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.

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.

Attitudes to Manufacturing in China

“Made in China” – I’d bet that phrase appears at least once in every house in the country, but how do people feel about China monopolizing the manufacturing market?

 

To answer that question I thought I‘d ask my Scottish flat mates a few questions and then ask the same questions to my flat mate who was born and raised in Scotland, but whose parents and ancestors are all Chinese, and then compare the answers. This blog post was going to address the question “Does a Chinese perspective differ from a Scottish perspective with regards to manufacturing in China”. But it turned out my Chinese flat mates opinions were identical to everybody else’s. The main consensus was that we as a generation just don’t really care about where our clothes come from; it’s the last thing we would check.

 

One question was “Can you tell me where anything you’re wearing was made”. Nobody knew for sure, they could only make educated guesses. My Chinese flat mate mentioned that the hoodie he was wearing was actually bought in Hong Kong, but when we went to look where it was made, it didn’t say. This raised the question do our clothes here state the country of manufacture because we actually care about where they came from or just purely because it is a legal requirement.

 

I stumbled across this section in a website recently: “1000 Toys NOT Made in China”. A whole list dedicated to focusing on where these toys where not made, rather than where they were. However at the end in brackets it stated “Note: Some manufacturers have part of their products made in China”, so appears it’s near impossible to purchase goods these days that are completely detached from China. This list featured toys that where made in Thailand and Israel amongst many other non-American or European countries, so why was China singled out and picked on? One person’s comment on the list cited the “safety risks” associated with Chinese manufacturing and mentioned the toy recalls of 2007. In the June of 2007 China had manufactured every one of the 24 kinds of toys recalled for safety reasons in the United States that year.

 

But this anti China attitude continues past toy purchases, there are several articles and blog dedicated to the challenge of living free from any Chinese manufacturing, and they varied from just trying it for the day, to long term lifestyles.

NotMadeInChinaLife : http://www.notmadeinchinalife.com/

 

A surprising statistic is that only 2.7 percent of US consumer purchases have the “Made in China” label, and that 88.5 percent of American’s consumer spending is on things made in the US. With this in mind it seems strange that people should be wary of Chinese products and there “domination” over the global market. Perhaps it’s because America is a much larger country and economy so it can sustain itself better.

In a conversation with a flat mate he starts talking about how he would like to buy more things that are made in the U.K and would probably be prepared to pay slightly more for that, but raises the point that it’s not an easy thing to do, almost everything is outsourced. He then mentions Jack Wills, and the fact that their clothes are “Fabulously British” is a major part of their branding technique. A quick Google search reveals that Jack Wills do indeed manufacture some clothes in China, as well as Turkey and Portugal, along with many posts from people ranting about this. There is even a facebook group entitled: “Jack Wills, fabulously British…yet made in china?…failll” to which somebody has replied “no? because the clothes represent Britain”. I think this is a fair statement, just because something wasn’t manufactured in Britain doesn’t mean that it isn’t a British product.

 

 

 

 

Assignment 3: ‘Made in China’

It has been said that Europe spends almost 12,630 Billion pounds a year on games and toys alone. Manufacturers have swarmed to China, which apparently assembles a massive 75-80% of the world’s toy production. China has 8,000 toy factories and more than 5,000 of them are in the Guangdong province and it has been said by USA Today in December 2006, that “some 1.5 million workers are making toys in Guangdong”.

With these figures in mind, I set about unpacking some of my and my family’s childhood belongings, searching amongst the boxes of stuffed toys, plastic gimmicks and even some more modern items and found that the majority of them were made in China. In fact the only two items I did find that did not carry the ‘made in china’ label was a stuffed toy, made in Vietnam, and a pack of collecting cards made in USA. The rest, including a rather large number of stuffed toys, cheap novelty products bought as joke presents and other items were all labelled ‘made in china’. I also asked a friend of mine to do the same and the results were very similar.

I was still unsure about these statistics. So I thought when studying the toy industry where else better to go than ‘Toys R Us’? Of course this visit was purely for research purposes… There I did the same thing, and investigated just how much of the company’s stock carried the ‘made in china’ label. As soon as entering the front door you are greeted with an abundance of Lego games and stuffed toys. Lego it seems is made in many places including Denmark and Mexico but many parts are still also made in China. In the stuffed toy section, while rummaging through the selection despite strange looks from both customers and staff, I found that the entire section seemed to be ‘made in China’.
 
As it turns out the rest of my trip around the store went in a similar fashion. ‘Made in China’, ‘Manufactured in China’, ‘Fabricado en China’ and many other variations of this made it apparent (after much scrutinising of the fine print) that most of the stock and merchandise all shared this similarity. In fact, by the end I was almost praying that I would find even some products that weren’t made in china. Although there were some toys, like the ever-popular ‘Barbie’, some ‘Disney Products’ and some ‘transformers’ toys that despite predominantly being been made in china, they also had some models that were manufactured in Vietnam. As a matter of fact the only toys I could find that appeared not to be ‘made in China’ were the products of Playmobil which is said to be manufactured in Germany, and some board games. The rest of the products I found however, definitely were ‘made in China’.

