Handmade goods have always been associated with quality. The word handmade leads us to believe a craftsman has poured blood, sweat and tears into his work to give us the highest possible quality product and for the highest possible price too. However this is not the case when people think about goods from China.
The general thought is that products which have been manufactured in China are done so in sweat shops by people who are paid low wages and work long hours. This is most likely the way they are made but why do we think that the product that they work so hard and for so long to make is less than an item made in Europe?
Right now in the Western world, there has been a resurge of people making things by hand, mainly by creative people. I know of countless disciplines where people have reverted to the old ways after the digital boom of the 90’s; textiles, printing, film, photography, etc. We all appreciate the effort and aesthetics of this and even more so we are willing to pay for a hand crafted product over a machined one. So why the stigma of Chinese Products?
After interviewing a select number of people, there seemed to be a common connection between their thoughts on Chinese goods. All of them said that they believe the goods were made in sweatshops, as stated earlier.
Critics also point to the fact that sweatshops often do not pay taxes and thus don’t pay for the public services they use for production and distribution and don’t contribute to the country’s tax revenue. In some countries, such as China, it is not uncommon for these institutions to withhold workers’ pay.
Furthermore, critics of sweatshops point to the fact that those in the West who defend sweatshops show double standards by complaining about sweatshop labor conditions in countries considered enemies or hostile by Western governments, such as China, while still gladly consuming their exports but complaining about the quality.
Sweatshops have been around for a long time. Every country has had ‘sweatshops’ sometime in there history. For example, in the UK around 1840’s, there were sweatshops, mostly filled with working class women, who were increasingly needing to earn a wage for themselves, working as seamstresses. The work was long and low paid, as it is today for Chinese workers.
Charles Kingsley, an English priest of the Church of England, university professor, historian and novelist, published a paper on the state of affairs in England in 1850. The paper was entitled ‘Cheap Clothes and Nasty’. This brought the matter to public attention. I am not defending sweatshops in anyway, merely trying to dismantle the negative stereotype that all goods from China are made in horrible conditions and sweatshops are a part of our history as much as in China today.