Because it’s cheap!

I am currently studying jewellery design, but I will not be writing about beaded necklaces that are made for Mardi Gras. Actually, we do not celebrate it in Europe in the same way that it is celebrated in the United States. I am mostly going to express mine and others opinions about daily life and how we deal with jewellery and clothes shops in Dundee, the UK, France, and Europe.

In order to find the opinions of other people, I sent out a questionnaire to teenagers, workmen, students, unemployed, and retired individuals. I tried to ask people from different social classes to find if money made a difference. The questions I asked were simple and were based on questions that I was curious to find the answers to. After the answers I received, I also came up with a few more questions to ask.

The first question I asked was, “When I say ‘Made in China’, what does that mean to you?” The replies I received were very similar, ranging from “huge factories, poor people working, children workers, rapidity, profitability, cheap goods, bad quality”.  Almost everyone thought the same thing, more on a negative side. The question is, “do people continue to buy Chinese items even if they criticize it?” I found that people do still continue to buy items despite what they know.

Even as a jeweller, I admit that I buy cheap jewels that are made in China (Claire’s, Topshop, New Look, Primark). These jewels are the kind that are easily breakable, lost, cheap, and are not important.  I always check the labels of things I buy out of curiosity, including clothes and jewellery. Honestly, I know where and how the stuff I buy are made when it says “Made in China”, but out of habit I still continue to buy it. It seems wrong, especially when I am aware of the bad conditions, pollution, and other factors. Why don’t I change? It is probably because it’s a habit. I’m still a student so I always try to find the cheapest deal when I buy clothes and jewellery. Many people I interviewed do the same. Even though we are aware of what is happening, we live too far from the reality of the other side of the world and are more concerned about the money in our purse.

I’ve asked my friends and myself the reasons as to why we continue to buy cheap things all the time, especially when we don’t need it. Why do we not keep our money in order to buy something of better quality, made in Europe in good working conditions, but more expensive? The response that came up was quantity. Our society is a consumer society. The fashion society will tell you what to wear and say that what you are currently purchasing will be outdated in a few months! We do not want the expensive brand made by a fashion designer. Instead we prefer similar clothing just for the attitude and look. Most people don’t have the money to buy designer brands, unless they are from the upper class! You can just ignore that and try to buy “ethical” clothes and jewellery that was made in better working conditions or go to second hand shops. I try to do that sometimes, but I find that things made in Europe are too expensive to buy all the time or items in second hand shops are not “fashionable”.  I received similar responses from my panel. Some people are not interested in buying second hand clothes, but more to try less but Asian goods.

I’ve asked some people the reasons why they want to stop buying jewellery and good “made in China” and they reply, “ because Made in China items are destroying western jobs, factories, and the economy.” When I ask them about the working conditions, people are aware of how the products are made and feel guilty, but most of them admit that this is not the first thought that came to mind.

A few friends have argued that products “Made in China” are everywhere, so it’s kind of hard to boycott it. We can’t really do that because China has such a large export industry worldwide and it’s probably not a wise thing to do either. Europe is in a huge crisis and people are very aware of their money and how much things cost. We may tend to blame China, but actually they are just making what we want and ask for: cheap, consumable, but a detriment in quality and working conditions.

We tend to blame China for many reasons, but goods produced from other Asian countries like India and Bangladesh, South America and Turkey are all made in poor working conditions. The quality for products from these countries is similar to Chinese goods and pollution from clothing factories is quite harmful. A large number of jeans are made in Turkey and sadly workers in textile factories have serious health injuries. The public tends to turn a blind eye towards these issues. Why do we only really focus on what happens in China? I asked this question to my panel and gave them information about jean factories in Turkey as a comparison. Some people came up with interesting responses. They said that China is one of the most powerful countries in the world, western people and westerns factories are possibly afraid of that. They try to make China the black sheep because they were able to increase their economy so quickly. Chinese made goods quickly and at an affordable price in large quantity, due to the large numbers of workers they have! Westerns try to use the guilt factor with consumers in order to keep their economy alive.

