Destination #4: Shanghai

Friday evening, and the end of a tour across Asia: productive, fascinating, confronting and challenging would be a few words to sum up the past two weeks.

I’m looking back at this time with a beer and noodles at Noodle Bull. Because, before I go shopping at Spin Ceramics tomorrow this is the perfect place to build up my ‘need’ for some beautiful ceramics: everything comes served in the beautiful Spin bowls and other table ware. And I’m sure the noodles will taste great as well.

Shanghai has been overwhelming. I have not yet been to Chengdu or Chongqing – I expect them to be worse – but I can never quite grasp the size of this city. It just goes on and on and on which hit me firstly on the drive in on Tuesday evening.

But, of course, the sheer size is also an indication of all those things that happen here. So, my three days have been pretty packed with a variety of meetings: catching up with a few people I know here, talking to people in organizations supporting Dutch business in China to find out better whether CSR is an issue for this companies (answer: no company ever asks about it), meeting new contacts who work in CSR or sustainability and visiting two local factories to see what improving working conditions means in reality.

So, at the end of these few days – and in addition to all the people I’ve meet up to here – I am in a way happy to be heading back home: because I have so much work ahead of me to follow up on this trip. It has made me more secure in my choice of topics to be working on. But it has also made me realize that to be able to really work on this issues in a way that is effective – both for Dutch organisations, and for people here locally – I need to be here much more often and for a longer time in one go.

This will be an interesting riddle to solve for the next few months: how can I be here more while at the same time focusing on building my business in the Netherlands and finding + working on interesting assignments? Any smart ideas welcome in the comments!

Destination #3: Guangzhou

Guangzhou. A city I had been to before, but – as mentioned in yesterday’s post – which I hadn’t really seen anything of. This is one of the reasons why I put this city on my itinerary: I was curious to see a bit more of the city which is the capital of the province where so much of the products we use in daily life are manufactured – and which surely brings with it some responsible business issues. And on a practical note, from Hong Kong this makes for an easy entry point to the mainland, as it’s a short and easy 2-hour train ride from Kowloon.

Typhoon Usagi managed to get a little in the way of my plans, though the fact that I mostly got rain on Sunday and an appointment got moved meant that Guangzhou – and my stay – had a lucky escape, considering the news of 25 dead in the coastal regions of Guangdong province.

Despite the rain on Sunday, I managed to get a better idea of the city on Monday. And I have to admit I don’t really quite know what to think yet. The parts I saw were all so different that it is hard to see it all as part of one city: Shamian Island, the CBD, the (quite deserted) area around the Canton Tower, and the area I was staying in which was in between the Canton Tower and a more local area. I don’t see the connections yet, I think.

My hotel was located in the middle of the T.I.T. Creative Industry Zone, which made it a very nice and different place to stay: surrounded by lots of green, in a low-rise building, and in a nice area where the old buildings of a previous textile factory are being renovated into hip fashion shops, design studios, cafe’s etc. Lovely area, but there’s still a lot of work being done and it was fairly quiet (maybe because of the weather). And when I looked online to find out more, I found that this is only one of several creative zones that Guangzhou has established, so clearly the city is trying to bring a strong focus on the creative sector (as many other Chinese cities actually).

My meeting with Impactt was moved to this morning, very interesting to hear their experiences of working for Europeand clients in realising improvements on social issues in local factories (such as wages, overtime, etc). This was just before my flight to Shanghai: my last destination for now, so that makes me feel as if I’m almost done. Except that this is where I will have what promises to be some very interesting meetings, including factory visits, discussion on sustainability with a Dutch MNC and more.

What is ‘responsible growth’?

The theme of last week’s summit was Responsible growth, inclusive business. While there was some discussion and explanation of what inclusive business is, I didn’t hear any on the question what responsible growth is. And, to me, a relevant question: is it possible?

The previous time I was in Guangzhou, the colleague I was here to meet took me straight out of the city and on a road trip to Shenzhen and Dongguan with the aim to show me some of the extremes of growth in China. That led to this blog post and a few seconds of fame in an online BBC article.

During that trip, we also got talking about that question of ‘what is growth’ and can it be achieved responsibly? At that time I was just getting into some of the reading that is available arguing the impossibility of sustained economic growth on our planet. Since that time I cannot stop thinking that indefinite economic growth doesn’t seem quite natural, despite the fact that that is the only economic system we are used to – and the only one that appears to be working. But is it?

