Ivo in China (May-June 2010)

In Hong Kong, FWF’s international verification coordinator Ivo Spauwen attended a seminar for FWF auditors and stakeholders. Download the report here.

If I should describe the seminar in a few words I would pick ‘rich of content and discussion’; the programme was packed with presentations and the group of participants consisted of 25 well-informed people.

The morning session kicked off with a ‘What’s new at FWF’ session. I presentated our new publication, the FWF formula, and updated the participants on the state of affairs with regard to management system audits and complaints.

We then discussed FWF’s commitment to contribute to social dialogue in production countries, which I illustrated with an overview of activities planned in China during 2010 and 2011 (see the country strategy paper for China).

Finally, I presented the tentative conclusions from the FWF study on wages in the Chinese garment industry which was carried out in 2009 (public report to follow soon).

Subsequently, Dr. Li Hongjian of Renmin University gave a presentation that focused on grey areas in Chinese labour legislation with regard to overtime work and payment of overtime work. Overtime and overtime payments are a very prominent violation of labour standards in China, but often insufficiently understood and debated.

In response to factories finding loopholes in legislation with regard to working hours, FWF wants to give auditors ongoing guidance on this subject. The case study examples presented by Dr. Li were successful for this process: they explained how the law can be applied to various specific situations. The presentation triggered a very lively discussion.

The morning session was rounded up with a review of the most important changes in the FWF audit manual, of which an updated version will be published very soon as well. Most importantly these updates include the wage ladder approach and other new audit elements which relate to the management systems of FWF affiliate members and their factories to effectively work towards sustainable improvements in working conditions.

During the afternoon, three Chinese labour NGOs gave a presentation.

The presentation by Chinese Working Women Network (CWWN) made clear that gender sensitivity and awareness of root factors behind an absent or failing gender approach in factories are of utmost importance for good auditing.

For example, women may often get the positions that are paid below the level of positions that are typically given to men. Whereas this is generally reported, auditors should in this regard also address which aspects of the human resource practices of factories have shaped this situation during the audit exit meeting.

Another powerful example was related to the common phenomenon of pregnant workers who do not apply for maternity leave but resign from their position and travel back to their home town. In this situation auditors should ask themselves if the professional environment of female workers provides sufficient opportunities to give birth (the only realistic answer for most Chinese garment factories is .. NO).

CWWN’s presentation stressed the issue of ‘human dignity in professional and private environments’. When taking this issue as the baseline during audits, it is clear that certain situations cannot be accepted, such as dormitories housing female workers which can randomly be accessed by male security guards, or the absence of curtains in windows and doors in toilets.

Globalisation Monitor gave a presentation on the Asian Floor Wage campaign, which yielded in a wage benchmark for six Asian countries including China. On the basis of a well thought through formula which specifies the cost of food and non-food items for workers and takes purchasing parity into account, AFW has calculated that the floor wage amount for a regular working week in China equals 1638 RMB/month. FWF will use the AFW benchmark for China in its wage ladder, which will be included in all audit reports from July 1 onwards.

Labour Action China  addressed the major problems with regard to the Chinese national social insurance system, which include a failing management system, divergent regulations implemented by different levels of governments and the absence of an inter-provincial transfer mechanism. In response this LAC and six other NGOs developed a common position which is used to influence the reform process initiated by the central government. The position was discussed in detail, followed by a set of recommendations towards workers, employers and governments, which FWF will include into the various aspects of its work in China (country study, factory audits and factory training).

Related programmes