I am a quality controller in China. I visit factories in all industries and inspect your consumer goods, AMA
As per the title, I have worked with exports from China to Europe for about 5 years. I have worked on both the import and export sides. Today I work as a quality controller, visiting factories in a broad range of industries for small and big companies across Europe, checking working environments, verifying certified product specifications and working with the Chinese to solve issues in manufacturing techniques.
My main experience is in consumer goods such as stationary, mobile accessories, consumer electronics and household appliances/white goods.
Not sure why someone would pretend to be a quality controller in China but I have messaged the mods proof.
It's midnight here and I have a 16 hour flight in 12 hours so I hope you guys can keep me up through the night to avoid jet lag, I will do my best to answer any questions you might have!
Edit @4pm EST: Have to make some preparations for my flight but I will be back in about 4 hours and will continue to answer your questions. Thanks for all the interesting ones so far!
This is going to take me some time to answer but I will do my best because it is a great post.
To truly understand China you must learn about China's history. I don't think any other country's people have worked so hard together for so long to create better lives for themselves, including the government. Again and again they have tried different methods of quickly building a modern society to catch up with the west and failed, only to rise again.
Most of the stories you hear about China, or the quality issues you see are not out of ill will or corruption but rather inexperience or different values. For example due to how restrained resources have been for past generations, wasting materials or food can be seen as something very immoral and for that reason they will rather ship what they regard as "decent" quality than to throw away units and reproduce them. Then you have the fact that the typical factory worker in say Sweden and Ningbo have very different past experiences, they will therefore have very different perspectives on what constitutes "decent".
The different perspectives aspect also plays in to happiness and wages. For example in some industries a worker may earn 500USD per month but due to the costs of living that may very well reflect a wage of 10 or 15 times that depending on where in the west you live.
It used to be in China that the government would strive for everyone to work and live in communes rather than privately. This was very common about 50 years ago and lives on in parts of Chinese industry today. Whereas whole villages would live and work together to feed the whole village back then, today it is common to have residential housing in connection to the factory where all the workers live.
Yes there are many factories where workers might work 12 hours per day or more, but I used to run my own company and I probably worked more than the average Chinese factory worker and I loved it, because I was happy with what I was doing. The same way supporting yourself and/or your family brings the same satisfaction to many in China.
The main reason quality is often poor in the government run factories is because these factories are mainly not run to make money but to employ as many as possible. They will hire just about anyone and as many as possible, and to them if a product is so poor that it required new units to produce, it simply means more work and is therefore not a concern.
We stay away from those factories and the ones we do work with sign agreements on ethics and working environments. In my experience the typical Chinese factory worker lives 50 meters from the factory together with his or her family and coworkers in a typical 5 story apartment building. They have breakfast together in the factory kitchen, work from 8 to 11 and have a 2 hour break, work to 4pm and have a 15min break, then work to 6 and have a 1 hour break after which they will either not work at all or work up until 9pm if something needs to ship out the same day. There are many aspects apart from work that makes up if a person is happy with their lives of course, but I think I meet more westerners who complain about their working hours than Chinese people.
There are many horrible things to see in China just as in any other country of course, and I am amazed on a daily basis by some of the cultural differences. Just last week a woman let her son urinate on my travel charger on the floor of the train carriage we were in and no one found it odd because of course the kid can't help that he needs to go. There are horrible factories stories as well, I think one company many have heard about is FOXCONN, although I learned just the other day that one is actually Taiwan owned, which is interesting if that is true given the relationship between Taiwan and China.
Oh and one more thing thing, a lot of the quality issues you see in the west are due to purchasers going for to China to find the lowest price possible. If you go to the cheapest market n the world looking for the cheapest price in that market, you're gonna have a bad time.
Great response, that's exactly what I wanted to hear!
I figured that the stories I've heard were the worst examples people could come up with, so it's nice to get a response that doesn't have a hidden agenda behind it. The working conditions sound odd to me, but liveable (living literally in the shadow of my workplace would drive me crazy, though). It's such a different culture that I'm not surprised that I find it odd. I was pleasantly surprised by how much break time they get. Granted, those were the ethically-sound factories you visited, but it's a lot better than I had expected.
