|Production is at bottom of the food chain in the modern division of labor. Globalization allows multinationals to focus on product development and marketing while outsourcing the messy business of making things to contract manufacturers in the developing world.
|Your Hewlett Packard computer may have been manufactured in the same factory as your friend's Fujitsu. Quite likely the factory is in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and owned by a Taiwan, Hong Kong or South Korean company. The workers are probably recent migrants from the countryside and the majority will be women living in factory dormitories.
|Off-shoring is controversial. Unions in developed countries protest job losses and pressure groups accuse multinationals of exploiting third world workforces. Labor rights controversies have helped create a massive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) industry as companies answer critics of their ever more convoluted supply chains.
|Critics see CSR programs as window dressing – a subset of public relations and advertising. CSR practitioners on the other hand, are almost by definition masters of spin and presentation. It is difficult to find a balanced view.
|But a small but growing group of labor activists operating on China's mainland, some based in Hong Kong, have moved beyond criticism to action and are using CSR programs as a lever to improve working conditions and, increasingly, to raise workers' awareness of their rights.
|Jenny Chan of SACOM (Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior), a Hong Kong-based pressure group, is celebrating what she sees as a significant victory. Over the past year, two major contract manufacturers in the Guangdong city of Dongguan have invited radical Hong Kong-based NGOs to conduct innovative training courses on workers rights including coaching workers in how to raise grievances with management.
|"This is a new worker-centered model of Corporate Social Responsibility, which involves joint monitoring of conditions in the workplace through empowerment of the workers themselves," says Chan.
|At Taiwan-owned Delta Electronics, the Hong Kong-based Labor Education and Service Network (LESN) provided labor rights training to more than 1,500 workers between March and June 2009. Each worker was given a booklet explaining China's labor laws and the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct – an international standard adhered to by many employers in the industry.