The “Made in China” Stigma Exposed

I recently came across an article on The Lingerie Addict that I felt did not address the deeper implications of what goods “made in China” are about. While I agree with the spirit of the article, that is, not all apparel labelled as “Made in US/UK/EU” is necessarily ethically or well-made, I think that much deeper questions need to be asked.

Let me start by saying that I am a Canadian custom lingerie manufacturer located in Toronto. Even before I became a manufacturer, I have noticed that the mentality of consumers in Canada has radically changed from what it once was 30+ years ago. For example, a lot of consumers feel that goods “made in China” are just as good as those manufactured domestically. The reasons often stated relate to price and skilled labour. Goods made in China cost far less than comparable domestic goods. Chinese factories are already tooled to do the manufacturing and China has a readily available “pool of skilled workers”.

I find this reasoning to be very flawed because these arguments do not consider the short-term and long-term consequences of what “made in China” really means. I think it is long overdue to ask these questions:

  1. What are the real reasons behind the cheap “made in China” price?
  2. Government is supposed to act as a referee when it comes to fair play in the marketplace. Yet, why is the marketplace in the US and Canada deliberately biased against domestic manufacturing?
  3. In the US, Canada, and the UK, we have a rapidly diminishing number of skilled jobs available. How can our society function if the vast majority of the population is either unemployed or underemployed? By underemployed, I am referring to people who are either unable to work full-time hours or unable to be employed at a job that utilizes their skills.
  4. In Europe, craftspeople have always been highly valued throughout the centuries. In many European countries, like Italy, highly skilled trades like textile manufacture and leather work emerged, and those craftspeople had a lot of pride for their work. So why is it important that we now train workers in China to do jobs that we once did? Why are we not training our own people to do skilled work?

Many people think that the cheap Chinese price tag is due to low labour costs. The truth is that only about 39% of the cheap retail price is due to lower wages as shown.

ChinaPriceThe FDI is primarily tied to the desire of foreign corporations to manufacture goods in China without the punitive and more costly environmental, health, and safety regulations found in the US, Canada, UK, and EU. We need to keep in mind that the UK and the US spearheaded the flight of manufacturing jobs to China. In Canada, where all levels of government continue to have a “rape and plunder” economy in mind, we allowed foreign corporations to not just offshore jobs, but also handed them all sovereignty over our remaining resources. Our current government is now anxious to sign away what little remains to China by allowing China to export an unlimited number of their workers to work on their now state-owned resources in Canada.

Skilled Labour
A common complaint in Canada and the US is that we don’t have the skilled labour to do certain jobs anymore. Unfortunately, the people who say this are not looking at the complete picture. The skilled labour issue is really a circular argument.

Yes, it is true that we have far less skilled labour now than we had 30 or more years ago. The reason is partly due to the government deciding that they wanted to create a society consisting of two classes: low-paid unskilled workers and the über-wealthy (lawyers, accountants, doctors, real estate agents, bankers, and government & quasi-government employees). To put things in perspective, doctors and non-contract government employees earn about 4 to 10 times the salary of a person in a private sector job. This pay inequity has nothing to do with the skills associated with a particular job—it has to do with what we think has value.

The other reason that we have less skilled labour has to do with the government and powers-that-be deciding that the wealthy should not pay any, or hardly any, taxes and that they can siphon as much money as possible from the public coffer. There are many ways that the siphoning can take place: corporate welfare, grants to corporations (in exchange for helping a politician get elected), tax abatements, no tariffs on imported goods, off-shoring money, and the like. It isn’t just corporations that siphon public money into their pockets; many individuals found ways to use and abuse the system: having children to qualify for tax credits, using disability allowances to purchase luxury goods; and scamming insurance policies (we have a multi-billion dollar car insurance fraud problem in Ontario alone).

Where is all this money going? It isn’t going toward domestic industry, unless you count businesses that cater to the military and law enforcement. In Canada, real estate is the number one choice for people to “invest in”. Every level of government has been complicit in driving the real estate market through the roof. In fact, real estate has been the only thing that has propped up our economy since the early 1980s. As more and more Canadians have become unemployed or underemployed, our government has been aggressively pursuing immigration policies to buoy the real estate market. To complete the public deception of a real-estate bubble, all levels of government, in collusion with a powerful landlord lobby, have completely decoupled rental costs from income. For instance, I have noticed that in the last 6 years household rents have increased by over 40%, while incomes have either remained flat or decreased.

