A Pre-conceived Idea of China and its Products

Many people have very set views of China and its products. China is renowned worldwide for its well made, and very well designed electronics.  However, it is also well known for mass-production, ‘well-made fakes’, and often poor factory conditions. A lot of people do not care where their product has come from, as long as it is good quality and value for money. And many people simply are not aware of how and where their product was made.

I interviewed around 7 friends, friends of friends, and self confessed shopping fanatics to find out their opinion on Chinese products, how they think they are made, and the quality of products which were ‘Made in China’. Each participant was given the same list of questions, but I asked a few different questions too, depending on their answer. Below is an example of one of the more interesting interviews:

Are you concerned with where your clothes come from? 

‘No, it makes no difference whether its from China, the UK or anywhere. I mostly care about the quality of the clothes.’

Would you be put off buying clothes from a certain company if you found out their factory staff were working in bad conditions?

‘I suppose so, but it wouldn’t stop me buying/using the products if they were good quality.’

When you see the words ‘Made in China’, what immediately comes to mind?

‘I just imagine huge, industrial and clean looking factories full of Chinese people making stuff. If something says ‘Made in Taiwan’ however, for some reason I picture kids working in poor conditions for a small wage. (that might be a bit judgemental!)’

Do you think the Chinese produce better quality products than Western countries?

‘If you’re referring to electronics then yes. They are the best at making electronics as far as I am concerned. But in regards to clothes, obviously there is a huge market for fakes in China and that makes me slightly suspicious that their clothing isn’t of as good quality as something you might find in a Western factory.’

If you were given a gift of a piece of clothing – not from a recognisable brand – with only a label that said ‘Made in China’ on it, would you be reluctant to wear it. Would you assume it was poor quality?

I might be a bit suspicious that it came from a market where you might find a lot of fakes, but if the item of clothing looked good and seemed like good quality, I would still wear it.

Coming up with interview questions with a friend in my group…

Each of the participants had very similar opinions on Chinese produce, which were all interesting to hear. However, naturally none of the participants actually KNOW what goes on in the making of products in China. These were all their pre-conceived ideas. I want to know what ACTUALLY happens in Chinese factories, during the making of clothing, electronics and other products, to see if these opinions and allegations are correct.

I recently read an article on Mark Shields, a communications consultant from Washington DC, who describes himself as an ‘Apple super-user’. After finding out about the poor working conditions in Apple Mac factories in China he decided to start a petition which gathered over 162,000 signatures in the space of a week. The petition was to try and attain a ‘worker protection strategy’ to try to reduce the number of injuries and suicides which typically peak when the workers are under extreme pressure to meet quotas. Shields said ‘Here’s the thing: You’re Apple. You’re supposed to think different. I want to continue to use and love the products you make, because they’re changing the world and have already changed my life. But I also want to know that when I buy products from you, its not at the expense of horrible human suffering.’

Female workers resting their heads in exhaustion during their short break at an Apple factory in China

In reading this it was evident that many people DO care about where their product has come from, and how/where it was made. It was also interesting to find out about working conditions in Chinese Apple factories. I can safely say now, as I look at my Apple Mac desktop, that I feel slightly guilty using it. I decided to ask some of my participants a few more questions. But this time, I gave them some facts:

Workers at some Chinese Apple factories are paid as little as £1.12 an hour. In one particular branch, 18 people committed suicide on the premises due to extreme pressure. Many factories are now covered with suicide nets to stop people jumping to their deaths in the facility.

How does this make you feel about using Apple products?

‘I love my Apple Macbook too much to stop using it, but this makes me feel sick and guilty to use it, bearing in mind that it could have been made in these awful conditions.’

Did you think Chinese factories had such bad conditions until now?

‘No. I always thought it was the poorer countries that suffered from poor working conditions. I never knew that such a rich and successful country would treat their workers this way.’

It was interesting to see that, in general, people here, in Dundee, either believe that their stuff is just mass-produced in big, shiny Chinese factories, or, they simply do not care. There is such an element of shock when they find out about the awful working conditions in many Chinese factories, however I found from my survey that this still wouldn’t stop people from buying something made in poor working conditions, providing it was good quality. Ultimately, we tend to want to keep our pre-conceived ideas and stay ignorant to what really goes on during the making of our products, so that we can go on using them without feeling guilty.

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