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Made In China

Recently, my eyes have been opened to the working conditions in Chinese factories and the lives of their migrant workers, through books and documentaries such as Factory Girls and China Blue. Every year millions of young men and women travel from their homes in poor farming villages to the cities, in an attempt to work their way out of poverty. They are looking for jobs in one of China’s many sprawling factory complexes, in order to earn money to send home to their families and build a new life. They see this migration from the countryside as a great opportunity, a chance to better themselves and make their families proud. However, for many of these migrants, the reality is harsh working conditions, long hours and very little pay…

As a textile design student, I think it’s important that I look into the working conditions many migrant workers face in Chinese textile and garment factories. I did a bit of research, and what I found was unsettling. It seems that once someone gets a job in a factory, they are somewhat trapped. Young and in a lot of cases naïve, new employees are rushed into signing contracts, without being given a chance to read them, and most likely never given a copy. They are often rushed into the workplace on the same day as applying, and sent to work, with minimal to no safety training, just a brief run through of their responsibilities. Once employees have started working, it is immediately very difficult to leave the factory. It is likely that if an employee works less than a certain time before leaving, for example a week or even a month, they will receive no wages at all. In a lot of cases if you attempt to resign before you have done a couple of years work at the factory, you will be fined a substantial amount of money. Workers tend to work for twelve hours a day, six days a week, and sometimes even more during peak season. Payment is below minimum wage and sometimes does not cover the cost of living. In fact, garment factories in particular are apparently amongst the lowest paying in China. Also, more often than not, workers are not provided with paid sick or maternity leave.

The harsh conditions at some garment factories also pose a major health risk to workers. For example, factories are often very hot, with little or no ventilation, this can be a huge health hazard when employees are forced to work in these spaces using various dyes and chemicals, with no gloves, masks, etc, to protect them from fumes and hazardous materials. Workers using concentrated dyes in these conditions on a regular basis can end up with breathing problems and other serious health issues.

I wonder how many people here in the UK take this into account when buying their clothes? Clothes that may have been produced in factories just like this…

I did a bit of asking around, and the general response I received was that people don’t tend to check out where a garment has been made before purchasing it, where and how clothes are made isn’t something that most people usually think about unless it’s brought to their attention. I asked if people would prefer to buy clothing that had been made in the UK rather than in China, and the majority said yes for various different reasons, whether that be supporting the British economy/clothing industry, better quality garments or so they’re not supporting factories that mistreat workers. However, I then asked them if they would still do so if the British made piece were more expensive, and the response changed. People said they would pay more ‘within reason’ or ‘to an extent’.

I’m embarrassed to admit, that until now, I can’t say I paid a great deal of attention to where my clothes were made either. I had a quick look through my wardrobe the other night, and found that quite a few things in there had been made in China. I asked myself the same questions I asked others, and firstly I thought to myself, yes, I’d do my best to buy the good quality, ethically produced British product, but on reflection I suppose I’m rather conflicted. On the one hand I don’t feel comfortable supporting factories in China that take advantage of vulnerable, young workers, but then again, if I don’t, will I be putting an already poor person out of a job and forcing them back into a way of life they tried so hard to leave behind? Also, with almost every big high street clothing retailer opting to produce their stock in China and elsewhere in Asia, I wonder how easy it is to buy clothes that you can be assured have been made in the UK? As a textile student and general consumer, I find this entire topic fairly worrying and can’t help but feel guilty. It is certainly something that I wish to research further and perhaps consider when thinking about my own work.

Gaming made in China

Made in China, a very familiar trademark we all know that brings thoughts of cheap toys, easily breakable, but do we all hate it? Are standards really that bad in China? As we move further into the digital age electronics have seen a huge decrease in price. Granted this drop in price is affected by new technologies coming out but outsourcing the construction of these electrical goods cuts the price of manufacture. For this investigation research into electronic products was undertaken.  China has a lot of labour to offer the world and the electronic market place is making the most out of dedicated workers to supply the western world with inexpensive luxuries.

Electronics populate a person’s home, they are what wake us up in the morning, allow us to catch up on world news and aids humanity in academic progress. In the factory city EUPA in china thousands of electrical household goods are made per day from iron’s to grills, all components are also made on site which is testament to china’s ability to manufacture on a grand scale.

With progress and education the electronic marketplace also aims at relaxation and gaming devices. The question then is how many people know where their electronics are made, and if they care at all about the ‘made in china’ tag.

Narrowing down electronic produce I decided to look into the gaming industry, as a computer gamer myself it had never occurred to me the benefits china’s manufacturing power has bought to the industry which in turn benefits me. To begin I decided to look at the three big companies in the gaming industry, these being Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft; turns out that all three of these companies manufacture their consoles in china. Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360 are completely manufactured in china but Sony only 60% of their consoles are made there (the other 40% made in Japan).

