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CHINESE PRODUCTION


NIGEL CRICK


Union of East and West is best


Examining the ethics and economies of printing greetings cards and gift items in the UK versus China.


appearing everywhere as a design motif on hundreds of products and gifts.


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At the same time, the recession has reinvigorated a Buy British movement and concerns about climate change have focused our attention on matters such as Carbon Footprints and Food Miles.


The culmination of these disparate factors was clearly demonstrated when I looked through the catalogue prior to a recent card trade show. Many of the card publishers lauded their products as “Printed in England”, “locally sourced”, “we support UK manufacturing” and so on.


This is all good as I’m sure British consumers do prefer their cards to be made here but, regardless of the politics or the ecology, the printing of everyday cards in the UK makes total sense commercially. If I were a publisher I wouldn’t dream of printing my core card ranges anywhere else for the simple reasons that UK print prices are very competitive; we’re also not short of extremely-competent greetings card printers and fi nishers in this country and printing in the UK allows for a very short lead time. This enables card publishers to minimise stock commitment, react to market trends and maintain the excellent innovation and quality for which the UK card market is known.


Prices for printing in China have slowly increased over the last few years as their record-breaking economic growth has resulted in radical changes for their working population. Wages for print workers, which were never the lowest in the Far East, have more than doubled in the last decade. In the traditional southern regions near Hong Kong, where most stationery print works are sited, there is now a shortage of labour as workers are able to pick and choose not only which company they work for, but whether they go to work in the south at all. Previously, young people left the rural villages to


ith 2012 being the year of the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, it’s no surprise that Union fl ags seem to be


work in the factories many miles away. They would send money back to their families but only return home during the long New Year break. With more opportunities now available closer to their homes, these previously-migrant workers prefer to stay put. These changes have resulted in price infl ation for Chinese manufacturing. With the improved effi ciencies in UK factories and ever- faster printing presses, the price differentials have converged. For other products, the best source of


cry from the badly-treated textile workers in India. Added to this is the fact that most factories exporting to the UK undergo a rigorous audit regime to ensure quality processes are in place, and that all ethical steps are taken to ensure working conditions are of an acceptable standard. I’ve worked in UK factories and warehouses that would probably fail the audits Chinese companies undergo.


Another issue to consider is, of course, the environment and, especially, the carbon footprint of goods imported from China. I’m not a convert to the Carbon agenda so tend to be a little cynical about such concerns, but I know others take this point very seriously. An associate of mine argued the carbon footprint of a Chinese worker in a card factory was miniscule because none own cars and they all live on site, so don’t commute to work. They eat communally, never fl y anywhere, and don’t buy consumer goods.


Added to that, sea freight is the most carbon


supply isn’t so clear cut. Publishers here in the West who want to offer gift items such as boxed cards, gift bags, photo albums, notebooks, tins, mugs etc. should probably be looking East - and I don’t mean to Lowestoft!


Despite these increases, the average wage for those involved in the print and stationery sector in China are still a fraction of their UK counterparts, here the minimum adult wage is around £11,500 a year while in China it’s £120 - £150 per month. Workers may well be paid more than that and some recent studies suggest print and stationery workers earn on average £2,500 per year, but true earnings data is very diffi cult to collect. However, it does means items that require any degree of hand- fi nishing, packing etc. will still be much cheaper from China. Good news for UK publishers, retailers and consumers but is it good for the Chinese workers? Recent legislation in China has improved their rights and, as more and more opportunities present themselves, I think it’s fair to say the life of a Chinese worker in a factory making stationery items is a far


effi cient way to move goods across the globe. This may be considered a little tenuous, but I think he may have a point.


Despite the economic climate, the UK consumer is still demonstrating a demand for well-made and reasonably-priced gifts. Publishers who want to service that demand should certainly consider with an open mind the opportunities that Far East-sourced products can offer. A good mix of products is essential in today’s market place and, as long as care is taken to ensure the right supplier partners are chosen, the benefi ts can be substantial.


Columnist Nigel Crick runs Folio Print, offering print management services to the greetings industry. www.folioprint.co.uk 07917 603912 twitter: @NigelCrick


www.greetingstoday.co.uk 35


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