Shanghai’d – Day 4 New Sewing Factory

Suggestion box for worker complaints

Day 4 found me at a new bag sewing facility we plan on working with near Shanghai. It’s run by Jorden Rosenberg, a Canadian guy (from Forest Hill Collegiate, like a # of the guys I seem to be meeting here) and it was great to see the Chinese and Canadian flags flying high at the entrance of his facility. I planned my trip to both check out his products and facility and meet the auditor from Openview, who we had arranged to audit the facility.

Jordan runs a great factory and difference between this facility and the one at Huaitai was immediately noticeable. The scale of the operation is much larger but the sophistication of their production processes was of a different standard. In addition to the bag workshop Jordan also runs Motherwear, a women’s maternity wear online retailer (check it out for fabulous bamboo and other products) and manages production for that line in his facility.

The facility was well laid out, with clear signage vis a vis fire safety and first aid. The attention to detail on the quality control front was impressive and they were working for major brands from all over North America and Europe.

Quality control - final check on bags

We had a chance to meet with the auditor over lunch and have a good chat on some of key issues she finds in factories. We agreed that often, the root of non-compliance issues are based in communication – like anywhere, issues emerge when information isn’t readily available. While tools like employee manuals can start to address the issues, face to face communication and training is likely to go a long way.

It might seem obvious but there isn’t necessarily a culture of workplace communication and meetings that we might be used to in an office environment. One example that came to light related to fire extinguishers. There are well signed fire safety stations around the factory – with instructions (in chinese) on how to use the extinguishers, but in worker interviews, some workers answered no to the question “do you know how to discharge a fire extinguisher”?

Fire safety is covered in worker orientation and fire drills have been conducted but clearly there needs to be some more regular communication on simple issues like these. One idea Jordan and George (his factory manager) came up with over lunch was to create a orientation video for new staff to compliment the employee manual – while it may not be realistic to show each new employee how to discharge a fire extinguisher, making a training video that includes a demonstration might improve worker confidence in using extinguishers. It would be easy to show a training video to new employees as they join as well as when the year begins.

Fire safety station

Thinking about it, i’ve never been shown how to discharge an extinguisher in any workplace environment – have any of you?

After the factory visit, we joined Jordan’s family for a great Korean dinner at Jonathan’s (my bag vendors’) favorite restaurant). It was amazing to see his family (American wife and their 4 young kids, 3 of which joined us) and they’re mastery of chinese. Their youngest seemed more comfortable speaking chinese than english. Jordan made a comment about being a ‘half-pat’ – they’ve been in China way too long to be considered ex-pats.

Everyone i’ve met has been so great – working with Jonathan in the factories has been a good experience – we’re his first client that has asked for in-depth social compliance audit  and he is taking the ups and downs and trials and tribulations in great stride and is really showing a deep commitment to getting it right at the facilities he works in.