Labour rights in China

by Henry Farrell on April 22, 2005

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.”

Update: Thanks to Stephen Frost at CSR Asia for pointing to a no-sub-required version of the story, and to the CSR-Asia report quoted in the FT story

Crooked Timber’s Field of Positions

by Kieran Healy on April 22, 2005

Thanks to the SQL gurus who responded so quickly to my “question”: Their help allowed me to get the data I wanted, namely, a table showing how often each of our authors has posted in each of our categories. A matrix like this allows for a “correspondence analysis”: of the joint space of authors and topics, in the spirit of “Pierre Bourdieu”:

I’ve updated the analysis from the original post, following some of my own advice to amalgamate the categories that different people were using to post a short joke or trivial item (like “Look like flies” or “Et Cetera” and so on). I grouped all of them into a “Trivia” category. “Books” and “Literature” were grouped together, as were “Internet”, “Intellectual Property” and “Information Technology”. Finally, I also grouped “British Politics” and “UK Politics” into a single category. Unfortunately I had to drop Jon Mandle from the analysis (sorry Jon!) because none of his posts has a category.

Correspondence analysis lets you represent two kinds of entity simultaneously in two dimensions, allowing you to see how the elements of each entity are related to one another, and to those in the other entity. The idea is to reduce high-dimensional spaces (many authors, many categories) to low-dimensionsal ones with minimal loss of information. The figure below (also available in “a larger size”: and in “PDF format”: gives the results for the CT data.

The results are interesing. You can assess the similarity of authors and categories to one another by their closeness on the diagram — or, more specifically, by the size of the angle formed between any two entities and the origin. Entities further out from the origin are more influential in structuring the dimensions that the figure is constructed on.

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Buke thing

by Daniel on April 22, 2005

By way of recompense to our readers for the dull bout of egotism below, here’s a link to one of the finest and most life-affirming things on the internet (Harry B, this one in particular is for you).

“Hold Your Plums”, featuring Billy Butler and Wally Scott on Radio Merseyside, is just an extraordinary piece of improvised folk-theatre. To begin with, it was a fairly banal bog-standard quiz, loosely based on a fruit machine (hence the double entendre). But as time went on, a combination of the native Scouse wit and the slight vagueness of housewives who have been able to have their first drink of the weekend as the kids set off for Sunday school, it turned into something far more comic.

Billy basically developed this Quixotic urge to ensure that everyone got the answers right. So he gave them clues. And they still got them wrong. It’s basically a phone-in quiz show for the very confused (and for people taking the mickey on purpose). Oh, it’s indescribable, just have a listen to it. The extracts on the BBC website are all named after the phrase that the caller is meant to be guessing. The most famous extract is “What did Walter Raleigh bring back from the New World?”, but my personal favourite is “Springboks”. This all falls apart on a strange point of local microgeography; there are some part of the North West of England where “book”, “hook”, “look” etc are all pronounced to rhyme with “puke”. But anyway; there’s about an hour’s listening pleasure here; forward the link to an expat Scouser of your acquaintance and they will be grateful.

PS: Someone once tried to describe my personality problems to a mutual acquaintance by saying that I bore the same relationship to the world that Billy Butler did to his callers. Make of that what you will.

Book thing

by Daniel on April 22, 2005

I was going to write up my election forecasting model and I will (taster; the LibDems might be in a lot more trouble than anyone thinks), but I am too damnably tired this evening. So instead, here’s my responses to that book quiz which was so very hot about two weeks ago. I think it was passed on to me by John Band or Ted or somebody.

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SQL Query Query

by Kieran Healy on April 22, 2005

Any MySQL gurus out there, who also know about WordPress’s database structure? I have a question for you.
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AUT boycotts Israel

by Chris Bertram on April 22, 2005

The Association of University Teachers — the main UK union for university teachers, librarians, computer technicians etc — has “voted at its Council to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities”: and the boycott may be extended to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also. I think this is a big mistake and will not do anything to help the cause of Palestinian statehood. Critics — and Daily Mail columnists — will seize on this decision and claim that it demonstrates that British academics are obsessively anti-Israeli (and possibly anti-semitic). The truth is that the AUT is not particularly representative, that aforementioned librarians and computer technicians often play more of a role than academics, that poor attendance at union meetings means that single-issue activists find it easy to push through resolutions on political topics, etc. Will anyone pay any attention to the boycott? A few, perhaps. But most British academics will continue to work with Israeli academics as before.