The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage

Alexandra Harney, Author
Alexandra Harney, Author Penguin Press $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59420-157-8
Reviewed on: 12/10/2007
Release date: 04/01/2008

Dreaded by competitors, “the China price” has become “the lowest price possible,” the hallmark of China’s incredibly cheap, ubiquitous manufacturers. Financial Times editor Harney explores the hidden price tag for China’s economic juggernaut. It’s a familiar but engrossing tale of Dickensian industrialization. Chinese factory hands work endless hours for miserable wages in dusty, sweltering workshops, slowly succumbing to occupational ailments or suddenly losing a limb to a machine. Coal-fired power plants spew pollutants into nearly unbreathable air. Migrants from the countryside, harassed by China’s hukou system of internal passports, form a readily exploitable labor pool with few legal protections. The system is fueled by Western investment and, Harney observes, hypocrisy. Retailers like Wal-Mart impose social responsibility codes on their Chinese suppliers, but refuse to pay the costs of raising labor standards; the result is a pervasive system of cheating through fake employment records and secret uninspected factories, to which Western companies turn a blind eye. But Harney also finds stirrings of change; aided by regional labor shortages, rising wages and intrepid activists. Chinese workers are demanding—and gradually winning—more rights. Packed with facts, figures and sympathetic portraits of Chinese workers and managers, Harney’s is a perceptive take on the world’s workshop. (Mar. 31)

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