CCR CSR looks at the plight chil­dren of­ten left be­hind in China’s in­ter­nal mass mi­gra­tion.

In the 90s and 2000s, mass in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion was needed to spur on China’s man­u­fac­tur­ing boom. The in­equal­i­ties mi­grant work­ers faced as ‘out­siders’ in large cities, also came to light.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - ANRIKE VISSER

Oneof the is­sues was the so-called Hukou sys­tem sep­a­rat­ing ur­ban and ru­ral peo­ple mak­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for mi­grant work­ers to ac­cess so­cial ser­vices in the cities where they work and lived. The Hukou sys­tem lim­its ac­cess to so­cial ser­vices to the area you’re reg­is­tered at, and chang­ing from ru­ral to ur­ban regis­tra­tion could mean los­ing land rights ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Guardian.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has slowly been rolling out re­forms to tackle the Hukou sys­tem nec­es­sary to con­tinue grow­ing the econ­omy partly de­pen­dant on mi­grant work. Ac­cord­ing to plans from China’s State Coun­cil men­tioned by The Diplo­mat this re­form will be grad­ual and only for “‘de­sir­able’ ur­ban mi­grants”.

Hukou is not the only trou­ble on the mind of mi­grant work­ers. Much less has than been said about the dif­fi­cul­ties of chil­dren left be­hind in towns while their par­ents work in the big cities. Chil­dren are the in­vis­i­ble cost of mi­grant work. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pub­lished new of­fi­cial guide­lines that seek to es­tab­lish and im­prove the ser­vice sys­tem for the care of left-be­hind chil­dren in ru­ral ar­eas.

Luck­ily, the gov­ern­ment is not the only one try­ing to al­le­vi­ate the sit­u­a­tion of mi­grant work­ers and their ex­tended fam­i­lies; busi­nesses are start­ing to see the busi­ness ben­e­fits of re­unit­ing work­ers with their chil­dren.

Ab­sent­minded in a fac­tory

With an es­ti­mated 61 mil­lion left-be­hind chil­dren in China, many par­ents worry about the safety of their chil­dren back home. Nat­u­rally, par­ents will be dis­tracted and wor­ried at work when their chil­dren are far away. Are they be­ing prop­erly su­per­vised? How can they be sure they are safe? Can the grand­par­ents re­ally keep an eye on them through­out the day?

The Cen­ter for Child Rights & Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity (CCR CSR) – a so­cial en­ter­prise that helps im­ple­ment child-rights fo­cused sus­tain­abil­ity pro­grams for com­pa­nies sourc­ing in Asia, con­ducted a sur­vey in 2013. It found that 38% of par­ents ad­mit

to mak­ing fre­quent mis­takes at work due to wor­ry­ing about their chil­dren, and 46% even­tu­ally quit work in or­der to be closer to the fam­ily. Sum­mer es­pe­cially is an anx­ious time for work­ers while their chil­dren re­quire even more su­per­vi­sion dur­ing the holiday sea­son.

Chil­dren at risk

Even if par­ents do man­age to take their chil­dren with them, many other is­sues arise. 36 mil­lion chil­dren mi­grat­ing with their par­ents in their search for work. Many of these mi­grant chil­dren are not al­lowed to at­tend pub­lic schools or there are sim­ply no schools or day care avail­able close to the fac­tory ar­eas.

The sum­mer hol­i­days also bring chal­lenges to those fac­tory work­ers liv­ing with their chil­dren. With pri­vate child­care cen­tres too pricey for many work­ers or with no fam­ily mem­bers or care­givers avail­able to step in dur­ing work hours, some par­ents opt to take their chil­dren with them to the fac­tory floor. There is a high risk of in­jury and a child has to re­main hid­den dur­ing in­spec­tions. If a child is found dur­ing an in­spec­tion, the back­lash for the fac­tory and even their clients, can be se­vere.

Keep­ing chil­dren away from the pro­duc­tion floor

In 2016 CCR CSR rolled out a Fac­tory Child Friendly Spa­ces (FCFS) pi­lot pro­gram at five fac­to­ries in China. These fac­tory-based spa­ces pro­vided the chil­dren of work­ers with a safe, in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment where they learned new skills and played games un­der the su­per­vi­sion of trained staff and at no cost to the par­ents.

