In order to keep tabs on suppliers, Social Audits are a good start, but most of the time they are scheduled in advance and staff interviewed by the auditors know that what they say is being watched closely by factory owners. Plus it is not uncommon for management to coach staff on how to answer the questions to be asked by the auditors.
So how do you really know what a factory is like? Hire an investigator! Below is a bit of an email between myself and the representative, Kevyn, of the firm I eventually hired about how they conduct their investigations.
Here is how we can give you an unbiased view of how the sub-contractor operates when they do not realize they are being monitored.
We do not present name cards when visiting, we may act as an interested buyer. What can that add?
As an interested buyer, we have no right to inspect their accounting books, but we do have the right to inspect their production facilities. If they tell you they can produce 10,000 widgets per day, but have only one production line that is obviously not up to the task, where do they produce? Outsourced. Common problem in China.
As an interested buyer, we might ask for a sample right off the production line. NOT a sample that they have made especially to show you. We would send this sample to you. Is the quality the same as what you were expecting? Are the materials up to speed? If not, you may have a problem. This use of the “Golden Sample” is common in China. The first sample the factory gives you is fine, the large production…not so much.
There are many ways we might approach this problem, one of which includes sending one or more consultants into the factory area looking for a job. A job seeker does not have access to management, like an official Social Auditor may, but a job seeker would have ample opportunity to discuss the working conditions, labor relations, management, etc. at the target factory. Quite a non-traditional way to approach this, but usually very effective.
Our job seeker would approach the workers as they enter or leave the factory, invite them to a meal, have a few beers with them. He would do this for two or three days, targeting a different worker or (ideally) group of workers each evening. Our professional fees for this work are US$500 per person per day (perhaps you would consider two consultants–different factory sites, different points of view, etc.) and the client is responsible for disbursements including travel, lodging, and entertainment.
If you have not done a complete media and Internet search, perhaps you would consider having us do that as well. We target all the traditional media in addition to blogs and chats. We can make telephone calls to reporters, competitors, suppliers, etc. for their comments as well. This does not usually take a lot of time and we can usually do this part for professional fees of US$600 per target investigated.
Add investigations to your China project management tool box!
Wishing you successful China sourcing!
About the blogger
Mike Bellamy is an Advisory Board Member & Featured Blogger at the not-for-profit China Sourcing Information Center (www.ChinaSourcingInfo.org). He is also the author of, “The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing” (chinasourcinginfo.org/book) and founder of PassageMaker Sourcing Solutions (www.PSSchina.com)