While there, I asked some shoppers some questions about the products they were buying and generally to consider general products they had at home. I asked them, without checking, if they could guess where some of the products they were about to purchase and also in their opinion, where most of the products they already own were made. Most people guessed China; however some other common answers were other Asian countries, Turkey and India. The next question involved the person recalling their favourite toys from their youth. Many I could recall were probably made in China; however, many after investigating were not. Some such as ‘a sheep skin teddy bear’ was made in Scotland. It seemed that the younger the person interviewed the more likely the chances their favourite toy was manufactured in China showing the over-all shift in manufacturing industries from more local areas, to overseas. This reminds us that it wasn’t so long ago, that factories lined our very own cities. Opinions on the quality of goods made outside the UK varied quite largely. Many or even most however, felt that the quality was good or had improved over the years. There were a number however, that felt that the quality was not good and was worsening. Yet, this could probably be a result of the present financial situation with tighter budgets for buyers; manufacturers have no choice but to lower quality in order to keep up with buyer’s low price demands. Perhaps this is why a number of interviewees felt that product quality, in some aspects at least, was decreasing. However, the majority stood with a rather high quality from products made outside the UK and in particular China.
 
For the next question I asked why they felt that the importation of Chinese goods into Europe and the U.S was so high. Almost all agreed that it was cheap labour costs and many added that it was also the larger workforces that allow for shorter manufacturing times. However, these similarities in opinion soon vanished when I asked what they thought of the working conditions these people were under and how they felt about them. The words ‘slave-labour’ and ‘poor conditions’ were thrown around a lot. However many argued they were under the impression that conditions had changed or presumed they worked within decent ethical codes and laws. The mere comprehension that such a powerful country could still be subject to slave labour seemed unrealistic. Whereas other interviewees felt the opposite, that for things to be so cheap there had to be a certain amount of this behind the scenes. In fact, according to an investigation carried out by the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, 7 out of every 9 companies, will break Chinese laws and breach the ethical codes set by buyers to the rights of their workers. It is said they have fake wage and hour slips, and pay their staff to lie during inspections. Staff are said to fear defending their human rights in case they lose their jobs.According to Tai Guang Lai, a manager of a toy factory in China that many of the workers are from poor provinces, so they ‘have no choice but to come here and work ‘. The workers, in the words of an American Industrial Designer who works in China himself said, ‘People are the most adaptable machines’ and it appears as though they are being treated in this way. I ended with a simple question, if it meant improving the working conditions of these people, would you be willing to pay more for the toys and all products in general? Again, the answers I received differed from person to person. It’s all circumstantial, to the person. Many said ‘If I had the money, I would’ and ‘In an ideal world’. The harsh reality is that whether the person said they would or would not pay more hypothetically means nothing. A lot of the problems that can be seen are down to the ignorance and naivety of the rest of the world. However, it seems most people I asked were in some manner, aware of how some of their products were ‘probably’ produced. So one can’t help wonder if this ‘ignorance’ is intentional. That perhaps people prefer to close their eyes and pretend the world’s a better place because, let’s be honest, isn’t playing ignorant so much easier than actually doing something about it?

Assignment 3: Counterfeit Chinese Goods

Recently, there has been a report from the BBC news on the growth of fake goods from China:

“An EU report says 64% of fake or pirated goods seized in the 27-nation bloc last year came from China- a 10% increase from 2008”  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world- europe- 10726125, 22nd July 2010).”

Clothing was the largest, with 27% seized, while illegal CDs, DVDs and electrical products showed a marked decline.

Furthermore, China seems to becoming a ‘copycat’ nation. China’s car manufacturer Shuanghuan is already selling cars that look incredibly like the BMW X5 SVU and the mercedes smart in China.  A Shuanghuan spokesperson says they don’t plan to show the cars in Frankfurt- contrary to reports going around in Germany (they were presented at the Shuanghuan motor show last year).  But China Automobile, a German importer, says it will show the cars in Frankfurt. ‘Anything can happen’ says one Mercedes official. There has been some debate on whether or not copying a car is legal. However, BMW and Mercedes have decided to persue with legal action.

