A recent New York Times article is a poignant reminder that child labor problems are still all too real in China -- even inside the main coastal manufacturing areas. According to the story, the Chinese government recently broke up "a child labor ring that forced children from poor, inland areas to work in booming coastal cities, acknowledging that severe labor abuses extended into the heart of its export economy ... Chinese officials took more than 100 children from factories in the southern city of Dongguan. Children from Sichuan Province, many between 13 and 15 years old, were forced to work in Dongguan for minimal pay." The rest of the story suggests that many of these child workers were kidnapped or tricked into leaving their hometowns for employment.
Why are companies taking such risks (especially given that the Chinese government is increasingly making examples of those individuals and organizations it captures flouting the law)? The NYT suggests that "the abuses may also reflect the combined pressures of worker shortages, high inflation and a rising currency that have reduced profit margins of some Chinese factories and forced them to scramble for an edge -- even an illegal one -- to stay competitive ... experts say rising costs of labor, energy and raw material, and labor shortages in some parts of southern China have forced some factory owners to cut costs or find new sources of cheap labor, including child labor." This recent revelation is further proof that companies cannot trust their Chinese suppliers alone to assure their labor practices are consistent with those that we have come to expect in the West. Just as with the lead paint and tainted blood thinner scandals which come down to supplier performance related monitoring issues, companies must increase their on-the-ground inspections and audits to avoid costly ethical and PR China sourcing nightmares.
- Jason Busch