I was at a farmer’s market a few years ago one Spring morning in Seattle when I overheard a couple talking about a pair of boots they were oogling. The fella looks at the label in the boot, promptly puts it down and says, “Nevermind. It’s made in China.” When his lady inquired further, he responded, “I don’t buy anything from China.”
Although this particular scene happened many moons ago, it has stayed with me because I think it sums up a great misconception of manufacturing, trade, and mis-directed activism.
I get buying local. I understand the importance of getting your produce from local farms, of being picky of where and what you buy for ethical, moral, and economical reasons. But what I don’t get is the blanket boycott on anything with a label that says “Made in China.” Newsflash: EVERYTHING IS MADE IN CHINA.
No, seriously. Everything. I guarantee that you have products right now within a 2 foot radius that are made in China, or have parts that were made in China.
Okay, I’ll take that back a bit. It’s not impossible that you have no Chinese made goods, but it’s overwhelmingly likely that you do. It’s so overwhelmingly likely, that they’re probably in an arm’s reach of you right now. I bet you’re reading this on a Chinese-made monitor.
Who said there’s anything wrong with buying Chinese-made goods, anyway? So far, I’ve come across two prevelant myths.
1. The products are poorly made.
Given how many products the world uses come from China, the defect rate is pretty freaking awesome. Even still, perhaps some of the blame should be going to the companies that bargain hunt at the consumer’s expense and choose to partner with sub-par Chinese factories. You can get excellent quality here in China if you’re willing to pay for it.
If the American consumer wants to boycott Chinese goods, then he should be willing to fork out a lot of money. But he’s not. He wants it cheap and excellent. Unfortunately for American manufacturing that’s not possible on a global production scale. When I brought this up, commenters replied that they’re businesses are doing well with American made goods. Good for them. But they’re products are not likely made for mass consumption, like say hotel toothbrushes, or coffee stirrers at every coffee shop, diner, convention center, or office.
That said, there are a lot of really shitty products in China. All of my DVD players here have been crap. My latest one is a Phillips, and I’m pretty sure there’s no way in hell Phillips would’ve accepted the shipment if the product was to be sold in the US. Plus, there is always someone eager to make a buck at the expense of others. But lucky for you, and unlucky for me, those products stay within borders.
2. China’s manufacturing thrives on slave labor.
I’m not going to lie to you- if an American packed up and moved to China to work in a factory, they’d be terrified at the working conditions. The daily comforts are different here- it’s absurd to think that everywhere in the world should be as kush as sipping a michiatto in your San Francisco loft with browsing Twitter on your iPad at 3PM on a Wednesday. That’s not the real word. The real world is hot, humid, and uncomfortable. But hot, humid, and uncomfortable =/= slave labor.
What gets me is when I see pictures like the one above being used as proof of slave labor. The typical office has an hour and a half lunch break (not including morning and afternoon breaks). Many people choose to spend the remainder of their lunch break asleep at their desks instead of walking home (which, by the way, is provided free by the employer). Any given day, you can see someone taking a nap at the most random places. I asked my Chinese friends about this when I first got here, and they laughed that it’s a skill they learned in school. I picked up a similar skill in church. 😉
But to bring up an obvious point- assembly line work is boring as fuck. No matter where in the world you are. I’ve done it (yes, here in China and in America). By the end of my shift, I always ended up looking like a walking dead.
And the pay. Yes, the pay. It certainly leaves much to be desired for the American wallet. But when you come from rural China and experience what it really means to be poor, you get this funny thing called perspective.
Here’s the thing that isn’t mentioned- there is such an abundance of factories in southern China that if you don’t treat your employees well, they can and will leave.
You know who are overworked in America? Doctors and nurses. Is anyone boycotting hospitals on their behalf?