I think I meet more westerners who complain about their working hours than Chinese people.
It's amazing how much we take for granted, isn't it? I'm guilty of this too, and I basically set my own hours, and I work a desk-job for fuck's sake. I'm at work right now, even. We've got it pretty damn good over here. Good to know that it's not all death-march sweatshops over there, though.
Thanks for the awesome response! Sorry about your charger! If it makes you feel better, one time my younger neighbor peed on my foot while I wasn't looking.
Thanks, and by the way I just read your other comment regarding workers lying about their working hours and such. It is true that some people in China work 6 or 7 days a week, I work 6 days a week myself. However China has a lot of public holidays, and they also have the lunar moon and Chinese new years festivals which basically shuts the whole country down throughout February where they all go for 2-4 weeks of vacation, which every purchaser in the west hates by the way as you can imagine. ;)
Regarding working hours I am sure it sadly happens, but what I described in my reply is the common case, not the exception, and this I have seen with my own eyes. Funniest thing a factory has tried to trick me into believing must've been when they tried to tell me they had the same secure working environment rules as Sweden, and that any worker was allowed to shut down the factory at any point if they felt something was dangerous. Not even true in Sweden, haha, but I guess that only proves that Sales managers will say anything regardless which continent you are on.
I doubt he'd be allowed to see the truly horrid ones, like the labor camps the government runs. They make a lot of the cheap plastic shit like toys.
Shame. I saw a documentary about Wal-Mart where they interviewed a few workers whose stories were really sad. They got like 1 day off a year. There was a couple who lived together, but worked the opposite shift, so the only time they could spend together on days they worked (read: 364 days of the year) was for like an hour at night in between shifts, where they would cook noodles together and try and enjoy the little bit of time they get to spend with the person they love. Many feels were felt by me when I saw that.
They had QC people come, but the workers were instructed to lie to them, telling them they only work 6 days a week, only 12 hours a day, etc. Just wondering if OP had any personal experiences regarding factory conditions, good or bad.
Oh I have stories, just taking a quick smoking break I'll share something interesting! OP will deliver
Did you get into the industry before everything was "Made in China" ?
I got into the industry close to 6 years ago so things were already booming, but the difference in just 6 years in Chinas progress has really been astonishing.
I'm sure! Has your income changed significantly in the same way China's stance in the world economy has?
Well I worked in Sweden for the first leg of this experience and I live in Hong Kong now which is very westernized, so I think a better answer for me to give you would be if the typical Chinese person I have gotten to know has seen any changes.
I would say in my experience there is definitely a growing middle class in China, and the lower classes are seeing a lot of changes too. China can be funny sometimes because it is like a child that grows too quickly and gets aches. You see people in dirty clothes who look homeless sitting on the side of the street with a brand new smartphone and things like that. Biggest visible difference now from 6 years ago is probably the cars, there are so many brand new luxury cars now compared to then.
Has anyone ever tried to bribe you to overlook things?
What kind of factories? Like do you have a specific field?
For the field see here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1gnvxs/i_am_a_quality_controller_in_china_i_visit/cam0n36
They mostly will not approach you directly with that sort of thing, they will instead try to be hospitable to a level where you will rather be their longterm friend than reject their production. One factory manager hinted once at getting me a woman but mainly they will take you out to dinner, drinking, try to get you as drunk as possible so you'll be too hung over to do a good job, go to KTV (karaoke) etc etc. Luckily they seem to always get drunk on 2 beers so I've managed to stay professional. Relationships are important in China so you cannot really reject their attempts either.
Have there ever been threats? If so how have you handled them.
Here is sort of an answer:
For me in my daily routine most "threats" consists of angry factory managers refusing to fix issues and saying theyd rather throw away the 15000 lamps they just made than fix the 47 I pointed our errors on because theyre offended.
