecting these changes. In 1994, then-President Clinton severed the link between human and workers' rights and most favored nation status for China. A 2004-2005 report on human rights and democracy from the U.S. Dept. of State says that talks with China regarding arbitrary detention-used to populate the laogai-would be delayed until China met previous commitments on this issue.

U.S. manufacturers have an obligation to do due diligence when planning business strategies in China. They should not do business with companies that use forced labor or sweatshops. This also extends to Chinese businesses based in Hong Kong. To circumvent a U.S. law prohibiting the import of goods manufactured in the laogai, some Chinese contractors are selling their laogai-made products to intermediaries in Hong Kong, who in turn sell them to the United States.

U.S. companies have an obligation to advocate humane treatment of those Chinese workers who will be building or using their products in manufacturing, as well as actively being aware of the treatment of workers by their subcontractors. How?

Active lobbying of their Chinese counterparts, in person and through U.S.-based trade associations, U.S. manufacturers can move to put an end to China's one-child policy, laogai system, environmental abuses and worker exploitation.

Motivation for such action by U.S. manufacturers' involvement lies in the wisdom of the Tao Zhu Gong statement-business becomes better. And there is another mandate that becomes a reason for action on behalf of Chinese workers.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These words from our Declaration of Independence are either true or they are not. If they are true, then they are true for all people because they are "unalienable rights endowed by a Creator."

C.S. Lewis wrote that every person has the innate knowledge that there are certain "laws" particular to mankind. These laws apply to all of us, in all aspects of our life, says Lewis, to practice "fair play, or decency or morality."

U.S. manufacturers in China have an obligation beyond creating a profit.