From the Factory with Love: A Study on Migrant Parent Workers in China

On the afternoon of June 29, 2017, The Centre (then known as CCR CSR) officially released a new study titled "From the Factory with Love: A Study on Migrant Parent Workers in China" at a launch event in Beijing. The study comes four years after The Centre first researched the topic of migrant parent workers and the impact that separation from children had on them and their work-related decision-making. 

"From the Factory with Love" sheds light on migrant parent workers' most recent situation, the challenges they face as parent workers and the reasons underpinning their decision to either migrate with or without their children. It also presents strong evidence that links factories and brands’ lack of support towards migrant parents with decreased retention and work satisfaction. 

The study draws on quantitative and qualitative methods involving 749 workers, 96 factories, 24 brands and 15 children to portray a workforce that despite enormous personal sacrifices, is driven by a steadfast determination to create a brighter future for their children.

The study found that the majority (74% from our sample) of parent workers are still migrating without their children, citing lack of time and childcare options as the main reasons for leaving their children behind. However, factories surveyed for this study indicated seeing a rise in the number of workers moving to cities with their children, suggesting that reforms to the Hukou system and residence permit regulations may be making it easier and more attractive for some families to migrate together.

According to the worker survey, the decision to migrate with or without their children is also deeply intertwined with their financial situation –  the lower workers’ income, the less likely they are to migrate with their children. Almost all parent workers interviewed for this study cited high living costs in their host cities as a major constraint to enabling family unity.

The challenges faced by migrant parent workers in China’s factories run even deeper: over 95% of parents who don’t live with their children expressed feeling guilty about their inadequate parenting functions and 46% of these parents said they don’t understand their children well.

“He doesn’t talk much and is introverted. Sometimes, I don’t know what he’s saying... If I talk to him about why his mom and dad are not around he’ll get impatient and will ignore me,” said a migrant mother working in Shenzhen who is originally from Jiangxi and has two young sons living with their grandparents in their hometown.

Through in-depth interviews with children, the study also highlights that separation weighs heavily on the children:

"I just really miss them. There are other ‘left-behind children’ in our school. When your parents are here then you’re not a left-behind child anymore, but when they leave you are just back to being a left behind child… One time my dad came back, and bought some meat and a fish. He made a really good pork rib soup. It was the first time I’ve ever had such a good soup. I finished it all,” a 12-year-old girl from Guizhou who is being taken care of by her grandparents.

Those who perceived their work as having a negative impact on their relationship with their children were less likely to be satisfied with their workplace.

But even those who migrated with their children face enormous challenges. The study found that children who migrated with their parents spent more time unattended than other children of factory workers, indicating that lack of childcare and long working hours is a pressing challenge for many migrant parents, and that there is a strong need for strengthened support in these areas:

“My dad works overtime until 10pm every evening. He comes back really late when I’m already asleep. So I don’t get to see him much. And dinner, I usually have on my own as well. He also works on weekends without any days off during the week. He only has one day off a month,” said an eight-year-old girl who was interviewed for this study. She is from Hunan Province but lives with her parents in Dongguan.

According to the study, significantly more parents plan to stay in the factory for two years or longer if they are living with their children. However, since lack of childcare and time to take of their children is one of the main reasons preventing workers from bringing their children along, there is a strong case that strengthening support in this area can generate stronger retention. However, only 2% of the surveyed factories currently have day-care of after-school centres and only 8% of brands participating in the study support such programs in their supply chains.

“We found that both factories and brands agree that there is a need to address the challenges faced by migrant parent workers through factory support programs but very few are actually turning this awareness into concrete action. We’re therefore seeing a mismatch between the type of support that is needed and what is provided. If this trend could be reversed and more brands and factories implement support programs, such as after-school centres, not only will it unite more families, factories will likely see increases in retention over the long-term,” said Ines Kaempfer, CEO of The Centre (then the Executive Director of CCR CSR).

About the Report Launch:

The results and findings of the report were discussed and analysed by a range of industry leaders, including: China National Textile & Apparel Council, IETP, Business-Human Rights Resource Centre, IKEA and Flex.

The launch of the event in Beijing on June 29, 2017 was sponsored by Kesko. 

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Published on   29/06/2017
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