Round 2 Models Kits: China Trip – Day 2 (ain’t that title creative?)
(The below has been written to the best of my understanding. I can only speak to what I have seen first hand and what I have been told through broken English.)
(and as you’ll see, my favorite punctuation mark is the parenthesis)
We had our first meeting today and it went really well. The meeting today was with one of our suppliers for our Forever Fun product line. To be painfully honest, they let us down with the quality of our Forever Fun product last year and this was the primary reason for me making the trip. They also work on our die cast products and do a very good job with that line. I’ll meet with our Round 2 Models kit manufacturer later tomorrow afternoon.
The meeting was very constructive. I’m here because I know the answers to the factory’s questions and I know what we can and can’t live without. We were able to walk through all of the new product that has been set so far for this year. I was informed about difficulties the factories have with workers. (I’d say they are good problems for them to have. More on that further on down.) I was able to find some solutions to a few problems they were having too. Thanks to the benefit of the internet, I was able to “discuss” our meeting with my compatriots Bob and Terri back at the office via aim once I returned to my hotel. (there is 12 hours difference in time zones) We were able to hammer out a few details I didn’t want to nail down without their input. I also went on a brief tour of the factory…
I think this is the one aspect everyone seems to be most curious about. What are the working conditions like? My impression is… not terrible. I’ll be upfront and honest; the idea of working in any factory day in and day out gives me heeby-jeebies. Many people, including some I know and love, do this every day. God bless them for it. There isn’t anything “wrong” with it. It just isn’t for me. With that said, as factories go it wasn’t much worse than any others I’ve been in during summer jobs during college, print shops or RV plants I’ve spent time in.
It was dirty, loud in some spots and smelly in others not unlike those I’ve been in at home. I did pick up on things like the lack of eye protection and such. I definitely saw no sign of children which we would all fear. The Chinese government has made worker rights a priority in the recent past. This is part of the reason why you might have noticed price increases in products in the last few years. They are paid for over time (though I honestly don’t know how many hours they are to work before considering it “overtime”) and they are to receive Sunday off.
Workers also hold an upper hand because even though the population of China is huge, it is aging and younger workers are pickier about where they work and what they do. There are jobs that no one wants to do even at higher rates of pay. Spray deco which our Forever Fun uses quite extensively is a job people don’t want because they don’t like the smell (it smelled no worse than an American screen printing shop to me). Younger workers would also rather work in a better environment like the booming service industry. Southern China’s manufacturing districts grew because people were willing to move there for work in addition to the large concentration of people already in the area. With other areas growing in population, people are staying closer to home. In the past, people would move away from home (along with their immediate families in many cases) for years at a time to work at a factory. Areas in Northern China can now attract workers with better wages. This is a flip flop from the past. These are all factors plus the fact that land owners share their wealth with their extended families so people of working age in the area don’t necessarily need to work to feed their families anyway. (Land in China is very valuable and increasing in value)
I asked where most of the factory workers lived. (as I recall, they employ 400 between two facilities) I had heard that most will live in a dorm at the factory but I had seen many apartments in the area as well. I was told that many workers are family and that they stay at the factory. (I didn’t see the dorms. If I did, I didn’t know it.) They work from 8-12, 1:30-6 and 7:30-9. If this artist’s math is right (fat chance) that comes to 10 hours a day. I work close to that 5 days a week. Add in my commute time and I would be spending the same amount of time away from home.
I don’t mean to put too much shine on a turd here. The area the factory was in is dirty. It was raining today but I was told that even if it wasn’t, we still wouldn’t see the sun for the smog. If you spend time out in it, I understand you end up pretty gritty. The office area was dingy compared to those at home. Again, I’d say the smog has something to do with that. We spent most of our time in an air conditioned conference room but the rest of the office was ventilated by open windows.
… At one quiet moment, I asked Eric, the gentleman I spent most of the day talking to (and young son of the owner), “what do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?” and he said “No, not really. Just spend time at home”. I’m not sure if he fully understood my question or if he didn’t want to go into it. Sadly, the look on his face backed up his answer.
Is this the best place on Earth to make a living? No, not compared to options we have. Are we as Americans demanding about the product we buy? Yes. It has to be good quality, safe and inexpensive. That’s hard to achieve and some times when it is achieved, it is at the expense of another human being(s) somewhere else in the world. No one person (that I know of) is to blame. It is what we have grown into. By the same token, people are making money and getting rich in China too. Things aren’t terribly different a world away. I think this coin has more than two sides and they aren’t all as equally shiny. Take that as you may (or will… or whichever is grammatically correct.)
(See what I meant about the parenthesis?)