Asking other gamers about their views towards this information it seemed like there was not much worry about the circumstances the consoles are made under but more of a celebrated side where the companies are able to create more of the products therefore creating cheaper consoles and expanding a fan base.  “As long as I have a warranty where it is created doesn’t bother me” this quote sums up the attitude most of the gamers that I interviewed on the subject. It seems that nowadays the Chinese manufacturing process is more reliable than it once was, so preconceptions about the quality are generally all wrong. Another preconception about items being ‘made in china’ is that the company is making a lot more money from the business, but a little research into the gaming industry shows this is not always true. Example being the Xbox 360, a little research into how much this console cost on release was $399 but the cost to actually create the unit was $470. The same can be seen for the PlayStation 3, the companies are not even scraping a profit even though they have china build the produce for them.

When talking to the gamers about this information it was clear they thanked the gaming companies for outsourcing, I was surprised as this was the opposite of what was to be expected but getting cheap luxuries, and for gamers this being a hobby item. “Who knows what the price would be without china” This quote made me think, it’s not only the price of labour, but it is also the amount of workers, so without china not only would the components and creation cost more but less would be made forcing the companies to up the price more due to supply and demand, even with china creating the Wii we saw 2 years of people struggling to buy 1 new unit off of the shelves, Could this industry even survive without china?

Another popular topic when it comes to electronics and china is Foxconn, being in the news lately about how Apple outsource there, but it is not only Apple that use Foxconn, Intel use them, Nintendo use them, Acer, Dell and a lot of other computing companies, parts are made here, the Sony PSP is created in the same factory complex as the iPhone.

The concept of Foxconn did not faze the people I was interviewing, they saw it no different as people who were dedicated to their job enough to live nearby. “At least someone somewhere is getting out of poverty and working for their money”. Personally I think the public opinion, or at least that of the gaming community does not think less of china because it manufactures everything, more so that people are able to get a job and the country were able to get out of poverty.

A lot of misconceptions about china exist in the world, ‘bad quality’ ‘falls apart’ ‘not worth it’ ‘cheap’. After interviews it seems these old conceptions are fading out, people are seeing how china are growing into a super power and accept to get to that stage money will need to flow into the country as it once did with our own country.

Where do our products come from?

 

For this assignment I was looking into the level of awareness about where our products are manufactured and if it influences our choices in buying that product. Last week we watched a video in our lecture about EUPA, a major company in the southeast of China that employs 1700 employees and manufactures products we use every day. EUPA, also known as the ‘Factory City’ produce coffee makers, irons and grills in very large quantities and it definitely made me more aware of where my stuff actually gets made. The working conditions and lifestyles of these employees of EUPA were very different to the conditions we have in factories in Britain. EUPA employees live at their work and most of them get married there, which seems completely different to how we work but most of them seemed very content with this way of living. The accommodation and food seemed like it was high quality and they make friends and even send their kids to school there.I wanted to find out more information about production in China and decided to look into Apple products as they are very commonly used among people today. Most of Apple products are manufactured in China but after learning about the EUPA factories I wanted to see the difference between factories and the people who work there. Foxconn is based in China and is the company that makes most of Apples products, and just like EUPA, the workers sleep, eat and work here. Most of the employees that work at Foxconn are working there so that they can provide for their distant families. Factory worker at Foxconn, Apple Products

The conditions at Foxconn are similar to EUPA in that they produce large quantities everyday and the workers accommodation is based on the factory premises. EUPA,  however are very focused on satisfying their workers and keeping them happy but at Foxconn, the pay is very low and they have to share very small rooms with other people that they don’t know. What was interesting about EUPA was how the workers received lessons on how the products worked and learned information inside out about that product. At Foxconn most of the workers are from the countryside and have never even seen how an Ipad/ Iphone works, yet they spend six days a week making them. The girl featured in the photograph above was asked in an interview on the BBC what she wanted the people who end up buying these Apple products to know about her, she replied ‘ I want them to know me, I want them to know we put a lot of effort into that product and when they use it, use it with care’.

Interviews

After getting an insight about factories in China and where our stuff comes from I feel a lot more aware but I wanted to ask other people their opinions. I asked the following questions to different age groups in Dundee.

1)      When you buy something, do you check where it was made?

2)      Does this influence your choice in buying that product? why?

3)      Do you think about the people who made that product that you use?

 

I interviewed different age groups – Students , Middle aged , and elderly.

Student Group

1)      No

2)      Not really

3)      I’m aware it was probably made in a factory but I tend not to think about the person that made it.

 

Middle Aged Group

1)      Only sometimes, it depends what it is i’m buying.

2)      If i knew it was made in an area that had harsh working conditions I would be less likely to buy it. But most companies are private about their working conditions on factories so most people are unaware.

3)      Yes

 

Eldery Group

1)      Yes. I like to know where my stuff comes from

2)      No,

3)      Yes, especially if it is a product that has been handmade. Whereas electrical products, i would assume are made by different machinery.