For several decades, there has been virtually no investment from government, industry, or individuals in skilled trades. Less and less educational institutions teach skilled trades, and those people who have a skilled trade can’t get a job. Most manufacturing has been off-shored to China and the few manufacturers left often don’t want to pay fair wages. It is easier and more lucrative for a small or medium size business in Canada and the US to hire interns or co-op students to do skilled work because the company doesn’t have to pay for the labour.

As a Canadian manufacturer, I can honestly say that the climate in this country has been very hostile toward skilled labour. Why would someone want to learn a skill if the chance of getting a job in that trade is close to zero? Even if someone could get employment in their trade, they will often not be paid a livable wage. That is why we have a glut of lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, people in finance, and government employees. Many people have opted for jobs with easy money; they don’t care about how their choices are changing our society’s wealth distribution or the values that our society once cherished—values like resourcefulness, honest work, and caring for our neighbours’ well-being.

The “made in China” madness that has infected our culture is like a cancer. Consumers, particularly in Canada and the US, have allowed the powers-that-be to brainwash us into believing that our domestic businesses are not competitive, that if we didn’t off-shore manufacturing we simply couldn’t compete. The truth is that China’s economy was enriched at our cost as seen by our huge trade deficit with China; our governments handed over huge amounts of taxpayer money to China to set up factories, and we the consumers continue to enrich China when we buy goods “made in China”. Now China, flush with Western money, is exporting their brand of business to Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.

We the people have allowed the corporate and money interests to control government and we have allowed these powers-that-be to convince us that we can have “more for less”. While they have become enriched, we are experiencing austerity, class entrenchment, unending wars, and debt slavery. The mentality of getting “more for less” isn’t just a Western cultural problem; it is a global problem. Quantity trumps quality in our minds, and we have turned the planet into a huge trash can. Most of the goods “made in China” should never have been manufactured in the first place because they are absolute junk and are completely unnecessary. China’s manufacturing should be for their own domestic use, not for the huge export markets of North America and Europe.

“Made in China” goods have come at a huge cost, none of which has been reflected in terms of price. China’s environment is on the verge of complete collapse; China has a growing problem with eco-migrants; geo-political tensions are already visible with China’s neighbours over water, arable land, lumber, and other resources; we have a climate crisis; our oceans are dying; and we are witnessing huge numbers of animals dying at alarming rates. In Western countries, like the US, UK, and EU, we are starting to see signs of a class war emerging (in Canada, we are still blinded by real estate greed even though our economy is in severe trouble). We have a huge wealth disparity that is destabilizing our society. It is not just that the working class has almost disappeared. It is also about those with wealth who simply do not want to spend their money on paying fair wages for anything; those individuals would rather speculate on real estate or invest money on other greedy activities.

On a personal note, I have found it increasingly difficult over the last few decades to source high-quality supplies that once were readily available. I also have seen that through our government’s trade and tax policies, the marketplace has deliberately shut out a huge amount of European, US, or Canadian-made goods. I personally refuse to purchase Chinese-made goods. I have never seen any Chinese-made item that I consider to be of acceptable quality, whether it is apparel, shoes, electronics, etc. I would rather have my fellow citizens gainfully employed doing work that adds value to our society than have workers in China employed.

What I am talking about in this article is accountability and responsibility. We the people need to be honest about looking at the short-term and long-term consequences of our attitudes and behaviours. Our spending habits carry far more weight than we like to believe or acknowledge. We need to be actively involved in learning about the issues that affect the greater good; we need to fight to have governments that serve the long-term best interests of the people, not corporate or money interests; we need to fight to have a society where each of us has dignity and can have meaningful jobs that make the world a better place for all to live.

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Cree proverb

“I think we have reached a stage now where we need to find solutions to economic injustice in the same place and in the same ways that we find solutions to sustainability. Sustainability on environmental grounds and justice in terms of everyone having a place in the production and consumption system—these are two aspects of the same issue. They have been artificially separated and have to be put back again in the Western way of thinking.”

“Squeezing the lives of people is now being proposed as the saviour of the planet. Through the green economy an attempt is being made to technologize, financialize, privatize and commodify all of the earth’s resources and living processes.”

“Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence.”

“In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.”
Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, author