A Decent Factory

A Decent Factory

A Decent Factory (Finland/France, 2004, Director: Thomas Balmès, 79 minutes): In this documentary, Finnish cellphone giant Nokia sends its recently hired Ethics and Environmental Specialist to China to audit one of its suppliers’ factories. But instead of a manifesto on the dangers of outsourcing and globalization, we get a much smaller film about cultural differences. Well, it’s not exactly that simple, either. I guess this one just didn’t catch fire for me the way I thought it would. Sure, the Finns find labour law violations. But in the presence of the factory’s European management, they tend to focus on small things (some chemicals are stored near the toilets) and gloss over the bigger issues (not a single employee at the factory has signed a contract). The truth is that the entire Chinese manufacturing sector operates by very different rules than the Europeans are used to. I looked forward to hearing the auditors interview the mostly-female employees of the factory, but when they do, they discover the sort of complaints made by factory workers everywhere: their superiors insult them, the cafeteria food is bad. The truth is that none of them actually complain about the low wages, or the forced overtime or mandatory deductions for food and accomodation. It seems like they are content to live in single-sex company dormitories. Things that seem to horrify the progressive Finns don’t seem to faze most of the Chinese.

So, at least by focussing in so tightly on one factory, I think it’s impossible to look at the bigger issues involved in globalization and the migration of jobs overseas. Many of the issues seem to involve more than just economics. There is a lot of cultural disconnection going on as well.

That’s not to say I’m an apologist for unfair labour practices. There are widespread problems with almost all of China’s factories, hinted at by the film. Most factories keep at least two sets of books; one to show the government and auditors like Nokia’s, and one more accurate set. And the issue of government corruption is not even mentioned.

So, even though the film failed to address these issues in a larger context, it was still an enlightening visit to a place where most of the world’s manufacturing will be done in the future, if it’s not already being done there now.


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