I could continue with a long post on the topic, but I fear my thoughts about it have still not come to a convincing conclusion – and more importantly, haven’t come to any way that we could tackle this systemic fault (if it is). As it would end up being just a long rambling blurb, I will leave you with the following two things as a start to this topic:

Watch the Impossible Hamster (only 1 minute, you can do it)

And get your hands on Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without growth, and start reading. (or, if you are impatient and want a quick insight into his argument, listen to his TED-talk)

Destination #2: Hong Kong

I’m leaving Hong Kong at the end of a weekend celebrating the Moon Festival: especially on Thursday evening and Friday throughout the day it was obvious on the streets that people were out enjoying some extra free time. With moon cakes and lanterns to be seen at places such as Victoria Park. The Moon Festival mostly means some family time for people here, and most people were out of work by 4pm on Thursday with the day off on Friday.

It also turned into a weekend of anticipation of ‘superstorm’ Usagi: though some of the Dutch assured me that it would more likely be a strong autumn storm the way we know them in the Netherlands, I nevertheless am now on a Sunday morning train out of Hong Kong, and onto China to make sure I am across the border in case it gets closed down because of Usagi (strange that what is expected to be such a violent wind is called after such a cute little animal like a bunny). No doubt I’ll be catching some wind and rain either tonight or tomorrow in Guangzhou as well.

Despite having visited Guangzhou before, I am looking forward to now having a bit more time to actually see the city. Previously, this was limited to being in a car, on the way out to places such as Dongguan and Shenzhen.

In Hong Kong, ahead of the holiday weekend I mostly met up with some Dutch contacts working in either sustainability or trade support for Dutch companies. Because, apart from getting a better look at the sustainability field in Hong Kong I also want to know better whether or not CSR is a topic for European companies based with their regional headquarters in Hong Kong but who work in China. If it is, organisations such as the Dutch consulate or the Dutch Chamber of commerce in Hong Kong should have heard about this interest – or concern – from the companies they work with and for.

Unfortunately, these talks confirmed some of my suspicion that the operations side of a business (the people in charge of running a factory, selecting suppliers, or working with distributors in China and Hong Kong) is often far removed from the people working in CSR (which can be called differently, and placed in the organization differently in each company of course). Hearing stories from companies who have a local sustainability team here, but all decisions and policy are made in the Netherlands (both sustainability-related and operations-related) are not encouraging. But it confirms what I’ve seen in the past years of talking to individual companies as well.

The challenge will be how to connect these two parts of an organization: when done well, topics that fall under the umbrella of CSR or sustainability should be integrated throughout the organization and not limited to the responsibility of the CSR manager. This is difficult to do. But each time when I talk to an export manager and he is unable to tell me anything about his company’s activities on CSR I can’t help but be slightly disappointed – even if I understand that he has other primary concerns. I guess there’s still a lot of work ahead.

Hong Kong discoveries

Without turning this into a travel blog, I can’t resist sharing some of my discoveries in Hong Kong this past weekend.

Shopping
I’m not a big shopping fan, and on top of that I’m not a big brands type of shopper: finding those big brands is very easy Hong Kong. It still surprises me that a city can sustain this scale of luxury retail.

hong kong 064

But of course, there are other places as well. One shopping mall that I really enjoyed is K11, a smaller mall that combines art with shopping: there are several art installations set up inside which makes it a fun place to walk around. The shops inside are a combination of well-known brands (lots of sports gear, but also shoes and bags of course). But part of the first floor is devoted to designers with some smaller shops selling really creative and funky clothing, accessories etc. And, don’t miss the amazing book shop on the top floor which has great stationery, office material and – of course – books on design, fashion, photography and an extensive kids section.

Qips is a stationery shop in the Miramar Shopping Centre on Nathan Road (and also on Hoi Ting Road, according to the website): a place to browse all their really smart things to use for paper and more. Of course, they sell many things you never thought you could need at all as great stationery seems to be very hard to find in the Netherlands. Much of the stuff sold here was Japanese, which isn’t surprising. So, if you are looking for quirky post-its, markers or clips, this is a great place to go (also makes for some unusual small give-aways).

Eating and drinking
Apart from shopping, eating & drinking are very easily done in Hong Kong: there’s an abundance of restaurants, cafés, etc. Which also makes it difficult to choose and find some nice places in the midst of all those on offer. My Saturday night was spent at the following places which I all really enjoyed – though be warned that none of these get you into any local Hong Kongese places: the clientele is mostly expat.