What seems to work best for me in that situation is to simply explain that I am not their enemy, they should see me as an asset because my job is simply to make sure the end client wants to keep buying from them and so our goal is shared. This rarely guarantees any help with the issues once they are mad but at least it calms them down, haha.
What is 'up to par' in China?
This question seems easy enough when you read it but it is actually quite complex, there are after all over a billion Chinese. To give you an as easy answer as I can, think of it as perspective. What you consider up to par is based on your previosu experiences growing up in the west, and what a typical Chinese factory worker sees as up to par is based on his or her experiences growing up during the cultural revolution, starving in a shed in a village or commune. This is why they will not see the scratches that you spot from 10 meters away on that new iPhone case you were approaching to buy in the store.
How many times have you gotten lead poisoning?
I seem to have good resistance but a colleague spilled the chemical from the led testing kit on her hands once and she said she felt ill the whole day and her hands were itching for a week after.
Have you ever had to Nope the fuck out of a factory? How did that turn out?
While I do not personally no anyone who has been, there are stories of quality controllers who have been held hostage for final balance payment when they inform the factories that the goods are in too poor condition to be paid for.
I have had two close calls, once as a purchaser and once as an inspector. First one was a factory that refused to drive us back to the train station until they had proven that their goods were of good quality since we told them we were not interested. This place was out in the middle of nowhere so we could not take a taxi. They kept driving us around from building to building for about 4 hours in this industrial area, showing us all their different product lines until eventually we pretended we liked what we saw, at which point they happily took us back.
Second one as an inspector was easier, I just told them I was done and made sure to not mention the result while appearing pleased, as soon as I was back at HQ we informed them about the inspection result.
Do Chinese managers slap their employees?
I have never seen that happen although I have seen plenty of Chinese women slap their men. ;) They are not easy to argue with and I should know I am dating one, haha. Managed to avoid slaps so far though!
What is the most heinous infraction you have encountered? Have you ever had to temporarily/permanently shut a factory down until conditions improved?
Worst thing I saw was a woman sitting at a big 50 years old punching machine that was punching together a small metal board and a metal piece on top of it. She would put the two pieces in under the machine and it would punch an attaching clip through both pieces. She did this with her roughly 4 years old son in her lap. My first and last time in that factory, we decided not to work with them.
Unfortunately shutting factories down is not really in our power, we are sent by the end client and have no say as to what goes on in a factory, we can only help the end client make informed decisions as to where they bring their wallets which in the end is what you hope makes the factories shape up.
How did you get this job?
Got a job for an importer from China the old fashioned way, started my own company doing it after a year, one of the companies we worked with in Hong Kong called me when I closed my company down and offered me a job, I feel quite lucky!
What is it like (conditions, wage) for the workers in the factories?
What types of products do you do QC for?
Here are some more specific examples of products I have worked on in the last year:
- Office clipboards
- Plastic and leather car body and interior parts
- Lighting fixtures
- Whirlpool bathtubs
- Massage chairs
- Soft toys
- iPhone/Android cases
- Store rack systems
Most materials and sizes, mainly focused on consumer goods. :)
Have to make some preparations for my flight but I will be back in about 4 hours and will continue to answer your questions. Thanks for all the interesting ones so far!
Two questions, Are you Chinese? 2nd, kinda related to the first, are you a party member and how is the parties influence felt on your job(I am very interested in the micro details of the party and their operations)?
I am Swedish so sadly I will have to disappoint you here, not in the party
Have you ever been forced by your higher-ups to 'okay' a factory that wasn't up to par?
The final decision on all quality control reports falls on the account managers responsible for each client. Very often will I find a product sub-par but the account manager knows the client well enough to know that it is within their acceptable level, so yes it happens frequently and can be very frustrating on a personal level but not in the tasty immoral way that would make for a better story.
What is the most rewarding part about your job, least?
The most rewarding is that I get to learn Chinese and travel this entire vast country which despite some cultural differences I really love, meet new people and work with all these kinds of different products. Every day is different and I always learn something new.
