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.

Public Opinion on Chinese Goods

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.

Nostalgia for old-style Chinese stores

The BBC reports on a resurgence in nostalgia for Communist-era goods and shops in China:

In the Village, an up-market shopping complex in Beijing, China’s newly rich shoppers jostle to buy expensive foreign brands.

With its steel and glass buildings, the centre has become a monument to China’s vision of a materialistic future.

But shoppers have not always had such a wide choice of products.

Just a few decades ago most non-food items had to be bought in traditional department stores, selling cheap Chinese-made goods.

Many people have now deserted them for a more glitzy shopping experience.

But some stores remain and have even seen an increase in interest over recent years from people looking to buy a little bit of the past.

As China changes rapidly, there is nostalgia for a bygone communist era that is quickly being swept away.

Continue reading at BBC News – Nostalgia for old-style Chinese stores.