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The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantageby Alexandra Harney
Synopses & Reviews
A landmark eyewitness expos of how China's factory economy competes for Western business by selling out its workers, its environment, and its future
In The China Price, acclaimed Financial Times correspondent Alex Harney uncovers the truth about how China is able to offer such amazingly low prices to the rest of the world. What she has discovered is a brutal, Hobbesian world in which intense pricing pressure from Western companies combines with ubiquitous corruption and a lack of transparency to exact an unseen and unconscionable toll in human misery and environmental damage.
In a way, Harney shows, what goes on in China is inevitable. In a country with almost no transparency, where graft is institutionalized and workers have little recourse to the rule of law, incentives to lie about business practices vastly outweigh incentives to tell the truth. Harney reveals that despite a decade of monitoring factories, outsiders all too often have no idea of the conditions under which goods from China are made. She exposes the widespread practice of using a dummy or model factory as a company's false window out to the world, concealing a vast number of illegal factories operating completely off the books. Some Western companies are better than others about sniffing out such deception, but too many are perfectly happy to embrace plausible deniability as long as the prices remain so low. And in the gold-rush atmosphere that's infected the country, in which everyone is clamoring to get rich at once and corruption is rampant, it's almost impossible for the Chinese government's own underfunded regulatory mechanisms to do much good at all.
But perhaps the most important revelation in The China Price is how fast change is coming, one way or another. A generation of Chinese flocked from the rural interior of the country to its coastline, where its factory work largely is, in the largest mass migration in human history. But that migration has slowed dramatically, in no small part because of widespread disenchantment with the way of life the factories offer. As pollution in China's industrial cities worsens and their infrastructure buckles, and grassroots activism for more legal recourse grows, pressures are mounting on the system that will not dissipate without profound change. Managing the violence of that change is the greatest challenge China faces in the near future, and managing its impact on the world economy is the challenge that faces us all.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Financial Times" correspondent Harney uncovers the truth about how China is able to offer such amazingly low prices. What she has discovered is a brutal world in which intense pricing pressure from Western companies exacts an unconscionable toll in human misery.
In this landmark work of investigative reporting, former Financial Times correspondent Alexandra Harney uncovers a story of immense significance to us all: how China's factory economy gains a competitive edge by selling out its workers, environment, and future. Harney's firsthand reporting brings us face-to-face with a world in which intense pricing pressure from Western companies combines with ubiquitous corruption and a lack of transparency to exact a staggering toll in human misery and environmental damage. This eye-opening expose offers, for the first time, an intimate look at the defining business story of our time.
About the Author
Alexandra Harney has been working in Asia as a journalist for most of the past decade. She has covered China and Japan for The Financial Times and was an editor at the newspaper in London. From 2003 to 2006, she was the FT's South China correspondent. This is her first book.
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