The FT has a long investigative article, suggesting that schemes in which Western firms monitor their Chinese subcontractors to see whether they conform to labour standards aren’t working. The subcontractors are getting increasingly adept at cooking the books.
Factory managers in China are becoming increasingly sophisticated at falsifying worker time cards and payroll documents to disguise irregularities including underpayment, excessive hours and inadequate health and safety provision. Auditors estimate that more than half of factories they see in China are forging some of their records – meaning that many of the international companies that source from China are learning less about the actual working conditions in the factories they use, even as they step up efforts to monitor them.
But if Chinese suppliers are only pretending to comply with these standards, the auditors hired by Western companies are often only pretending to check up on them properly.
As the social compliance auditing industry has grown in response to increased demand it has left many auditors with less time to spend at each factory. “I tell auditors that I cannot tell them the truth in relation to some of their questions. They smile and move on to something else,” a manager at one large garment factory in Dongguan told CSR Asia, a Hong Kong-based research group. “They are complicit in the deception.”