CSR Practices in China’s Manufacturing Industry

Elizabeth Segran in her Fast Company article “When ‘Made in China’ Means Sustainable, Ethical, and Expert” paints a picturesque scene at an apparel factory in Shanghai’s QingPu district:

“If you happen to drop in on any given weekday, you might find the seamstresses’ children playing in a little nursery set up for them. At lunchtime, workers gather in a sunlit room to eat and chat. Many are close friends, having worked in this factory together for decades. They visit each others’ families during Chinese New Year. When someone is out sick, coworkers stop by that person’s home with hot food. . .”

This is a community of friends and family that work in one of several CSR and relationship focused factories in China. While such a scene is unique for Chinese factory life, it is paramount to realize that not only do such factories exist and thrive in China, but as China progresses to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 13th Five Year Plan, they continue to grow in number.

 As explained in Segran’s article, “made in China shouldn’t imply ‘low-quality’ or ‘sweatshop’.”  Such ethical and sustainable qualities like those found in the aforementioned QingPu factory are paramount for many companies such as Les Lunes, a fashion enterprise based in Paris and San Francisco. Les Lunes’ founder, Anna Lecat has located with ease factories that value sustainable and ethical practices in China’s manufacturing industry. Benefit will come not only from the prioritization of CSR practices at these factories, but also from the ensuing product quality; Lecat explains that higher quality manufacturing is often tied to better working conditions. Many other Western fashion ventures – including Grana, Ellie Kai, and Caraa – “shed light upon a new generation of Chinese factories that pay workers fairly, offer pleasant working conditions and reasonable working hours, and produce beautifully crafted clothes, shoes, and accessories.” No one knows how long it will take for the vast majority of Chinese factories to ultimately match western standards; but according to Aron Luo, the founder of Caraa, “it is important to note that the Chinese government is trying to do something about it.”

This is evident not only within Chinese government, but also within private Chinese enterprises; many Chinese businesses push for a prioritization of social issues in their business plans. In China, it is viewed as common knowledge that companies must place solving social issues as a priority in order to thrive as a business.  Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, recently said, “A great enterprise must solve social issues” including – but not limited to – pollution, quality of life, disaster relief, and water quality. More and more Chinese companies – including Chinese factories – are beginning to view such social issues as opportunities not only to better society, but also as opportunities for new business growth. Such business implementation reflects China’s dedication to the SDGs in economy, environment, human rights, and social development. Such goals are also reflected in China’s 13th Five Year Plan which promotes Chinese enterprise transformation and sustainable development. In summary, it can be increasingly observed that CSR practices within Chinese businesses – including Chinese factories – are being amplified through goals which prioritize corporate strategy, ethics, sustainability, and overall business growth. As the Chinese manufacturing industry progresses towards these present goals, more manufacturers such as those in found in Shanghai’s QingPu district will emerge.

Reflections on a Green Summer

If I have learned one thing this summer, it is this:

“A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.”

– Dōgen Zenji

I have experienced the kind nature of a garden, its buds, flowers, and amazing caretakers, and while I have journeyed through its weeds, what is a garden without its thorns? I have come to appreciate the sweat that goes into a garden’s care and long hours that go into its flourshing. As a rising sophomore Davidson College, I was able to spend my summer as a Sustainability Scholar getting my hands dirty on the farm. Prior to this experience, my only farming experience was at home in a backyard garden, but, thanks to the guidance of my wonderful supervisors, I took on quickly to the daily grind at Friendship Gardens.


Echinacea flowers in our pollinator bed at Friendship Gardens. Summer 2018

Waking up at 5:00 most mornings to catch the bus from Davidson, I would arrive at the farm at 8am to begin my caring duties: watering, planting, and of course, weeding. I learned how to grow watermelon, peanuts, parsley, oregano, sweet potatoes, garlic, and sesame seeds.  I learned about cover crop and worm castings, composting and herb dehydration. Do you know what a “lasagna plot” is? Unfortunately, it does not involve growing freshly made lasagna, but it is a method of layering mulch and cardboard on a plot of land prior to sowing seeds. Doing so prevents the growth of weeds; even better! I quickly realized that my time at Friendship Gardens would not only allow me to grow closer to and care more for my natural environment, but also learn about the tips and tricks of gardening, skills I will definitely take back to my backyard garden at home.

While I enjoyed learning and working on the farm, I also enjoyed the days when I could follow our harvested produce off of the grounds and into the hands of Friendship Gardens’ two partner organizations: Friendship Trays and The Bulb. Friendship Trays, a Meals on Wheels organization in Charlotte, is able to take great advantage of our fresh produce by incorporating it into their recipes. The Bulb, a mobile farmers market, works to provide fresh produce to those in food insecure areas in Mecklenburg County. My weekly trips to “The Trays” and to markets with The Bulb, further brightened my summer dedicated to learning about and helping remediate food insecurity. While this “weed” of food insecurity grows in Mecklenburg County, we are able to reap the benefits of the “flowers” at Friendship Gardens, Friendship Trays, and The Bulb as to fight food insecurity with friendship and fresh produce.

When I return to Charlotte in the upcoming semester, I look forward to returning to Friendship Gardens as to continue this meaningful work. I suggest you do so as well! If you are interested in volunteering with Friendship Gardens, visit their volunteer page here: http://friendship-gardens.org/volunteer/. And check out the amazing work being done at Friendship Trays http://friendshiptrays.org/ The Bulb https://www.thebulbgallery.org/. Let us work together to make Mecklenburg County a food secure community!

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