Battlepanda: China's Industrial Revolution


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

China's Industrial Revolution

We usually only hear about the bad shit that is coming out of China. True, there is a lot of bad shit. But once in a while you read an article like this and gain some perspective. The direction of China's development in the past decade or so has been insanely positive for a very very very very very large number of people. That it has taken place so fast is worrying, as damage is being done to the environment could be sowing the seeds of destruction for the whole enterprise. But we should not delude ourselves into yearning for a return of the barefoot peasant eking a living out of 1/6 of an acre in China.

The whole article is long, but a worthwhile read. This part struck me because I am a believer in ethical consumer and corporate decisions as a way of ensuring growth does not come at the expanse of ethics. Here is McKibben talking with Bao, the owner of a shower curtain factory which impressed McKibben with its decent treatment of workers:
I could tell stories about this one factory for a long time. It was hot the night before we came, for instance, and so everyone had slept on the roof, and Bao had told them the old Chinese story about the spinning girl and the cowboy and the creation of the Milky Way. But I'll desist - for all I know, I'd stumbled into the one decent factory in all of China. After all, Chinese workers reportedly lose 40,000 arms, hands, and fingers to industrial accidents every year.

For his part, Bao says he thinks he's in the seventieth or eightieth percentile of factories, judging by working conditions. One reason his factory is decent is because he's a good guy. Another is that he sells some of his shower curtains to Ikea. The company sends an inspector, unannounced, several times a year to check on the living spaces and the number of toilets and so on, and slowly these inspectors have been checking off the improvements. "It adds to the cost, but I appreciate it. I regard the requirements as help to reach the level of a factory in a developed country", Bao says with a kind of Rotarian pride.

Ikea's motto is "low price, but not at any price." I think that's not a bad motto to adopt for rapidly developing countries -- "High growth, but not at any price".