The trend for inexpensively produced but quality products in China is leaving some companies unable to adopt corporate social responsibility, a media workshop in Beijing was told.
Dennis Driscoll, co-director of Peking University's Law School, told the event on Saturday that both Chinese and foreign-funded enterprises sometimes struggled to balance productivity with the need to protect the welfare of workers and the environment.
"Many Chinese companies say they cannot be socially responsible while making money," said Driscoll, who is also president of the Irish branch of the International Law Association.
His studies found management in such companies concentrated on their relationships with governments rather than establishing good business strategies that also helped employees.
He said some Chinese suppliers, such as shoemakers in Shenzhen, had little understanding of the dimensions of corporate social responsibility and were not efficient in human resources management and communications.
As China's booming economy attracts increasing foreign investment, ordinary laborers, particularly the 200 million migrant workers in the export processing industry, have suffered harder workloads.
Liu Kaiming, executive director of Shenzhen-based Institute of Contemporary Observation, said at Saturday's workshop co-sponsored by pharmaceutical firm Bayer and Peking University that the group worked an average of 6.4 days per week and 9.4 hours per day, but were paid poorly.
He said encouraging Chinese suppliers to be socially compliant was important and urgent.
Currently, anti-sweatshop organizations in the West and multinational corporations mainly drive the movement for corporate social responsibility.
But ironically, multinational firms, which are imposing ever-growing requirements on Asian factories to abide by codes of conduct, continually demand goods at lower prices delivered at greater speed. It means the factories find it hard to be socially compliant.
"Multinational firms and Western consumers should be held partly responsible," Driscoll said.
(China Daily April 25, 2006)