Browsing the archives for the csr tag.

Inside the Dormitory of a Chinese Factory: The Case for Social Responsibility


I just got back from spending a couple of weeks in Pro QC’s China offices. I’ll admit I was really excited about this trip, not only for the on-site audit experience I had planned, but because I truly love Asia and it’s most certainly a highlight of my job to be able to travel there.

Over the years, I’ve visited many manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and abroad. I’m here to say that a majority simply don’t replicate what we see on How It’s Made.  I’ve been to factories with dirt floors, poor ventilation, broken down machinery, poorly stored hazardous chemicals, etc. I’ve seen some stuff. But, I can’t say I had ever seen a factory dormitory until this most recent trip…

I talk a lot about social responsibility. Someone once referred to it as my bailiwick, which is fair.  But, I’m here to say I’ve never been more convinced of the value of having organizations invest in this than I am now.

One of the audits I attended during my trip was a SA8000 audit.  This would be my first time getting to experience the human aspect of manufacturing, whereas my previous hands-on experience has always focused on the product.

This particular factory wasn’t too shabby, all things considered. The factory personnel were all very accommodating and I remember thinking it would go quite smoothly.  Around 11am, I noticed everyone heading out to an apartment looking building behind the factory.  I knew it was the dormitory, and I asked if we could stop by there so I could see it while everyone is out and about.  They insisted that it wasn’t owned by the factory and instead operated by a 3rd party. This is part of the scope of the audit, so I asked again later and they agreed.

We get in there after the lunch rush, so no one was in there.  The first thing I noticed were the locks on the outside of the doors.  You know, you don’t want to imagine why someone would need the door locked from the outside but I still can’t think of any reason or purpose that’s legit.  I insisted they needed to be removed and ended up locking our auditor in as an example of why I had a problem with it.  Of course, they agreed to remove them and we will be following up on that and a few other issues that were noted.  But, for real…


A typical dormitory at a factory is the size of a really large walk-in closet. This particular room had four bunk beds, so eight people per room.  There was a shared bathroom at the rear where the in-ground toilet and shower hose were sharing the same small space.  Running hot or cold water was available from a spigot outside, just down the hall. This is all fine and in compliance with the law.  But, this is where people are living that are making a lot of the stuff you buy. It’s not cheap to buy/rent housing in China, and commutes are time prohibitive and costly as well. The argument for dormitories is logical… until you see one and realize it’s not quite what you remember from college.


The lady I saw sitting there crouched over a machine stamping metal parts for 8-11 hours (2 hour break included) didn’t look unhappy at all. You know, here I am asking if they have cross-training available so she could avoid occupational injuries as the result of all that repetitive movement.  After a few minutes, it was obvious they couldn’t even conceive of what I was talking about.  Her job is to sit there stamping parts.

So, I guess the point is that I give props to companies that hire companies like Pro QC to go into these factories and help them improve the conditions. It’s a small price to pay that in fact pays for itself. A large part of why I took the job at Pro QC many years ago was the plan to start marketing the SA audits. I continue to support and pursue awareness and action.

I get a surprising number of people asking me why I’d be so excited to visit China…

Sure, there’s smog.  You want to think it’s just a cloudy day or something, but the reality is that there’s pollution.  The Chinese government has invested an absurd amount to clean-up and resolve the problem.  It requires changing a culture too though, and that’s going to take time.  It’s also on us as organizations to support sustainability.

Sure, the food is much different than you’re probably used to.  But, one of the highlights of my visits is eating with our team.  This time, I enjoyed going out with everyone in Ningbo and then celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival with our team in Shenzhen. It’s fun to try new things and get in on the excitement people have about their local fare.  One of the factories was really proud of this year’s yang mei. I could have eaten that whole bowl!