Ac­cord­ing to Ines Kaempfer, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of CCR CSR, the need for these space was great. “Dur­ing fac­tory vis­its in the sum­mer, we’ve seen first­hand how par­ents bring their chil­dren di­rectly to the pro­duc­tion area. Some even get their kids in­volved in the work to ward off bore­dom, while oth­ers sit on top of the work counter scar­ily close to the ma­chines. We’ve also seen kids as young as 5 run­ning around the fac­tory com­pletely un­su­per­vised. For many of these par­ent work­ers, the only al­ter­na­tive op­tion is to lock them up in dorm rooms all day.”

FCFS was open dur­ing the sum­mer months and wel­comed both left-be­hind chil­dren and chil­dren liv­ing with their par­ents. This gave an op­por­tu­nity to spend more time with their chil­dren af­ter work while keep­ing chil­dren away from the pro­duc­tion floor.

Two of the par­tic­i­pat­ing fac­to­ries were toy fac­to­ries of ICTI CARE’s eth­i­cal sup­ply chain pro­gram. “As the eth­i­cal sup­ply chain pro­gram for the global toy in­dus­try, find­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove the lives of fac­tory work­ers is our core pri­or­ity. Do­mes­tic mi­grant work­ers make up the ma­jor­ity of the work­force at toy fac­to­ries in China, and many of these work­ers are par­ents with Left-Be­hind Chil­dren.

Our child friendly spa­ces pi­lots have de­liv­ered real ben­e­fits for mi­grant toy fac­tory work­ers and their fam­i­lies, help­ing to im­prove fam­ily bonds, re­duce lev­els of work­place stress and anx­i­ety, and boost chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment. We’ve also seen im­por­tant busi­ness ben­e­fits at par­tic­i­pat­ing toy fac­to­ries, with im­prove­ments in re­ten­tion rates among work­ers who par­tic­i­pated, higher lev­els of trust and bet­ter em­ployee-man­age­ment re­la­tion­ships” said Mark Robert­son, spokesper­son at ICTI CARE Foun­da­tion.

Good for work­ers and busi­nesses

While the scope and rea­sons for open­ing FCFS var­ied slightly at each of the par­tic­i­pat­ing fac­to­ries, one thing united them all: a wish to cul­ti­vate a sup­port­ive, pos­i­tive work­ing en­vi­ron­ment that could lead to in­creased staff re­ten­tion.

Five of the six FCFS hosted tem­po­rary sum­mer spa­ces, while one fac­tory re­mained open all year round. The ca­pac­ity of host­ing FCFS is set up within the fac­tory and does not rely on con­tin­u­ous ex­ter­nal sup­port. FCFS works with in-fac­tory vol­un­teers, uses ex­ist­ing fac­tory space and can run re­spon­si­bly with one pro­fes­sional staff per 50 chil­dren mak­ing it fairly low in main­te­nance costs ac­cord­ing to CCR CSR.

102 chil­dren at­tended the five sum­mer FCFS’s in 2016, ben­e­fit­ing 109 par­ent work­ers. 60% of those chil­dren came to the fac­to­ries from their home­towns, specif­i­cally to at­tend FCFS to be re­united with their par­ents. Some chil­dren left their vil­lages for the first time to see where their par­ents live and work.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing fac­to­ries re­ported sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in re­ten­tion rates amongst work­ers that par­tic­i­pated in the FCFS. At a par­tic­i­pat­ing fac­tory in Yingde City, Guang­dong, the per­cent­age of work­ers who said they would like to stay at the fac­tory for two years or more in­creased from 62% in the base­line to 80% af­ter FCFS.

FCFS also helped im­prove worker-man­age­ment re­la­tion­ships at par­tic­i­pat­ing fac­to­ries. In one of the fac­to­ries lo­cated in the city of Heyuan, Guang­dong Prov­ince, the per­cent­age of work­ers who trusted their man­agers rose from 32% dur­ing the base­line as­sess­ment to 75% upon project com­ple­tion ac­cord­ing to CCR CSR. All five fac­to­ries that took part in FCFS in the sum­mer of 2016 have de­cided to run FCFS again in 2017 ac­cord­ing to CCR CSR.

“FCFS brings long-term ben­e­fits to fac­to­ries, their work­ers and the work­ers’ chil­dren, and the re­sults from the 2016 pi­lot pro­gram clearly re­flect this. We’re pleased that more com­pa­nies are re­al­is­ing the busi­ness ben­e­fits of sup­port­ing par­ent work­ers in their fac­to­ries. We’re plan­ning to ex­pand the scale of FCFS sig­nif­i­cantly in the com­ing years and are even look­ing be­yond China to coun­tries with sim­i­lar chal­lenges,” Ms. Kaempfer noted.


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