Monday, October 24, 2011

Made in China Redux

A brief ten days ago I wrote up a little essay expressing my dismay to have discovered that a major high end vibrator and toy maker is producing their products in country known for human rights violations, and also has a history of producing and exporting goods tainted with toxins - Made In China.

Although at the time I didn't name names, the manufacturer I was talking about was Lelo, a Swedish company known for it's high end (and high cost) vibrators.  To make a long story short, because of a warranty return, we discovered that Lelo vibrators originated in Suzhou, a suburb of Shanghai in the People's Republic of China.

It's been a sharp learning curve for Serafina and I ever since, an eye opening experience for sure, as we've quickly discovered that most of the world's vibrators are made in the People's Republic of China.

Then a comment I made on another blog elicited a response from somebody very much in the know about Lelo.  I'll will copy that comment here for our readers:
Oden says...
October 19th, 2011
You are absolutely correct about Lelo products being produced in China, the company have large production facilities not too far away from Shanghai in Suzhou. The company produce and design their vibrators in-house making them rather unique in the industry. There are very few, maybe 2 more companies manufacturing themselves, all other companies outsource to Chinese factories with varying quality. The ability to control the whole chain from design (Swedish) and manufacturing gives Lelo several advantages, one is of course power to fully control material and quality, and another important thing is to secure good employment standards for their workers.In-house means that products are designed and produced completely by the company themselves. All this suggests Lelo have all the means to provide the market with superior and innovative products and I certainly believe they do.
Outside of a couple of grammatical errors that indicate to a trained eye that English may be a second language for the individual who provided that response, it's darn near worthy of MadMen wizard Don Draper. Oden speaks with confidence and authority, adopting a pleasantly assured and seemingly informative tone.

It's all sweetness, rose petals and sunshine, I suppose.

Well, except for the fact that the People's Republic of China (PRC) has a pretty poor record when it comes to human rights.  There's China's occupation of Tibet, for instance, and the messy little detail about the spiritual leader of the world's Buddhists being exiled because the PRC's invasion of his homeland. There are censorship issues too, as the PRC has some of the most repressive internet restrictions in the world.

The PRC is also infamous for it's system of reform and reeducation camps.  China employs it's political and religious prisoners in a series of camps called Laogai (meaning reform through labor) and Laojiao (meaning re-education through labor) where they become forced labor for China's industry.  Human Right's groups use a slightly stronger word for this practice, they call it "slave labor" rather than forced labor, and their best estimate is six to eight million individuals are imprisoned by this system at any one time.

None of this is sexy, to belabor the obvious.

Please do not misunderstand, I'm not trying to imply that Lelo is directly associated with any of the most heinous activities committed by the PRC.  I'm not trying to imply that at all!  But, the Chinese Laogai and Laojiao systems have their closest modern equivalent in the Soviet Gulag, and they make a significant contribution to the Chinese economy.

So, what does the informed consumer do?

I'm not sure.  A company like Lelo, who has their own dedicated production facility in the PRC, would seem to be significantly preferable to a company who doesn't have that much control.

But, beyond that I'm still a little fuzzy.

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