Best practices in factory training in China: Contribute to worker participation in improving working conditions

In March 2009, Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) organised a seminar to identify and discuss best practices in factory training in China. Representatives from fifteen Mainland and Hong Kong-based labour and women’s NGOs, along with academics from three institutions took part in the event. The Hong Kong seminar focused on identifying best practices in factory training in China with regard to strengthened worker participation.

Best practices in factory training in China: Contribute to worker participation in improving working conditions

Best practices in factory training in China: Contributing to more worker participation in the improvement of working conditions

In March 2009 Fair, Wear Foundation (FWF) organised a seminar to identify and discuss best practices in factory training in China. Representatives from fifteen Mainland and Hong Kong-based labour and women’s NGOs, along with academics from three institutions took part in the event. 2 The seminar was held on 26-27 March at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The Hong Kong seminar focused on identifying best practices in factory training in China with regard to strengthened worker participation. Discussion of the accumulated experience of participants pointed out that best practice training can only be attained if sufficient trust exists between involved parties. Concrete and realistic goals for the training need to be agreed. Finally, well founded decisions should be taken on a number of questions, affecting training environment and sustainability. In this context the seminar demonstrated both the potential of worker training and a number of constraints on its future development.

The question that is to be addressed now is how a next generation of best practices can be developed. We have reached the point where training has been largely accepted as part of the process of improving dialogue and participation in factory life. The challenge ahead is to further build up and integrate best practices in methodology, evaluation and exchange between all parties involved, and make them part of everyday business. Only then will a major contribution have been made to improving the working lives of millions of workers.

The process of strengthening methodologies can only keep pace with industrial and legal developments through regular exchange of experiences and transparency on results. This has implications for labour NGOs and other initiatives engaged in training. Organisations must open-up to create new opportunities for cross-fertilisation between them.

Furthermore, factory training needs to be included in verification activities of FWF and other multi-stakeholder initiatives. The challenge is to link verification with training, with the ultimate objective to enable workers to monitor their own working conditions in a setting that allows for effective workplace dialogue. We cannot gain momentum towards better workplace dialogue without companies committing to mix factory training into their business practices in China.

This requires a new discourse for doing business: engaging with suppliers which are willing to build long term relationships, and being prepared to invest in workplace dialogue wherever needed. In this respect, worker training has a vast potential to contribute to processes of improving working conditions. Like other tools for improving working conditions, however, worker training is not a magic trick that offsets the negative consequences of how business is generally done. To ensure that worker training is effective, critical reviewing of sourcing policies remains a necessity.