CSR for the SMEs in China- the impact it can have in its region

A walk around a Western Managed Factory X in China- its impact on the local business scene

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a small, Western run factory here in China, to see what CSR meant in a local working factory here in China. What would the challenges be for a Western run company (5 yrs in China) , and what were some of the key impacts it would have on its surroundings?

So I got in the car for an adventurous ride to some unknown territories of the Chinese Highways to the factory site far far away; after three years of painstakingly learning some Chinese characters, I finally saw the benefits while I drove around  to get to the factory with only Chinese road signs and location map to guide me. When I stepped into the factory building, first thing I noticed was the cleanliness (spic and span) of the factory floor and equipment, and the huge LED notice board above the offices in the factory, stating the Key Performance Indicators of the site: days without incident worked at the factory were counting close to the one thousand days, which showed directly the importance of a safe and healthy workplace there.  All around the walls of the offices were the key company values in English and Chinese, as commitment, quality and humor & fun.  I had a coffee with the western manager to talk about what the company does, and how they operate here in China, for an hour and a half and we could talk about their CSR through going the actual operational side of the factory; the layout of the factory was designed for efficiency and safety, show casing that CSR is an integral part of all company processes.

A few issues stood out for me:

1. The local government had had a keen interest in the overall quality of the factory site, giving X an opportunity to showcase some safety measures taken.  The local government than inspired by this, enforced the other (Chinese and Western) SMEs in the neighborhood to build the same kind of safety measures.  (Not making all other companies very happy, who were now forced to construct the same expensive flooring as X…)

3. The low turnover on the work floor: one of the major HR issues in China is how to retain the (especially younger) employees, who are eager to move on to better salaries in the next company after initial training and investment of the first company. X had to train its technical and office staff (offering technical and other training on site). And although staff sometimes complains about the height of the salaries, turnover is low and loyalty high.  It would be interesting to find out a little bit more why this is happening at X in China; would the company culture (including ping pong table) on site, the safety of the job, or the job content itself be interesting to employees?

4. The CSR standards were part of the overall internal process of quality and efficiency. I did not use the 36 (!) key CSR issues of ISO 26000 in words when asking questions to the manager, but kept them at the back of my mind, whilst we walked through the whole factory from input to output.  Employees were well aware of the CSR standards (esp. Safety) of X, but it would be interesting to know if they felt intrinsically responsible to present and enforce these safety standards when for instance sub-contractors are on site working. At the moment only the western manager, when he would be around, would tell sub-contractors to use all the safety equipment X provides for the employees. The question is: does only the western manager enforce the safety standard then, because he is the boss (and employees would not enforce if the boss could say the same thing), or do the employees think that the safety standards are only meant for the own employees of X on site?