As a newcomer to blogging who recently learned that series are particularly “in”,  I decided to start my own series as well. I’m travelling China right now as a researcher, trying to better understand what all the people I’ve talked to in Germany mean by managing labor issues in the supply chain, compliance systems, training arrangements, etc.; but also seeking to understand how labour groups deal with the issue, form their strategies or give up strategising around it.

I’ll share my impressions here, so forthcoming posts in the series will be about compliance management, worker training, management training and how labor groups try to deal with this issues (spoiler: there is a big difference between Hong-Kong-based and mainland-China-based, and you often simply cannot name it, activism).

I’m talking to all kinds of people here in China: consultants, compliance managers, labor NGOs; I’ve taken part in an audit, a manager and a worker training.  As this is China I’m writing about, the first thing people tell you is: There is always more than one truth in China…

How to become a compliance manager in one day

Auditing has become an important business in labour supply chain management. Seminars and training courses are offered all over the world on how to become a successful auditor. But, actually, it doesn’t take you more than a day. It means having an open eye for obvious problems which are often so similar that you almost don’t need to go into the factory to know about them.

Basically, you go around the factory and check: Are there fire extinguishers? In fact, I have never seen any places with more fire extinguishers than in this Chinese factory. This was also true for the emergency exit signs. But these fire extinguishers make visible what the well-known situation of double, triple and so forth, auditing means: Yes, extinguishers are there. Everywhere. That’s because when buying brands don’t cooperate (which at least some more and more try to do), there are different rules on where to put them. So the factory simply places them everywhere.

There are a couple of more things to check: The first aid box: Maybe something is broken or stolen inside. The kitchen. And the bathrooms. Are they clean enough? Safety issues: Are, for example, workers wearing eye or ear protection. Books are checked as well, but this is whole other issue which I must come back to later.

Then you make a list and tell the factory manager: Clean this up, or put another light on this exit. Change can be reached easily, without touching the broader supply system. And it is good for a company’s record. But after a couple of years, there might be enough fire extinguishers. Some companies have realized this and have started to change their compliance management. Training becomes the hot issue. And again, a new business opportunity arises.