Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thoughts on China from Japan

I've been speaking to Japanese groups (a company, a government agency, and a group of ordinary people) this week and have found some comments from the audience really interesting. After my presentation, one man asked a really great question: when will most ordinary Chinese feel as concerned about these issues - of occupational disease, for instance - as you do? He argued that Japan was only able to deal with its own occupational diseases that resulted from its rapid industrial growth when a majority of ordinary Japanese outside the factories became concerned about their fellow Japanese suffering from these horrible diseases. When will more Chinese start to care enough about this to demand better conditions in factories? Another question came from a man who was concerned about product safety, in particular the safety of China's food exports. He said he understood that improving the food supply chain would take time, but he asked: while China works on this problem, what should we do? We can't afford to wait for safer food. My view was that one thing Japan could do was to offer to share more of its experience in regulating and inspecting the food supply chain (of course, Japan, like every other country, doesn't have a perfect track record in food safety). Another thing we can all do is to press companies to be more up front about exactly where our food and other products are coming from, and under what conditions they are made. Still, the question remains about China's path toward resolving these issues.

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