China is investing billions of Yuan into its “Made in China 2025” project, which launched in May of this year. By improving both products and systems across ten industrial avenues, the country is intent on competing with Germany and the US as the world’s top manufacturer of goods. To achieve that goal, however, the Chinese government will have to engage in significant partnerships with governments around the world, to assure them that manufacturing in China produces goods and services that are crafted with high-quality materials in safe and legally compliant factories.
Current Chinese law prohibits employers from hiring minors – children under the age of 16 years. Despite the good intentions of the law, it still happens that manufacturers across the country are being found with under-age employees on-site. While not possessing skills for technical work, children’s dexterous hands and superior vision can be highly valued in specific manufacturing processes. Additionally, economics sometimes make it imperative for a child to provide financial support for the family. Especially in the lesser developed provinces, the expense of attending school is prohibitive past the basic level. Challenges like these create a circumstance that makes a factory job appear more favourable to the family than an educated child.
For international enterprises seeking off-shore sourcing of their manufacturing processes, it is important to contract with Chinese suppliers that comply with child labour laws. Underage labour has serious ethical ramifications, and will be regarded as a major “fail” in a social compliance audit. Public knowledge of these violations can also have a severe impact on your business’s brand image and reputation. Furthermore, if underage labour is identified after the contract has begun, the time frame for remediation is very short. The social compliance audit must also be repeated, and it typically costs more for a recheck, adding to the overall costs.
As an example, I had visited one textile factory in China for a number of years before I discovered a problem. I noticed some young-looking individuals at the stitching stations. Immediately checking their ID cards against the Chinese Government website for ID and age verification, none of them turned out to be underage. But I then went for a bit of a walk. Opening a door, I found three teenagers in an empty stairway, clearly underage and spooked at being “found”. Confronting factory management, we heard excuses that they were children of one of their suppliers who had run from the supplier’s car and entered the factory. Even if this were true, if a child had accessed the premises accidentally, there was clearly a fault in the guard system. Our role thereafter was to work with the factory management team to enable them to meet all of their required company social responsibility and quality control standards. A system was also needed to ensure children could not access the factory premises. By “risk mapping” their current system, the factory could more realistically ensure that no child labour would take place on their premises, which remediated the existing issue and ensured their future compliance with their company social responsibility standards.
For most international producers, identifying child labour infractions is almost impossible. Corporate administrators who are unfamiliar with Chinese labour laws, Chinese factory staffing practices and social responsibility standards will find it extremely difficult to correctly analyze a factory situation for child labour violations. Despite this, the company may face additional reprimand from its own government for buying products from suppliers employing children. The United Kingdom instituted just such a policy this summer. Accordingly, it is becoming even more imperative that every factory in a Chinese supply chain is verified to be compliant with child labour laws. To verify social responsibility compliance in the factories in your Chinese supply chain, you are welcome to call me today.
To better understand how you can validate your suppliers you can also download a free checklist “New Supplier On-Boarding Checklist” here.
These checkpoints are not only for new suppliers, in fact they should be checked and verified regularly for all suppliers.
This blog was written by Carsten Primdal, an independent consultant who helps businesses that have manufacturing done overseas – especially in China – minimise supply chain risk.Drawing on years of on-the-ground experience and a strong understanding of the cultural and commercial context, Carsten is passionate about helping his clients gain greater control over the risks most companies face knowingly or unknowingly.
Urgent issues? Questions? Concerns? If you are considering/already buying from Chinese factories and would like more information, please feel free to contact us for an obligation free talk.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on (+61) 413 089 020
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