Start off your evening with a few glasses of wine, and some people watching, at Staunton’s Wine Bar, nice place just off the escalators on Staunton Street. They serve a pretty wide range of wines.

For dinner, and especially if you are looking for some meat-less options (which I always find difficult in Asia), Life just below Staunton’s Wine Bar is great: an organic and vegetarian café and restaurant, which also does take-out. The restaurant has a roof terrace upstairs, and unusual food options on the menu. I loved the spicy tempeh burger.

And to close off an evening in Hong Kong in style, head to the other side of the river for a cocktail at Ozone, the top floor bar at the Ritz Carlton in the ICC. The view from the 118th floor is simply stunning, from where you look across all of Hong Kong Island.

hong kong 090

Practicalities
Hong Kong is a very easy city to get around, which makes a stay here very comfortable. Some quick tips:
> use the airport express to get in to the city: you can buy a ticket (for around $100) at the counter as soon as you get out of the luggage claim area to avoid the queue at the counter in the main arrivals hall. Trains run every 10 minutes, and reach Kowloon and Hong Kong in about 25 minutes.
> get an octopus card: a travel pass that is charged with money so you swipe your way on to the metro, tram, ferry, bus etc. Supereasy.
> use the tram to travel up and down HK Island and to see a bit of the city at the same time (most trams only travel from East to West so you can’t really go wrong with any of them) and take the Star ferry to cross between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon which is a really nice 15 minute way of travelling (except when you’re in a rush: then the metro beats both of these modes of transportation).

CSR Asia Summit 2013: looking back

It’s slowly getting light outside while I’m writing this at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok for my flight to Hong Kong [though the end is written from a hotel in Hong Kong – the wait turned out to be too short for this long piece!]. It feels strange to already be moving on to a new country but at the same time I look back at some very good days spent in Bangkok. Apart from the Summit, which I’ll get to below, I’ve had an opportunity to meet with a few more people here – Dutch people working in CSR or in trade & investment support for Dutch companies. It’s been good to see their perspective as well on how things work for Dutch companies working in Thailand.

But, let’s talk about the CSR Asia Summit 2013, the reason for me to add on these few days to my trip in the first place. The main point that I’m taking home from this is that CSR in Asia, and – the theme of this summit – opportunities for inclusive business, is so much more than only supply chain responsibility which the discussion seems to focus on in the Netherlands. And even then I think that that discussion is already limited.

In fact, supply chain responsibility was barely on the agenda here in Bangkok. That makes it a topic that I’ve missed in the programme, but it also shows that there is a lot more. In the closing address of the Summit, chairman Richard Welford mentioned that supply chain – and the issues involved such as labour and human rights – are indeed the number 1 dilemma for CSR Asia’s partner organisations and will be the main challenge that work is needed on. It also seems to be a topic that a lot of work is being done on outside of the Summit which may have been a reason to focus on other issues and themes here at this time.

What the other issues on the agenda were? To mention a few: inclusive community engagement, reporting for investors, women entrepreneurship, responsible business in Myanmar, biodiversity, business ethics, disaster preparedness, children’s rights, and the list continuous on. In total there were over 20 sessions for participants to choose from which sometimes caused some indecision on my part! The speakers in these sessions (or at least in the ones that I went to) were mostly high quality: able to share their thoughts concisely & easily understandable, up front and honest about what the dilemmas were in their practice, and clearly speaking from a broad personal experience. It was great to see when the personal passion for this topic occasionally came through in their stories.

The best sessions for me were on inclusive community consultation, business and human rights and on future strategies for companies in a changing – and often uncertain – business environment.

Inclusive community consultation
The session on inclusive community consultation was presented by two speakers: Steven Bartholomeusz from Sarawak Energy, a company building several hydropower plants on Sarawak in Malaysia, and Simon Lord from New Britain Palm Oil, active in palm oil production with plantations mostly in Papua New Guinea. Simon had already been part of the opening panel where I was impressed with his up-front way of talking about the challenges in the palm oil industry. In this session, he started off with a quick explanation of FPIC: Free Prior Informed Consultation. A term unknown to me, but which is the name for a process of consultation with a community, which can be used in industries with a high impact on the communities that surround its physical activities: extractive, agriculture and forestry are a few industries that come to mind and which are well-known for the problems arising from working with communities.