Subsequently, this poses the question: is China a pure copycatter or a copycat innovator? In China, they don’t just copy individual products. They copy individual stores. They also have replicas of small British and Australian towns built in some areas. It is like they are desperate not to have their own individuality. In an article I read recently, the reporter expressed:

“We must not loose sight of the fact that businesses in China are also brilliant Copy Cat Innovators, which is a legitimate whole new ball-game altogether.  Interestingly, a new term has come about that actually defines this relatively new phenomena. It has been refered to as “Chinnovation”. Chinnovation (coined from China and innovation) means applying changes in technology and business strategy to develop new and better ways to create value for both the customer and the corporation.  Although this term can be applied in any market, there are eight unique characteristics distinct to China- the 8 R’s of Chinnovation- that summarise the most common traits of Chinese innovators, successful innovators usually demonstrate a combination or several R’s:  Revenue focus, Rapid movement, Requirements driven by customers, Reproduction of existing models and products, Rivals require innovation, Restrictions inspire innovation, Remix, Remix, Remix, and finally Raw materials and tangible and intangible.  There is even a book out there well worth reading called  “Chinnovation: How Chinese Innovators are changing the world.” In this book, you uncover how there is a rise in Chinese innovators and how they are paving the way in new innovative ways of thinking. The author, Another Yinglan Tan has documented this. He got rid of the myth that Chinese businesses are being ‘copycats’ and has produced examples of how they are crossing barriers to successful and profitable innovation.  In addition, some of his topics discussed include how Neil Shen, co-founder of CTRIP Capital China, see the opportunity for a Chinese travel site. Also, how Ray Zhang, CEO of Ehi scaled up one of the most innovative hybrid car-rental companies in China.  Plus, how Zhang Tao, CEO of Dianping inspired a site for restaurants and establish a continuous process of innovation.

Moreover, another prime example of “Chinnovation” is white electrical goods manufacturer,  Haier has copycat innovated on the washing machine to include features on washing vegetables to cater to the China market.  It is another Yinglan Tan’s opinion that it is unjust to categorise China as a counterfeit nation. He points out that if you look into the worlds technology, the US copied from the industrial Revolution in Europe and Japan copied from the advanced western countries. It was during this time that these two countries celebrated their highest turnover.

I created a survey asking people various questions relating to China’s products and China’s innovation. The main question was: What do you think of products made in China? The most common replies were: cheaply made, poorly made, electrical goods not working, fake, unreliable. These answers then made me review China as a business market. This is where I discovered that the growth of their business and entrepreneurial market is due to the knowledge Chinese entrepreneurs have of the domestic market, vast change to market changes and resourcefulness, but what are these secrets and how well do they uncover them?  Chinnovation marks the humble beginnings of entrepreneurial innovation and the back stories of some now well-established consumer goods firms from Mao’s cultural Revolution through to self made internet era to the middle kingdoms rapid growth.

Other research methods I found useful while exploring this topic were; a swot analysis (the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the Made in China products market.) Also, a perceptual map of the quality of Chinese goods compared to those of other countries. Finally, I made up a few personas of people that would be most likely buy goods  that were made in China that didn’t know they were made there in the first place.

What are your opinions of Chinese manufacturing?

Why Chinese companies want to buy British businesses

MG

Evidence that China is much more than just the factory of the world, producing other people’s goods for them:

“The indelible stamp of “Made in China” has made an impressive mark on world trade, but this country’s ambitions are proving to be much higher.

No longer content to be known for their cut-price efficiency in stuffing Disney toys, Chinese companies now want to own high-end global brands and be at the forefront of major technological projects.

[…]

Europe’s markets are mature, full of established brands but ripe with investment opportunities and in the UK in particular, Chinese companies have been fast to realise their potential.

According to consultants Dealogic, Chinese firms have acquired stakes in 33 UK companies since 2008, acquisitions totalling almost £12bn.

They include mining, logistics and financial services companies.

[…]

China’s interest in such projects does not come as a surprise to Dr Karl Gerth from Oxford University, who has been researching how social changes in China are pushing global growth.

”China is becoming less and less competitive in manufacturing, those same jobs are moving to Vietnam and other places,” he says.
“At the same time there are millions of unemployed, college educated Chinese looking for work, who don’t want to work in factories; they want technically sophisticated jobs. In order to employ all those people the Chinese economy needs to move up the value chain and start participating in higher-end industries.”

Buying into established brands and pitching for large infrastructure projects abroad is seen as key to providing that upwards trajectory the Chinese economy needs to take.

 

(Read the full story at BBC News – Why Chinese companies want to buy British businesses.)

BBC News – China export and import demand dips amid global fears

Factory

BBC News – China export and import demand dips amid global fears:

The demand for Chinese exports fell in January as global economic uncertainty continued to hurt consumer confidence.

Latest government data showed China’s new export order index fell to 46.9 from 48.6 in the previous month.

The imports index also dropped to 46.9 from 49.3 in December, showing that domestic demand was slowing.

The data comes amid concerns over the impact of a global slowdown on China’s economy.

Analysts said that Chinese exporters were being hurt by falling demand in key markets such as the US and Europe due to the ongoing economic problems in those economies.

“The economic situation in Europe continues to remain grim. It seems like the eurozone will not be able to avoid a recession in 2012,” Stephen Joske of the Economist Intelligence Unit told the BBC.

“There is no doubt that China’s exports will have a tough year ahead.