From the interview results I received, it seems like most people are fairly unaware of where their products are made and they don’t really think about the person in the factory who has made that product. After reading and learning about the companies Foxconn and EUPA,  I think people dont take into consideration the long hours and hard effort that goes in to making these products for us.

 

 

 

Public awareness of the production process

Chinese factories and labor are seen as such a taboo in the British media with large companies being outed for using them. Are there two sides to these stories? Many Chinese see these factories as a way out of poverty and although most British shoppers is that this form of labor is wrong and would perhaps shop else where if they knew the shops they were buying from were using Chinese factories they would perhaps choose not to shop there.

The gap between the rich and poor people in China is still increasing even with the government’s initiatives to try and prevent this. Rural children and young adults are very ambitious there is a big cultural difference between China and the UK for many young Chinese family is very important to them and they want to support them and make them proud. They see the factories as a way of doing this; many of them are provided with an education. The income they gain from working in these factories keeps them out of poverty.

Obviously there are problems with some factories. The working conditions, the hours, child labor and the factories are never portrayed in a positive light. Every country that has become wealthy has had a period of laboring. An example in Britain is the coalmines and jute mills. So China is in a sense having its industrial revolution. As wages increase and people become wealthier and more prosperous in the country it is evolving into an ideas country and the laboring moves to a country wit cheaper labor, currently Vietnam.

Many shoppers are unaware of where the products they buy come from unless it is written on the label. Products made in Britain tend to be more expensive due to labor costs and people expect a better wage and also handmade products are considered good quality. Although when comparing the differences in wage between a British worker and Chinese worker may be vast there are also big differences in living costs and the price of food and where someone living in China could live comfortably off a certain wage someone trying to live on the same wage in the UK would struggle. So this is a consideration to make when thinking about these factories, but as things become more expensive expected wages will also rise.

Competition between big companies means they are striving to keep costs down. This is the main reason they use foreign factories with cheap labor costs. Many shoppers when asked saw big factories as a negative thing especially for the workers. They also mentioned that they generally didn’t know where what they were buying came from they also said when asked that when shopping the main thing they look at is the price. So to compete on the market companies must try to keep their costs low.

The convenience of buying in this country means people have become complacent. The journey the product has undertaken is not thought about. People care mainly about the price of the product. When asked whether they would buy a western product or a Chinese one they said the price would be the deciding factor. This may have been because most of the people interviewed in Dundee center were students who are low on disposable income. Although they did also comment that if something was of a higher quality they would consider paying more for it.

This raises questions about these big companies and whether new smaller, local businesses can set themselves up in the current market. With modern companies using cheap labor and creating production on a massive scale to provide these cheap products the market ask for is the more personal business losing out even if it is a better designed product?  Chinese factories provide opportunities to the people of China as an initial way out of poverty but are also in a way preventing growth of local business in other countries and preventing creative alternatives.

Companies are very wary of telling their customer where their products come from because it’s a taboo after big media cases such as Nike. Awareness of where something comes from should be more widely known around point of sale of the item or in the market place. This will take away the hidden elements of the production process so people know exactly what they are buying and whether it is the best option for them.

Assignment 3: Attitudes to China Today

After doing a bit of research about Chinese sweatshops i found an article about the products for the Kardashians fashion empire, they are reportedly made in Chinese sweatshops. Now for anyone else like myself that watches a lot of reality tv they will know that keeping up with the Kardashians is a programme about the families busy lives, they make a lot of money, around 65 million dollars a year. According to the article the garments at K-Dash, which are priced extremely high, are being made in Guangdong in China where workers reportedly earn as little as $1 an hour, and working up to 84 hours a week in terrible conditions. For a family who earn such a ridiculous amount of money you would think they would make more of an effort to make sure the garments were produced in a well equipped and clean environment where workers were properly paid and looked after. I think companies like this should be taken to see where their products are produced, so it can be put in perspective for them. Awareness in the West of dangerous working conditions and low pay was raised by the 1993 fire in a Thai toy factory that killed 188 workers. This event brought a lot of bad publicity to companies who were using sweatshops, this forced American company Wal-Mart to drop a clothing line after it was found to be using sweatshops to produce the products. 

