The Evolving Social Landscape in Chinese Manufacturing

The Evolving Social Landscape in Chinese Manufacturing

China, with close to 1.5 billion people, isn't churning out cheap clothing like it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Mass production has largely moved to Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The reason is simple: living standards have risen dramatically in China over the past 20 years. For decades, migrants left rural farms for factory jobs in cities. But today, factories in Chinese cities are hard to find as the economy expands, education improves, and fewer people are willing to uproot for manufacturing jobs. With better options, workers can afford to be more selective.

Yet as a responsible manufacturer, we're still asked to pay for audits and certifications to prove our factories are socially compliant. We're told what wages we should pay (often below what we actually pay) and how much overtime is acceptable (when workers want more to increase their income where local laws have cap OT to 36 hours a month). 

This system is outdated. With more leverage, Chinese workers will simply leave factories with poor conditions. The days of silencing workers are over.

Rather than fixating on dated social compliance metrics, it's time to shift focus to where progress is still needed - environmental impact.

My factories and I, believe the future is environmental compliance, not social. As a country develops, priorities and needs change. It's time for the fashion industry to rethink social audits in mature manufacturing countries like China and instead prioritize the pressing issue of sustainability.

Photo by HECHO Creative Communication

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