Are our workers paid fairly?
Short answer is that we're not 100% sure. It was a goal of mine to visit early on in 2020 *NnnnooOOOOoooo* and when it seemed like that wouldn't happen, I looked into getting an assessment done. The assessment I was looking at specifically assesses workplace conditions but there are a wide range of these third party assessments provided by companies such as Intertek and SGS. We haven't completed it yet. Their engagement with us has been slow, probably due to Covid. China still has a 2 week quarantine period in main cities and often change from region to region, making it very difficult to travel, especially foreigners. We'll keep u updated, tho :)
What we HAVE done from Day 1 is to vet our vendors as best as we can. We make sure that our factories have current and valid certifications and assessments. Then, we work at developing strong relationships with our factories and choose them based on many factors including how willing they are to communicate and be transparent with us. We've also been constantly improving how we do things and how we plan our ordering calendar so they have ample time to produce products in order to minimize the chance that workers get pushed too hard to meet deadlines. We ask a ton of questions while trying to stay as respectful as we can. Asking any factory manager to "show me proof that your workers are treated fairly" can be... touchy and honestly, just rude.
But while we're here, let's dig into that question some more.
By default, do we believe that Chinese workers get paid unfairly? Currently, employment regulations look fairly like ours. There are minimum wage regulations in place that vary by region. 95% of Chinese citizens have government provided healthcare. Women get a 3 month maternity leave. Is that adhered to, without nuance and plenty of exceptions? Probably not because neither is it in the U.S.
Let's talk culture for a sec. On average, Europeans work less than Americans and the Chinese work more than Americans. And it seems Mexicans work about the same as Chinese, if not more. It's part of the work culture for Chinese employees to work 6 days a week. Factory workers often leave their hometown to go live in factories to send money back to their families. China has national holidays, the biggest one being Chinese Lunar New Year where factory workers travel back to their hometowns, en masse for the entire month of January.
- As China continues to be an economic powerhouse, its increasingly difficult for Chinese factories to find "cheap labor" because wages have increased so rapidly over the past 20 years.
But are we wrong in thinking there may be something nefarious going on? Maybe not. Currently, big brands such as Nike, Zara and H&M are speaking out about possible human rights violations in Xinjiang, China's largest cotton producing region. They are being accused by some of forced labor practices against the Uyghur, a muslim minority in China. Now those brands are facing backlash, boycott and possible eradication from the Chinese market. This is a whole other can of worms... but Chinese citizens are having none of the shit talking.
Finally, what is a living wage for a Chinese factory worker? Even when I get around to going there in person, I don't know what a living wage is for a Chinese citizen. Chinese workers come from various rural areas that economically differ from other rural regions and also the city or town they are working in. A living wage must be determined by the government and their people. Maybe its an issue of trust...we don't trust a Communist government. Totally valid. We fully acknowledge the complexity that is "Made in China", our goal here is to start the conversation.
CHECK OUT THE FULL TALK ON OUR INSTAGRAM IGTV IMPACT SERIES. This blog post is a recap with mostly same info as the talk, with additional links and resources.
We try to only state facts and links to back it up but hey, we're no journalists. Our goal with this series is to open up discussion and offer food for thought.