A lot of people – labor groups as well as compliance people – talk about empowering workers. In the Chinese context this often means educating people about their rights. This is usually done by training programmes. These training programmes have also become part of the demands of NGOs as well as company CSR rating agencies in Europe and the US, and therefore became the next step in the labour supply chain management agenda.
Whereas no big differentiations are made between training programmes, a whole industry is emerging in China, where consulting companies compete with buying companies’ own compliance programme and NGOs, offering a variety of different services. A recent study of the Sino-German Social Responsibility Project on training providers evaluated 29 providers, including nine international providers. Figure 1 provides a summary of the issues covered by this study.
But what can real-life worker training look like? One simple lesson learned from the auditing process is that single worker interviews about labour conditions rarely produce useful results, as they are most often too scared to talk to the auditing people in the factory. That’s why some buying companies have shifted to group interviews combined with education about new labor contract law and how to calculate their wage. Most workers get a contract nowadays, but they have no clue as to what is says. And for the workers the most important aspect of it is how to calculate overtime wages.
So what can they do if they find out that they have been cheated on? They learn that they have three options: Go to the management directly (which is not an appealing choice for any worker) or call the governmental labor department (which doesn’t seem too trustworthy either) or call the compliance manager who conducts the training and leaves his telephone number. And in fact, this anonymous hotline communication channel is used quite often, with payment and overtime work compensation being the mayor issues discussed.
Although it does represent one way of solving problems, this is still far away from being a dispute-settlement mechanism – as in fact no dispute between managers and workers is at all discussed. So, the next step of training tries to establish internal communication channels, under the heading “The Harmonious Factory”.