The retail industry has seen some sudden changes over the last year to how they have been able to operate due to the pandemic. The virus changed the way that shoppers use ecommerce in Canada and across the world as retail units were closed during the lockdowns.
It isn’t just the pandemic that is changing retail and the way consumers look at purchases. Other considerations come into effect including moral, ethical, and environmental now when looking at which brand to buy.
Manufacturers are also noticing this and stepping up their game. One area that is under the microscope is electronics manufacturing in China. Several trends are starting to drive the manufacture of electronics out of China and these include new tariffs for imports, sustainability, and other ethical reasons.
Here are some of the reasons why electronics manufacturers are moving, why retailers should avoid made-in-China, and why as a consumer you might want to check what you are buying more carefully.
Why are some manufacturers and consumers boycotting Chinese-made products?
There are a variety of concerns and reasons why both these parties are looking to avoid Chinese-made products. Manufacturers started to consider their positions back in 2018 after the cost of the new China tariffs was announced. There is also concern that there could be a financial collapse in China and many electronics manufacturing facilities are highly leveraged in the country.
For both consumers and manufacturers, there are some other considerations too and these include the following:
- Quality control
- Life expectancy of products
- Pandemic and hygiene concerns
- Human rights abuses
- Politics and ongoing hostilities
When you go to the shop to buy a new laptop your primary concerns are likely to be how much RAM does it have and how good is the processor? However, there is a growing area of consumers that look at their purchases in a different way.
Common concerns for many consumers now are to do with the carbon footprint of the product, and is it eco-friendly? Shoppers these days are concerned with what materials were used, where was it manufactured, are the workers treated and paid fairly, and other ethical concerns.
China has many question marks hanging over the areas listed above and below you can read some reasons why.
Stereotypes exist for a reason sometimes and sadly this is still the case with much of China’s manufacturing and quality control. The truth is that many manufacturers in China are perfectly capable of producing good quality products but there is often no quality control in place or defects are missed.
Cost cutting leads to a lack of inspectors in many manufacturing facilities and this leads to defective products leaving the production line, being packaged and shipped out. This causes frustration on the part of the consumer and damages the reputation of the brand associated with the product.
As QualityInspection.org has reported, there is a lack of process controls and preventative maintenance in place.
Of course, the consumer’s desire for cheaper, less expensive products also gives rise to cost cutting in the manufacturing process.
Pandemic and hygiene concerns
While corners are being cut to reduce costs there are unacceptable risks taking place. Health & Safety is not always monitored to the same standards as in some other countries. Hygiene is also a concern in the food sector and the reality is that many pandemics including the most recent have originated in China including SARS and Asian Flu.
While there is no implication that these were caused deliberately or invented in a laboratory, health & safety are a major concern in many facilities. Some of this blame has to come from past retail practices of selling low-cost goods which in turn means manufacturers cut costs wherever they feel able to.
China reported a drop in pollution during 2020 as the pandemic was in effect, however, according to the World Economic Forum they have now risen to levels worse than before Covid arrived.
China initiated a clean air policy after it was revealed that pollution was causing over 400,000 premature deaths a year but it still has 6 out of 10 of the world’s worst polluted rivers which in turn, flow into the seas.
Less manufacturing means less pollution. If companies move their operations outside of China it is hoped that there will be tighter controls on pollution and more modern manufacturing methods used. This also means manufacturers being willing to invest time and money into the process.
Human rights abuses
China has a horrendous human rights record and has interned around 1 million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps. Across parts of China, there are detention and re-education camps for anyone that is deemed to be a problem to the state.
Although China denied there were any detention camps in the country, satellite photos have proven that not only do they exist but more are being constructed. Purchasing goods from China puts money into the government’s hands and allows them to maintain control over minorities and activists.
A clear example of how China treats its civilians is the recent Hong Kong protests where teenage protesters were shot by police.
How have the big brands reacted to these claims?
Nike and H&M are two big brands that have voiced their concerns about what is happening in China and they have suffered the consequences for it. Nike has a poor history of using sweatshops itself but has since not only cleaned up its act but found its voice when it comes to human rights concerns.
Nike tried to voice some concerns with China to show its consumers that they agreed with them and found themselves under Beijing’s spotlight. Similarly, when H&M made statements about the treatment of the Uighurs they found themselves part of a boycott in China.
Is it possible to buy electronics that are completely free of Chinese parts?
There are many products made outside of China but it isn’t always easy. Trying to find laptops that are not made in China takes some research. However, if you really want to find laptops that are either free of Chinese parts or were assembled and processed in the US or Europe then they do exist.
You can reduce the chances of buying Chinese products by checking your purchases online before checking out. Brand names that are Chinese such as Huawei are very likely to be made in China. The money you spend on these goods also directly helps the Chinese state.
Neighboring countries and tensions
A major concern for electronics manufacturers should be the ongoing tensions with Taiwan. This country is a major source of electronics outside of China and has to endure a vast array of missiles constantly pointing at it. China has a track record of bullying its neighbors and supporting dictators.
The retail sector can learn many things from China regarding Covid and re-opening but there are many other areas of concern to consumers. Manufacturers need to consider human rights, pollution, sustainability, and other factors that impact Chinese civilians, ethnic groups, the environment, and the surrounding countries.
Retailers can use their power to demand changes or stock other brands and consumers can change their shopping habits. Taking the time to research where your produce comes from has become second nature for many when grocery shopping so why shouldn’t it apply to electronics too?