Britain today, like many other Western nations, is host to a consumer culture. Hundreds of thousands of products ranging from kitchen appliances to clothing are purchased daily. However, we rarely know where and how these products have been manufactured. In addition, the big question concerning our consumer culture is: do we really care how these products have reached our high street shelves?
Ultimately, there is no definite answer to this question. Public opinion will always be divided on some level, whether it regards government legislation or what the best deals are in your local supermarket. The topic of where our goods are manufactured is therefore no different. This may be due to a vast array of arguments for and against China manufacturing shown in our newspapers and on our televisions. As a result, it is therefore no surprise that most individuals are unsure themselves what they think and where their opinions lie within this subject.
I recently asked around in order to achieve a better understanding of what individuals really thought with regards to purchasing goods produced in China. Firstly I asked whether or not the presence of the words ‘made in China’ would deter them from buying, and does this generally determine the quality of the item? The general answer was: no, It does not matter in what country something has been produced. Some went on to say that customers can and should deduce the quality of a product themselves based on their own experience. I believe this argument to be true in some cases. For example, by simply looking closely and physically holding an item of clothing we can give a reasonably accurate assumption as to the level of quality of the product, and can therefore decide whether or not to buy the said item. Consumers should be actively aware what they are spending their money on. Most goods produced in China and sold in the West are well made, however it can be argued that consumers themselves can be blamed for poor quality products continuously reaching our shelves. If people keep buying them, they will surely continue to show up.
In most instances consumers can use their own knowledge and intuition when it comes to buying a product, but what if we do not have the opportunity to sample a product before parting with our money? I asked this question to the same people as before, to which they replied that they generally place their trust in companies to produce good quality items. It was believed it was the companies’ responsibility to be absolutely positive that their products are well made, before putting them on the market. Again, I agree with this statement to an extent. It should be the responsibility of the companies to ensure that they are producing and selling products that are well made. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the companies in the West that employ Chinese factories to check the standards of the goods that have been produced for them.
This relationship between the importer and the manufacturer may seem easily manageable on the surface, however research into the matter tells us differently. The book ‘Poorly Made in China’, written by Paul Midler, explores the functioning of factories in the country. Based on his own first hand experiences within the manufacturing industry in China, he has come to some conclusions which may surprise Western consumers. He believes that when an importer was considered to be putting too much effort into improving the standard of goods produced in the factories then he was seen as being a troublesome client. Although we cannot dictate this as fact for all manufacturers in China, it does not bode well for consumers in Britain and the West. Our reliance on companies to produce quality items is, in some cases, undermined before the goods have even reached the production line.
From those that I questioned, it was the general consensus that China does produce good quality products regularly and this should not be diminished by the minority of companies that do otherwise. This then leads to the question of factory life itself in China and how it compares with its Western counterparts. After asking this question to several individuals, I found that public opinion on this matter was generally diplomatic. It was believed that factories will differ from each other in terms of the standard of working conditions. In addition, some said that the manufacturing industry in China should not be judged on the horror stories that are highly publicised. I wholly agree with these statements, Chinese factories are similar to Western factories with regards to the varying standards of working conditions. An entire nation of factories and factory workers cannot be judged solely on the negative stories we are made witness to in the media.