Sure, they are going to speak a different language than you.  But, I’ll tell you it’s not an issue. A memory that will stick with me is one of me standing outside of Starbucks in Shanghai waiting for them to open. A lady that didn’t speak any English at all waved me over and insisted I follow her. After quite the walk, we ended up with this street vendor making dumpling soup and I enjoyed the opportunity to have breakfast with her family. That’s the people there. You just never feel unsafe.

Sure, almost a day of travel to get there is rough.  Yeah… that one is legit.  It’s hard to wrap your head around what 14 hours on a plane feels like. During this trip, I took several planes, the MTR, a ferry, many adventurous taxi rides, and a “fast” train. But, as someone pretty insightful once said, it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.



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Bank Happy or Bank Evil?


In last night’s Intro to Business class, the topic was corporate social responsibility, and I asked students if they would prefer to work for Bank Happy with an OK salary but knowing they are socially responsible or Bank Evil that pays a few bucks more but is known for their unethical actions.

Overwhelmingly, the choice of the students was to work for Bank Evil.  A mixed breed of demographics, the majority felt like it was on themselves to be socially responsible, but that what the company did to make a profit was up to them.  This is very interesting to me.  It certainly doesn’t do much to support Rand’s Objectivism.

I keep up with the CSR stuff.  Who doesn’t have at least 60 seconds to get the rundown from 3bl? But, the million dollar question here appears to be how many people are swayed by a small increase in monetary compensation. The actual actions of the organizations meant less to this particular sample.

I’m still wrapping my head around this…

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The Simple Truth: What is CSR?


theSRO just posted an entertaining and to-the-point video on CSR that is a must share.  It exceeds the usual attention span, but it’s worth the watch.  They speak the truth… and, it’s morbidly funny.

What is Corporate Responsibility?

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Making the case for the social responsibility & quality connection


ASQ is getting ready to issue the latest Pathways to Social Responsibility report, and Paul Borawski ties this in nicely with this month’s View from the Q topic.  I also just finished reading through the ASQ and IBM report and believe that to be an invaluable source for making the connection and case for quality and social responsibility.  It also presented some surprising results regarding general perceptions. With this much information, I’m not sure that we’ve completed identifying trends and potential improvement initiatives.

In his latest post, Paul talks about social responsibility being mainstream, or wondering if it’s still on the fridge.  I’d say that all organizations would likely agree on the competitive and general advantages to incorporating SR into their strategies, but the uncertain economic conditions continue to be a priority and viewed as separate to this.  In looking at the data, organizations appear to acknowledge the benefits, but still see it as a financial risk.  Interestingly, many of the organizations questioned were incorporating CSR related goals as an effort to enhance brand image.  So, where is the disconnect?  I think it’s with small business and their assessment of risk and priorities.  We have failed to prove the top and bottom line results to businesses that are operating day-to-day.  This is an opportunity for quality professionals.   It’s a win-win… we should sell it that way.

Paul ends the the post essentially calling us out on how we’re making the case for quality and social responsibility.  Unlike the results of the recent study, I still find myself having the subject changed when I try to discuss SR and sustainability audits.  They want to talk about short-term solutions to existing problems.  They’re putting out fires and worried about staying afloat. I don’t consider it sneaky to provide quality solutions that also have a larger impact.  But, we need to work on getting through the communication barrier and proving that what we speak is the truth.

Fortunately, it is we in the quality community that have drawn the connections with social responsibility and can use this information to make small changes along the way.  The ultimate connection occurs when the consumer has the power to drive change and free markets.  I personally make the case for quality to tomorrow’s leaders through my role at the community college.  And, I continue to blog about and “sell” social audits as a means of reducing risk and costs.  As a consumer, I do care that my money goes to companies committed to being socially responsible and follow that commitment up with action.  And, I’m quick to advise others when I find particularly good examples or even bad ones.  It’s just another way to “raise the voice.”

Related articles/references:

Social Responsibility & Profit 

CSR Update 

ISO 26000 (ISO)

ISO 26000 – Introducing the New Standard

Social Accountability Audits – Benefits & Features


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