Ethical Sourcing & MEC: I Made That & Here’s What I Think

Everyone of us has had a difficult boss.  They make work horrible.  Their management style fosters anxiety and plenty of commiserating at the water cooler.  I had such a boss.  He was tactical and methodical, two important traits of leading a department.  Unfortunately, these admirable strengths were diminished by a restless energy that oscillated between seething anger to outright explosions laced with profanities.  Our strategy to handle him was based on 1) find transfer and 2) minimize contact.  Neither are good for productivity.  Tent_worker

Being yelled at by your boss leaves you with a really lousy feeling of being demeaned and trapped.  It’s not good.  It’s unnecessary.  With this in mind, we piloted a study to obtain a more intimate profile of what workers think in one of our contract factories.   Here’s what they are saying (translated from Mandarin).

Question 1 Note three things you like the most about your factory

… it’s near to my home
… management is not harsh to workers.
… the environment is good
… the hygiene is good
… the work is not too tiring
… I have developed emotional ties after working here for a long time.
… my own chair
… everything I have touched with my hands
… environment and hygiene is good

Question 2 Is there anything that makes women workers feel uneasy?

the supervisors shout at workers all the time. As a senior manager, this is really too bad and will not gain respect from workers.

Question 3 Do you think the management and policies in the factory is reasonable?

The seniority bonus is too low, only RMB 1 for one year. We think it should be RMB 10at least, we have worked in the factory for more than 10 years, and our achievements and labour only worth RMB 10!.
Suggestion: why workers joined the factory for less than 3 years would
not be arranged pension and medical insurance. Is this reasonable?

The living costs are rising rapidly. The wage level here is really too low. I hope the factory can increase wage.
(W)orking hours start at 7:30am, but workers must arrive at the factory at 7:10am. The factory takes too much time from workers.”

Question 4 How would you like the factory to improve?

… have fewer fines
… increase wages as soon as possible
… improve welfare for workers
… I hope the factory will become better and better, and workers can be proud of being a “name of factory withheld” person.

About the factory:

This factory is a long term supplier of MEC.  It is Korean owned and managed but operating out of Qing Dao, China.  The factory employs about 500 workers.  Ninety percent are women and management are Korean expats.

The factory, is above average, in comparison to other factories in China.  Remuneration approaches legal standards and workers are paid on time.  The physical environment is clean and well ordered.  Workers on the whole are treated reasonably well.  Like it’s peers, the factory can improve on wage rates, excessive work during peak hours and better people management skills.

Some thoughts:

It’s tempting to conclude that all factory workers are disgruntled with their occupations or are horribly exploited.  I question such a generalization.  There is no doubt the work is repetitive and the wages are less than 7% of Canadian minimum wage.  But relative to "life" in the developing world, it’s not bad.  Our study suggests that the collective psyche of this workforce is similar to ours.  They want higher pay, more equitable policies and greater recognition by management.  And as much as they commiserate at their "water cooler" they’re proud of their employer and their affiliation with the factory.  In many ways they’re just like us.

About the Study 

We engaged a Chinese based consulting firm to help us better understand the mind frame of factory workers.  This was a two day study that involved: off factory site interviews, questionnaires, group games and observations.  Interviews were also conducted with the local community and with ex-employees of the factory.  Factory managers were interviewed individually but were not involved in the study. 

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