Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network


China: March Evaluation Visits to Three Giant Footwear Plants

Plant-wide health and safety committees involving production workers as full, active committee members have been established and are beginning to function in three large sports shoe factories in the Pearl River Delta of southern China. These developments were evaluated in visits to each of the three facilities March 12th to 14th by members of the project Coordinating Committee which organized the health and safety training in Dongguan City last August to prepare committee members for their roles on site.

The evaluation team consisted of Professor Dara O’Rourke of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Network Coordinator Garrett Brown, local project coordinator Juliana So of the Chinese Working Women Network, and staff members of three of the four Hong Kong-based non-governmental organizations who participated in the August training in China. The plants involved are the Kong Tai Shoe plant in Longgan, the Pegasus plant in Panyu, and the Yue Yuen II plant in Dongguan City, which produce shoes for Reebok, Nike and adidas, respectively. The plants are all operated by Taiwanese companies.

The evaluation team spent a day at each facility, met with the plants’ newly formed or expanded health and safety committees, inspected parts of the facilities where the committees had been active, and met in small groups with committee members to identify the successes and challenges facing each of the committees. The nascent committees consist of 30 members at the 5,000-worker Kong Tai factory, 60 members at the 11,000-worker Pegasus plant, and 100 members at the 30,000-worker Yue Yuen II facility.

The biggest success of the committees, perhaps, is the fact they have been established at all, and are beginning to carry out key functions of providing training, identifying and correcting hazards with the direct involvement of production-line workers from various departments in the three facilities. This is believed to be the first time in recent Chinese history that factory health and safety committees involving workers as active members have been established.

Each of the plant committees, to different degrees in each facility, have begun regularized functioning involving periodic inspections of the facilities, correction of identified hazards, investigation of accidents, injuries and reported illnesses, and additional training of committee members and the general workforce.

The challenges reported by committee members at each plant included resistance of some first-line supervisors and department heads to the committees’ work, old equipment in some departments that is difficult to make safe and costly to replace, conflicts between the time needed to complete their committee tasks and their responsibilities on the production line, and the need for more training of committee members, especially in the areas of effective communication and technical aspects of workplace safety.

All three committees were enthusiastic about their initial work and hopeful about expanding their reach and impact on the plant floor. Each committee expressed a strong interest in meeting with the committees from the two other plants to exchange experiences and to obtain further training. The Hong Kong-based NGOs have also expressed an interest in continuing their interaction with these three plants, and involvement with the issue of workplace health and safety in China generally.

A meeting of the three plant committees in the summer of 2002 was approved in principle by the full project Coordinating Committee which met on March 15th at the Yue Yuen II facility. A tentative agenda for a two-day meeting, one for additional training of committee members by local experts in China and Hong Kong, and a second day for sharing experiences, difficulties and successes between the three committees, will be further developed by a planning committee to be established this spring.

The Coordinating Committee meeting also approved the outlines and key content of the project’s final consensus report which will formally end this project when it is issued in May. Once the final report has been released, the confidentiality agreement which has governed all participants will be lifted, and additional comments or perspectives may be forthcoming from individual participants.

Another important aspect of the Coordinating Committee’s discussions was consideration of how to apply the activities and lessons of this project at these three plants to the other 100,000 factories in the Pearl River Delta, let alone the tens of thousands of facilities throughout China and Asia. Recognizing that "even the longest journey starts with a single step," Coordinating Committee participants were hopeful that the proposed exchanges and ongoing activities of the health and safety committees in these three plants will provide a positive example for other facilities, industries and managements in China.

Also at the Coordinating Committee meeting, all participants received a CD-ROM version of the Chinese-language binder used in the August 2001 training, which can be used by the participating organizations throughout China. Both the Chinese-language and the English-language version of the training binder are available from the LOHP at UC Berkeley.