I’d like to link you to an interesting blog entry written by my friend Molly. I’m trying to figure out how to do it as a "trackback" because her photo album is equally fascinating. . . . . Okay, don’t know how to do a trackback (or even what one really is) but here’s a link to the photo album to accompany this text. Thanks Molly!
At the beginning of this month I had an unusual opportunity. I was hired by a glove exporting company to travel with them to Jiangxi Province to a town where most of the small "factories" (read workshops) that produce the gloves they export are located. Nine of us drove there in 2 cars, one of which (the owner’s) was a Mercedes Benz E-230, and I rode in that one. It took over 8 hours to drive there, and then we spent the next 3 days visiting both factories that were already suppliers and looking for new sources. I was introduced as the American customer who had been sent along to check on the quality of the gloves being produced. We’d go to a factory, go in to look around. I’d try on gloves, test the strength of the construction, nod or shake my head, and take pictures. Then we’d go sit with the owner in his office, drink tea, talk about our current order and how much more we wanted, the owner would give his quality speech ("blah blah blah blah, Molly, blah blah blah, American, blah blah, Molly") and they could get their picture taken with the owner and me. Then off we’d go in the Benz and the Chevy to the next place.I asked a lot of questions, and learned some interesting things. First off, we have a pre-conceived concept of places like this being "sweatshops" where the workers slave in horrendous conditions for pennies. I’m sure those exist. But that wasn’t what I was seeing. Now, by our standards, these places were filthy. Check out the pictures. The conditions seem horrendous, and there’s no heating and it’s starting to get cool. A lot of these were storefront operations, with maybe some rooms upstairs. At least two were in former hotels, and one was in a former school. But there’s no heating in any buildings in most of China. Even the university I taught at didn’t have heat in the rooms, I always taught wearing my coat and scarf and gloves. If anything, since there would be a number of people in small rooms it might be warmer than their homes.I aksed how much they were making, and was told it was hard to say, since they’re paid by the piece, but it probably comes to about 1000 RMB per month, or 128 USD. Seems awful to us. However, the vast majority of the workers are women . . whose husbands have gone to one of the big cities, most likely Guangzhou, where they can get high paying jobs, and they can sit at home raising the kid or take a job like this where they can bring the child to the factory with them and be around other women talking and gossiping all day and making some extra cash while they’re at it. Considering that a college graduate can expect to start at a salary of 2,300 RMB per month, making 1,000 extra for the family is a lot. One of the primary reasons this company had to do this trip was not so much trying to get them to improve the quality, but to try to get them to fill the orders on time. Since it’s not a "necessary" job, sometimes the women just don’t show up and that obviously slows production. Although the factories are running shifts 24/7, we never saw a room with all the machines being used, even on the weekday we went to shops. And while there were people working on Sunday, there were also a lot more empty stations. What was sad was the number of elderly women working, most of them doing jobs like turning the gloves right-side out after they’re sewn.This was a pretty small town however, if my internet research is correct it’s only around 150,000 people, tiny by Chinese standards, and once we got off the main streets the buildings were quite old. We stayed at a 4 star "international" hotel which actually was quite nice, and one night I did actually see 3 people who looked Indian, and some Japanese, but otherwise I was the only white person I saw. And I’m probably the only one that’s been there for a while, judging by people’s reactions to me, although sometimes I wasn’t sure what was the bigger attraction: me or the Benz. So I got rock star treatment, a trip out of town, got to ride in a Benz, take a lot of cool pictures, learned all about work gloves, and got paid. All in all a pretty cool experience.