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Making Toys in China

by Natalie Man Se Chan

man-se-chan-natalie

Faith in Business Quarterly Volume 13:2 pp23-25


Christian toy manufacturers in Hong Kong are taking a moral stand against bribery and other corrupt practices, as well as promoting better working conditions in large companies.

Recently I carried out an investigation to evaluate the scope and effectiveness of existing marketplace ministry in my own city of Hong Kong. In the course of this, I looked at various types of organisation: general marketplace ministry organisations, Christian professional associations, and marketplace ministry within local churches. I evaluated them along the lines of David Miller’s Integration Box with four ?‘E’ types, according to whether they focused on Ethics, Evangelism, Experience or Enrichment [1]. One of my conclusions is that a more holistic approach, entailing elements of all four, is desirable.

Among the various organisations I surveyed, however, one stood out. This is the Toys Christian Fellowship of Hong Kong (www.tcf.org.hk). TCF is unusual in that though it only has twenty plus members, these are all business owners who employ thousands and tens of thousands of people in their companies. Their companies are based in Hong Kong but they carry out most of their work in mainland China. The owners share a vision to turn their companies into ones dedicated to carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Given their position, power and resources, the owners of these toy manufacturing companies can be very effective in influencing the company on a top-down basis, in almost every aspect from ethics and culture to intentional witnessing opportunities. For instance, some of the owners worked with a consultancy company to turn each company gradually into a Commission company. Initial steps included hiring special consultants to care for the workers on practical as well as spiritual issues. Libraries and other facilities were built and social activities were organised to build up a caring atmosphere. They also worked with local Three-Self churches, which are the official government-sponsored churches in China [2], to launch some of the social events within the factories.

Unlike the other professional fellowships I investigated, which tend to focus on evangelism, TCF does a lot to influence the industry and uphold standards for safety and fair treatment to workers. For example, its Chairman TS Wong helped set up various standards to ensure the safety and protection of workers when he became the Chairman of Hong Kong Toys Council in 1997 and the President of the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) in 2004. I interviewed Mr Wong. The most interesting part of the conversation was, in fact, the integration of faith and business, and the way he looks to God for help in the taking of a strong moral stand. China was a country plagued with corruption and other irregularities in business dealings; the natural question is how one can act rightly in an environment where no one else does and still be successful? Wong’s answer is surprisingly simple, or so it seemed to me. He believes that if one makes up one’s mind to act righteously before God, there will always be alternatives that open up. It is just a case of someone needing to pray and search a bit harder. At least, that has been his experience so far, and he is not short of examples.

t-s-wong

Mr TS Wong is the Chairman of Jetta Company Limited. Jetta is one of the best known toy manufacturers in the world, employing close to 40,000 people with production and warehouse space of over 4.5 million square feet located in Guangdong, China and an annual turnover of USD 400 million. It specializes in making electronic, plastic and stuffed toys ?– see www.jetta.com.hk. Wong is the first Asian elected to become the President of International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) in 2004. He is also a well known philanthropist who helps build and fund over eighty schools and colleges in China.

Up until a few years ago, bribery was still common practice in areas such as importing and exporting goods. Wong’s company once made a clerical mistake on the invoice that was not consistent with the goods in the truck. It was detained by customs. A person who claimed to have connection with the authorities proposed a little bribe to solve their ?‘problem’, so that they would not experience any delay in the delivery. When the driver asked the company what to do, the company was very clear that they would not pay any bribe; rather, the company ordered the truck driver to return and pay whatever fine was required by law. Payment was still made, but in a way that openly and honestly acknowledged the company’s mistake. Wong jokingly said that from then on, they didn’t have any similar demands. Of course, their refusal to pay bribes or kickbacks meant that there was a heavy onus on the company to uphold the highest standard and quality of their goods all the time – they had cut themselves off from the easy way out. But this was a cost that Wong was well prepared to bear.

Another impressive example he gave me concerned the company’s biggest customer who regularly accounted for 50 to 60% of total turnover. At one time, this client requested Wong’s company to discontinue shipment of a product to another much smaller client. The larger client was developing a product targeted at the same market sector as that of the smaller client. The larger client threatened to cancel all existing business if Wong refused to oblige. Wong was not prepared to give way. He felt he had to honour the commitment to his clients, and that it was certainly not right to gang up with the big guy against the smaller ones. Despite the struggle that this provoked, he diplomatically declined the request, accepting that the worst would happen. But the worst never did happen. The larger client never took any business away. He valued the work of Wong’s company too much. In fact, months later the big client asked if Wong’s company would produce a similar product for him when he received no delivery from anywhere else. The client continues to do so much business with Wong’s company for a very good reason: they cannot find any other company that delivers the same quality and price as his.

This is a powerful story. Wong chose to act rightly before God, though most people in his situation might understandably bow to the pressure of this major customer. Wong also shared some other incidents about going the extra mile to make sure the workers were treated rightly – to an extent that might appear foolish by worldly standards. As most owners do not have much bargaining power with their customers, they tend to squeeze the margin out of the workers with overtime or delay payments. Wong introduced major changes to the code of practice in the toy industry to promote a safer environment and protect workers from unfair treatment and excessive overtime during his tenure as the Chairman of Hong Kong Toys Council in the late 1990s.

What we see in his and other toy companies run by Christians is an integration of the different Es: notably a concern with evangelism that is supported by ethics and informed by experience. These are Christians who ?‘walk the talk’. Their witness to Jesus Christ is credible because of the way that they behave in their business dealings.


References

  1. See David Miller’s book God at Work (OUP 2007), which was reviewed by Richard Higginson in FiBQ 12:2.
  2. The ‘three selfs’ are self-governance, self-support and self-propagation, which respectively reject foreign church leadership, foreign financing and foreign missionaries. They operate under the oversight of the communist government.

man-se-chan-natalie

Written by

Dr Natalie Man Se Chan has just completed her dissertation on marketplace ministry, a subject very close to her heart after spending 20 years in the finance industry, the bulk of which was with Goldman Sachs.



 
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