The worst part is probably the working hours. I work on average 11 hours per day 6 days a week, simply because it is expected in the industry I am in due to how competitive the market is. And I say that living in Hong Kong which is more like London than Beijing to me.
How are you enjoying the cultural parts of living there? Food, nightlife, dating, etc.
Well I live in Hong Kong, so as for nightlife imagine New York or any other major western city, this place is not like mainland China. Dont really go out for nightlife in China except for karaoke every now and then.
Food is great! biggest difference is the variety, idiculous how many different and still widely famous and commonly eaten dishes there are. Lost 11kg since moving here too, the food is quite healthy for the mostpart.
I met a hong kong girl a while back and things are going pretty good so far, fingers crossed eh. I would say the biggest difference here is that the parents are more respected and traditional, I often feel like it is more important her mother approved of me than her, haha.
Anything in aprticular you want to know more about just let me know, ill try my best to answer mre indepth
Do you think that with the changing views of the younger generations (who have been more exposed to western culture from a young age) will change the way the factories are run and what they produce as they start to take control of the worlds largest production companies?
No I think it will take at least 1 or 2, maybe 3 generations before that discussion is warranted. The Chinese youth are still not very exposed to the west as you'd expect. They know brands and ads but they never watch western TV or browse western social sites. They have their own versions of most of them.
The Chinese goverment though are trying to grow the muiddle class by introducing more hightech industry to China, and moving their biggest industried today to Africa where they are investing heavily, that is a development that will be interesting to follow.
Answered here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1gnvxs/i_am_a_quality_controller_in_china_i_visit/cam4996
Basically that is not really a factory but rather a prison with a production line, much like many prisons even in my native Sweden. I could not speak to the living conditions though, as you can imagine civilizan quality inspectors dont really go to prisons for inspection that often in any country.
The letter, whose authenticity has not been verified
I would wage that the most reliable source on that topic would be the American purchaser. All I know about the Falun Gong situation is that both sides accuse each other of spreading false information to the international audience.
Does the possible theft of intellectual property factor into your analysis?
Definitely. I think the biggest reason intellectual property is a concern here is because due to their history, sharing knowledge and property is not only normal but encouraged. Historically people in China have been living together, whole villages sharing living accommodations, work tasks and food distribution.
Where in the west you will see certain types of companies gather in certain areas, here any type of industry can grow up anywhere. You can be walking through a fancy clothes shopping district and suddenly see an alley with 30 toilet stores. The reasoning is that if they are all diong so well selling toilets there, you should too.
Our most common tactic to ensure intellectual property is protected apart from signing agreements is to not let any factory produce more than one piece of the final product, assembling them at a supplier we trust fully.
What is considered 'up to par' in China?
What are your thoughts on Forced Labor-made products such as (I'm sure you have heard) the one about Halloween Decorations made at Masanjia Labor Camp. And are some factories workers there exposed to debt slavery, and anything that would be consider anything "unmoral"? How much do you actually get to witness when you are inspecting?
Having read up on it now, I must apologize and say I am not qualified to answer this. It seems to me that the institution is a prison first and a factory second, which would mean they would have about as many civilian quality inspectors coming to visit as any prison in the world with a workshop, namely none.
I don't really know that much about Falun Gong either apart from the fact that they come here to Hong Kong and demonstrate a lot in the streets with banners. They claim the government wants to outlaw them for disagreeing with policy and the government claims they are violent I think, but I really couldn't tell you more than Google on that topic either sorry.
Would you rather fight a horsed size duck or 100 duck sized horses?
Chinese medium-sized robots? (purely google translate, my current browser doesn't even support unicode properly)
100 Chinese sized bots ;p but it is not completely accurate, haha
Can you tell us some about the conditions for the workers in China? Hours, wages, working conditions, policies on breaks, etc. I hear some horror stories about factory conditions but some experienced input would be nice.
Do the workers seem happy or grateful for their jobs, or are they overworked and miserable? Do they make enough money to live a halfway-decent life? I'm just curious since I've heard the work culture is so different from over here in the US.
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