The session explored the increasing movement towards sustainability in China.
Martin Ma, China representative for SAI, opened the session by discussing how the standards movement has triggered a national debate on China’s value system and the overall direction of national development. He described how SAI’s work with more than 300,000 workers in certified factories have helped other standards and systems working in China to further improve working conditions in the manufacturing sector.
Nonetheless, he made clear that work still needs to be done to engage the vast number of manufacturing facilities; an estimated 200 million workers alone are employed by factories along China’s manufacturing-heavy coastline. One major gap for Chinese factories is providing social insurance; an important principle in the SA8000 standard of SAI. Ma also described the challenges standards systems face working in China, such as the need to engage local stakeholders and provide capacity building for operations attempting to comply with standards.
Zhu Lingbo, Sino-German CSR Project Technical Advisor to GIZ, works on a joint project with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce to scale up voluntary social standards in the country. Lingbo described how she has seen Chinese authorities increasingly interested in standards and corporate social responsibility (CSR), where just a few years ago the country was hesitant, or even downright skeptical of the concepts. Today, the government has declared that state owned enterprises should not only consider the social impacts of their operations, but also issue CSR reports.
New national policies centered on what the Chinese call “Harmonious Society” according to Ma, reflect some of the increased acceptance of the voluntary standards system movement. Today, additional standards and systems are being developed, such as a management system created recently by the Chinese National Textile and Apparel Council. National entities are seeing the importance of incorporating international best practices into these local standards, and wish to see those standards recognised at the international level.
The speakers attempted to paint a picture of how a standards system might best begin to work effectively in China. Ma Lichao, China representative for the FSC, stressed that people working in standards should take the time needed to explain their projects to local stakeholders. He offered that today, the Chinese government is supportive of transparency between local and international stakeholders, but working with civil society organisations is not common practice, and outreach requires persistence with government entities, since traditionally the government will have the most knowledge of stakeholders, and resources for consultative processes. The expert panel stressed the importance of engaging intermediary institutions such as the Ministry of Commerce, or industry associations that are often closely connected to the government. For example, standards systems could first show the benefits of their work to an industry association and a few of its member companies, and then see if the association sees value in sharing information with government entities to build additional stakeholder support.
The session sent a clear message to the conference attendees: China today is more engaged than ever in sustainability, in transparency, and in CSR.
To download resources from this and other sessions at the ISEAL Conference Public Day visit our conference resources page.