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China remains the largest exporter of garment products around the world and is the biggest production country for Fair Wear member brands. Key production areas are around the Pearl River Delta, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui and Fujian. While labour costs have increased in recent years, China’s garment exports to the EU and US rose, and the garment industry continues to be vital to the Chinese economy.
While recent audits show improvements on issues such as documentation and health and safety across China, the country’s garment industry still faces many challenges. Throughout the sector, high-pressure work environments with short lead times are common and most factories are still paying well below local legal minimum wages. Excessive overtime and underpayment of overtime premiums is also widespread. This is because most factories pay workers according to a piece-rate system that does not take overtime hours into account. While workers’ awareness of social security has been increasing, access remains inadequate and many workers are reluctant to register at all when it is available because they don’t trust that their benefits will be returned to them when the time comes. Another problem often reported is that there is no effective mechanism in place for workers to voice their complaints.
Recently, most garment factories downsized production due to decreased orders and labour shortages, as the younger generation is less interested in factory jobs and turning to other forms of work. This has resulted in some factories moving to inland regions where they are still able to find workers.
The Fair Wear Workplace Education Programme (WEP) is active throughout the country, offering factory training sessions on workers’ rights while also raising awareness of the complaints helplines available to workers.