Britain imported £35.6 billion in Chinese goods and services in 2016, making it the UK’s third largest import partner. Whilst we’ve long been drawn to the attractive price tags of these imported products, there has always been negative connotations attached to the ‘Made in China’ label, whether it’s overworked staff, inferior quality or safety issues. However, times are changing and these outdated perceptions no longer ring true. The nation’s factories do a lot more than just create the goods. They also design, source, manufacture and deliver entire product lines – faster than most competitor countries. It’s time to redefine what ‘Made in China’ really means.
Copycats and Counterfeits
When new innovations appear – from tech to fashion – it is only a matter of time before imitations trickle into the market having been quickly replicated and reverse engineered in China. Typically, Western consumers perceive Chinese factories as purely dedicated to production, void of innovation and design teams.
Today, research and development has become a priority, and investment in the area is predicted to overtake the US sometime in the 2020’s. China is now also a global leader in the annual uptake of engineering graduates, enabling factories to invest in innovation, testing their own products. Matrix has been working with factories in China for over 20 years, and we have seen a real shift in creativity, with suppliers beginning to pro-actively send through new ideas and concepts from their own design teams. So, although the copies still exist, the scales are certainly tipping towards a flow of original ideas and a fresh perspective.
Products made in China were once considered to be of inferior quality due to cheap materials, low cost, poorly skilled labour and rapid production. This perceived lower quality is associated with an expected lower price.
China is not the cheapest sourcing region for many products anymore, especially compared to countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
However, because the costs of production and materials are still lower than other parts of the world, but also has some of the world’s most state-of-the-art factories, China is able to supply the lower end of the market, as well as luxury sectors and everything in between. Standards of quality have infinitely improved and the ‘cheap and cheerful’ reputation is becoming less prominent, as the country enjoys a boom of factories producing luxury goods.
Additionally, the infrastructure in China is sophisticated, meaning that moving goods is easy.
Poor Environmental Conditions and Health and Safety Standards
Health and safety issues and stories of pollution and human rights abuse are commonplace in factories in Asia. These truly awful situations have increased consumer awareness of the changes that need to be made to protect workers.
China is now clamping down on health and safety, pollution and the human rights of workers. As well as local government departments, companies are beginning to partner with factories to take on some of the responsibility by putting stringent compliance programmes in place to audit factories and ensure certain health and safety criteria are adhered to. We know that using social media, conducting surveys of workers to better understand their concerns and carrying out training on linked issues such as worker-management communication and improved productivity and efficiency measures are good ways to support factories as they continue on their journey of improvement. The more streamlined and advanced the evaluation techniques become, the better the working conditions, ultimately leading to fewer incidents. There is always more work to be done in this area, but overall there has been a big step forward.
Chinese industry will wait for no one. It’s crucial now more than ever that businesses respect the level of ingenuity behind the factories that create their products – those that blindly ignore this stand to lose out on opportunity. Working together is key, whether we’re talking about brands, suppliers or consumers. Instead of trying to combat the ongoing ‘Made in China’ trend, we must focus our attention on ensuring quality standards remain high and workers are protected.