Marginal Revolution: Working Conditions in China: Supply and Demand - Alex Tabarrok
... The Times articles, part of a larger series, are well written and informative and no doubt they have prodded some changes at certain companies. China, however, is a very big place and the real story of better working conditions is a story of supply and demand.
Wages in Chinese factories have been low because wages in China’s agricultural interior were even lower and the great migration from the country to the city, one of the largest migrations in human history, meant that there was a ready supply of workers desperate for work and the more work the better. Even today many workers want longer hours:
In March, when Foxconn announced that workers’ hours would be reduced to China’s legal limits, employees began complaining. “Absolutely I’d like to do overtime to work more than 60 hours, but now there’s a ceiling on it,” said Ma Changqiao, a 23-year-old at Foxconn’s Chongqing factory.
As the great migration leveled off, however, wages began to rise. At first, workers wanted all of the increase in wages in money but as the more basic needs of workers and their families have been met the demand for better working conditions and more leisure has increased and this has made it profitable for firms to supply better working conditions.
Thus, the real story of better working conditions is not a spate of negative publicity, a mere blip in the face of much larger forces, but rising wages with a touch of Maslow’s hierarchy. ...
In short, economic development happened. Given relatively stable social institutions, this is what happen with expanded trade and improvement in productivity.