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.

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