Corporate citizens in China: Myth or reality?
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Following the conference of Mr. Badinter about death penalty, it was decided to expand his remarks on human rights in China, linking it to the theme of the country. This subject seemed particularly promising because of the massive establishment of some European companies in China in recent years and the problems related to the difficult working conditions of some Chinese workers.
First, it is necessary to define precisely what is meant by 'corporate citizen'. It is a notion that had a particular definition in the World Economic Forum in 2002. It can be defined as one that 'contributes to society as a whole through its activities, its social investment, philanthropic programs and its political commitment'. The definition of an ethical corporate citizen, has in common: respect for the environment, respect for human rights (with decent working conditions), and participation in philanthropic programs such as foundations.
Thus it was decided to restrict the concept of corporate citizenship to the concept of respect for human rights. It is this aspect which was the most interesting and most appropriate, especially to China.
The implementation of European companies in China indeed poses a double ethical problem: first, one might wonder if these companies that relocate for the sake of profit -are they often companies that hire a large workforce and low skilled, low paid price -follow labor laws specific to their country or to otherwise take advantage of the laxity of China regarding working conditions and respect for human rights. The first problem is immediately relayed by a second question: if some European companies have abused the advantages of this lax Chinese, one could see the emotions from the Western public opinion by revealing the difficulty of working conditions of Chinese workers.
Sometimes these revelations were accompanied by growing boycotts putting European companies in financial difficulties. Therefore, one may question the importance of the ethical factor for European companies operating in China, victims of their image and the pressure of NGO campaigns and the impact of these campaigns on public opinion, but also victims of pressure from investors concerned about the future, long-term groups in which they invest their money. More profoundly, it is to question this new phenomenon and whether these ethics, an overused term, are built in good conscience of modern societies, is not likely to be reduced to a label that corresponds to a "new stage of capitalist development" in the words of Yves Medina, an expert on ethics.
December 11, 2001, after more than 15 years of preparatory work, the People's Republic of China joins the WTO and became the 143rd member and this marks the end of a very laborious diplomatic negotiation. Mike Moore, Director General of the WTO, described the accession of "historic moment for the WTO, for China and for international economic cooperation", it marked the country's openness to foreign capital and the law of the market which governs the western world for fifty years. In this way, foreign companies found themselves gaining access to a broad market of potential customers, an inexpensive workforce and facilities that are conveniently located.
Tags: China; corporate citizens; foreign investments; working conditions of Chinese workers