The Psychology of Factories + Factory Workers in China
We often hear about "Chinese sweat shops"--the improper or unbearable working conditions in Chinese factories. While most of the cheapest labor--that with the most unbearable conditions--has moved to other nearby countries like Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, China is now relatively free from child labor. In fact, labor standards in China are improving over time; they're no longer the horrible "sweat shops" we previously read about. Today's modern factories reflect the same conditions of US factories--post-Triangle Shirtwaist incident. They've gone under enough reform that the working conditions are largely acceptable.
Now that you know your factory is meeting some standard of ethics (which you can also ensure by requesting a state-sponsored social audit), what's more important to understand is the psychology of Chinese factories and factory workers, so that you can get the most out of your factory relationship.
I'm going to do this by making an analogy to an adjacent industry in China: the restaurant industry.
In the restaurant industry in China, you see two major types of restaurants:
1. Large, clean-looking restaurants with modern architecture and English menus (highly priced, $20-30/plate)
2. Small, potentially dirty-looking street restaurants that are family-owned (cheaply priced; $2-3/plate)
Both have a lot of customers, every day, all day without fail (It's China, after all). Both have a huge churn and therefore couldn't care less about their customer service, as it's not an apparent drive of traffic.
They don't care if you like the food or not. You pay, then you get the food. Happy or unhappy, the transaction is done. There are no re-dos.
The first restaurant looks better, but the food isn't very good, while the second restaurant would scare most Westerners away, but the food is incredible. The second restaurant is specialized, while the first restaurant does it all.
Although neither care about customer service, and workers are paid the same, in the second restaurant, it is possible to create a relationship with the workers. Yes, the workers are there all day, from 6am-midnight. They almost never smile. But if you can make them smile, your food will be ready for you quickly every time you come. They will make small jokes with you and ask you about your day.
So what's our point?
Although working conditions are acceptable in China, there's still a few things going on:
1. The workers are exhausted. The churn (customers in/out) is higher in China than almost anywhere else in the world.
2. The pay isn't great. The average worker in a Chinese factory makes $800-$1000/month (USD) including housing at the factory. It's decent pay, sure, but not nearly enough in a city where the typical house cost $200,000 USD.
3. They work too long. So the pay is decent(ish?) but the working hours are long. They work 6 days/week, 12 hours/day.
4. They don't know how to relax. Saving money is a form of religion in China. Because of the government/financial instability in the 20th century, the Chinese religiously save money, just in case. Even on their days off, they don't know how to relax, because they are afraid to spend a dime.
The 4 truths above are not just for the line workers: they're also true of the office workers.
Further, from my analogy above about the restaurants: choose a specialized factory that you can build a relationship with.
The shiny factory may look like the best choice on the outside, but the inner-workings are all the same, you're just paying for the decorations. The shiny factory may have 1,000 items in one category of it's catalog, but it's doing too much. It's not a better choice. The workers are treated the same, and there's a no refund and no returns policy.
You've essentially chosen an expensive, sparkly package with the same pile of doo-doo inside.
So save yourself the trouble, and find a factory that specializes in what you do. Small factories are better. They are more affordable and easier to create relationships with. It still won't be easy, but at least you're not stacking the cards against yourself while thinking that you made a great choice.
Relationships are important in the entire world, they're just more important in China.
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