Right Intentions; Wrong Execution?

This past week, news broke out in China that a company in Henan province had announced a new policy banning its employees from buying Apple’s newly released iPhone 7.  According to the official notice, which was issued on September 18th (the 85th anniversary of the Mukden Incident this year), if spotted with the latest iPhone, employees would kindly be asked to resign.  In the notice, the company also encouraged staff members to support local goods and boycott foreign products.

This decision has sparked controversy in China.  Many netizens feel that it is an encroachment on civil rights; what employees choose to spend their money on is nobody’s business but theirs.  That said, the policy has also received backing from some corners.  As it turns out, the company is not enforcing this just for laughs.  It actually hopes that this policy would help instill stronger family values in its workers.  Instead of buying into this widespread materialism culture in China, they are encouraged to spend more time with their family members and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

While the company’s expression of nationalism and promulgation of traditional Chinese values are laudable, especially within the context of the rapid rise of consumerism in the country, perhaps the methodology used to promote virtue is not entirely appropriate or effective.

Legally speaking, once labor relationships are established, employers do not have the right to change the terms of labor contracts without the consent of the employees.  According to Article 17 of China’s Labor Law, “conclusion and alteration of labour contracts shall follow the principle of equality, voluntariness, and agreement through consultation. They shall not run counter to stipulations in laws or administrative decrees.”  Unless the employees of this company have gladly agreed to this mandate, the employer has no right to establish it.

Also, from an efficiency standpoint, inculcating values through force is generally an ineffective approach.  To address this phenomenon, China must tackle the problem of hyper-materialism at its roots and not its symptoms.  Kids selling kidneys so they can afford the latest Apple device is a mere symptom of the problem.  Outlawing kidney trafficking will not eradicate the problem; people will eventually find other organs to harvest.  Forcing people, who in the first place do not have the notion of virtue ingrained in them, to act virtuously is futile.  The root of the problem is in its education system.  To properly cultivate good values in the younger generation is imperative to restoring the country’s moral direction.  Currently, China’s education system receives a lot of criticism for being too exam-driven.  In addition, high school examinations focus too much on memorization.  So the latest guideline issued by the Ministry of Education (MOE) on September 20th is a step in the right direction.  It proposes that high school recruitment will be based on a more “comprehensive assessment of their (students’) qualities, according to the pilot program, which will first be implemented in 2017 and then be expanded across the nation in 2020.”  Therefore, students’ “morality, mental and physical health, artistic tastes, and social skills” will all be considered.  Once these values are universally endorsed at the education level, it will eventually trickle down to the household level.  Needless to say, this strategy will take time to implement, and it will take even longer to bear fruit.

By: Adrian Lo