Another article I read was about investigations into sweatshops in China and how they go about finding out truthful information and what they actually find out. “No one is willing to tell you the truth of what they are doing,” said one of the investigators staking out a factory. Chinese labour laws are strict, the work week is 40 hours, after which generous overtime must be paid, ranging from 150 percent to 200 percent of base salary, until a total of 66 hours, the effective legal weekly limit. Workers are entitled to at least one day off a week. No one younger than 16 is allowed to work in a factory. If the laws were well implimented their would be no problem, companies just get greedy and stop thinking about the wellbeing of the workers. Last year 68 percent of the factories that were investigated did not pay workers overtime, and nearly 70 percent of factories worked staff beyond the legal limit of 66 hours a week. The factory inspectors have a very difficult job because even though they want to protect the workers thats not always what the workers want, their must be a reason why they work the extra hours or why they even have that job in the first place. Rural families have trouble paying rising tuition fees so they send their children to factories as an alternative to school. A lot of underaged worked purchase forged identity cards to fool the factory management, workers want to provide more money for their families so agree to work all these extra hours so its not just a case of shutting down factories who are going against the law, the problem needs a proper solution.

I wanted to look through some of my clothes and find out exactly what I have that is Made In China, I was very surprised by the small amount from China and also how some pieces of clothing had ‘England’ written in huge writing all over the label then underneath say ‘Made In China’, definitely false advertising. I also thought that brands would have all their clothes made in the same place but was surprised to find out they weren’t. I also thought the price range of garments would have a deciding factor on where it was produced but was wrong about that too. 

After asking one of my friends how aware he is of where clothes he buys are manufactured he replied “not very aware. I think companies will only point out where things are produced if they are trying to create a positive public image about how they treat workers. Otherwise companies will avoid telling consumers where their products come from in case the customer thinks that the people who make their clothing are not being treated fairly and then they will lose customers. For the most part I will know where things are produced if it is custom made as production that is specific will ofter occur in the west where employee rights are stronger and companies are therefore more whiling to disclose that information.” The same question was asked to someone else, they replied with “I have a rough idea, depends on how much they cost and what brand they are, my new custom shoes were made in Holland which surprised me cause they weren’t clogs.”

If I had more time I would prefer to buy locally produced products, but most of the time I don’t bother to look, I just go for convenience and price. Even if the product isn’t locally produced just to know it was made in a factory that has workers that are well paid and working in the correct environment. I think companies should be made to make it clearer exactly where their products are made, and let the consumer decided.

Last year we received a lecture from Nicholas O’Donnel Hoare who graduated jewellery design at Dundee in 2008, he worked on a project called Trojan Egg which basically lets you scan the egg with your smart phone which will then transfer you to the website and you get a live feed of where your egg was produced and shows you the conditions the chickens are kept in, I think this would be a great idea if it was used on clothing labels so you could see exactly where the clothes are produced before you buy them. 

Made In China?

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Many Western nations import goods from China. From kitchen appliances to clothing, children’s toys to computer parts, chances are we all have many things in our homes branded with the familiar ‘Made in China’ label. Yet, do we as a consumer nation really understand the sheer enormity of all the products that are imported from China, or even how the product was manufactured? Furthermore, do we even care?  

During an investigation to discover whether or not typical Dundee residents knew where or how their electronic products and clothes were manufactured, the general consensus of the individuals, with regards to the question, was inconclusive. While some guessed China, others suggested Korea, India and Bangladesh, as well as a few people who couldn’t provide an answer. From the wide array of answers it is clear that the vast majority of people do not know for definite where their products originate from. 

In addition, the individuals interviewed were unable to differentiate between the quality of standards between locally made products and products imported from abroad. The few people that did provide an answer claimed that products from China are sometimes not always made to the best standards, whereas products that are specifically manufactured locally have connotations of a higher standard of quality. Is this a fair outlook to have?

In recent years, there has been some publicised instances in the media highlighting the issue of suspect Chinese imports being recalled for lack of quality or for failing to meet standard requirements. Children’s toys coated with lead-laced paint, car tires lacking an essential safety component and medicines and pet foods full of toxins are just some of the noted aberrations in a spate of poorly manufactured goods. 

However, not all of these instances are a true reflection on the standards of products manufactured in China. Of course there will be some products poorly made in China, just like anywhere else. There are some great products and services available, it’s just a shame that these highly publicised incidents can have a detrimental effect on people’s opinions, Western and Eastern alike.  

When asking individuals whether or not it mattered to them if the goods purchased were manufactured in good working conditions, the responses were mixed. Some people said that they simply didn’t care or think about it. Others said that while they do care, it is not always made clear to British and Western consumers the details of the source and conditions of their products and how their products are made. 

It’s evident that there is a lack of understanding from Western consumers with regards to the origins of their products, despite a familiarity with the ‘Made in China’ brand. Perhaps low prices plays a factor in this lack of caring or understanding, especially during this current global economic and financial crisis. After all, we are always looking for a way to save pennies. However, should our relentless pursuit of a bargain be more important than the poor working conditions of the people who make our goods?