The session continued with both speakers sharing the practical side of working with local communities: resistance to corporate plans, working with local leaders to find consensus. But also: communities who are eager to have a company move in to their area as often – especially in remote and underdeveloped areas such as Sarawak or PNG – having a company set up a plantation, power infrastructure or something else is the only way to bring economic, and with that social, development to the region. For people living in the region, this may be of more importance than preserving pristine forest or local biodiversity.

The anecdotes and experiences shared gave me the sense that this may be one of the most complicated issues across the CSR umbrella: especially because of the high impact the business activities may generate, and the long term perspective that is needed.

A company setting up an oil palm plantation generally moves in for a 100 years, if not more. But can a local community have that long term perspective, and are they able to make decisions now that necessarily affect future generations that may have very different ideas at that time. Especially when often the day-to-day priorities come first: providing in their personal livelihood that day and the next. And this is why working with the FPIC process seems to be essential in creating that local support for the long term.

Working in this area takes a lot of courage and determination. Not only because of the external challenges, but also because often the CSR manager involved is facing a lot of resistance internally: after all, the primary aim of the company is to move in as quickly as possible so it can start making money.

Business and human rights
Business and human rights is an issue that is on the agenda in the Netherlands and across Europe much more recently, and many countries are currently working on their National Action Plans explaining how they will work with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the Ruggie framework) in policy, with companies, and in legislation. The UK was the first country to publish their action plan, which can be found here, and the Netherlands is currently working on their plan which especially NGOs seem to be eagerly awaiting.

This session focused on what human rights mean for companies doing business in Asia and one of the first questions asked by the moderator was: is the Ruggie Framework a gamechanger in this field, for business and others? The replies to this – the panel consisted of a Priyanga Hettiarachi from NGO RightsBusiness based in Sri Lanka, Thomas Wise from Chevron, and the Asia Pacific director Sam Zahiri of the International Commission of Jurists – were mixed, with a part Yes and a part No. Though both of these answers also came from one and the same person: I probably agree with the Chevron rep when he said that no, the adoption of the Ruggie framework and the consequences of this for business is not a game changer. After all: all the things included in the UNGP are things that a responsible company should already be doing. At the same time, yes, it is a game changer: it has created a common language for business, the not-for-profit sector and government on an issue that was – and still is sometimes – fraught with misunderstanding and different perspectives. In this sense, the principles in the UNGP can provide a much clearer understanding of the issues involved and allow all parties to work on these.

The panelists shared how their respective organisations work on this topic, also including a good explanation of the framework itself: what does protect, respect, remedy mean? It was also good to see that the speakers focused on why this is an issue that you have to do something about as a company and how to convince your board. The answer? A lot of it comes down to risk management: “if you don’t know your risks, it can shut down your operations.” This message was one that also spoke from the earlier community consultation session: if you are not able to find a way to work in consensus with the local community, this can delay or cancel your project.

Maybe not surprisingly, the discussion – and especially the contribution of the lawyer in the panel – often talked about legal action & litigation as the, seemingly, only way of remedy. I was interested to know more about the alternatives: grievance mechanisms within companies is an important recommendation in the UNGP, but also the NCP-system of the OECD Guidelines (one that I know well by now) offers an opportunity for alternative forms of remedy and conflict resolution. It was a pity that there was not more time to discuss this, although following my question on this, I have to agree with Zahiri that the NCP-system still needs a lot of work and practical experience to grow into the effective mechanism it has the potential to be.

Strategies for the future
The session on strategies for the future opened up with a speaker from Volans, a London-based consultancy, and while listening to Amy Birchall I felt as if this would be the session to talk about some of the things I had missed up until then. Because, throughout the summit it also felt as if we’d been talking about business as usual, but done more responsibly. And a good thing to talk about of course. But, don’t we also need to talk about how to do business in a world that isn’t continuing as usual? This might be something much more abstract or more conceptual than CSR as we define it currently, but there are some great examples in the Netherlands of, usually, smaller companies who look at doing business differently and find new business models or new products.

Amy Birchall talked about these considerations: how do you prepare for an uncertain future? Some of the examples she gave can be found online, such as the B-team and Breakthrough Capitalism.

The other two speakers talked about how they prepare their companies for the future, by scenario planning and by getting the whole company involved in thinking about a vision on 2050 and what that will mean for the day-to-day operations of a company now (for example, what do you invest in, where does your R&D focus on?). Of course, following this, some of the questions from the audience focused on the practical side of this: HOW do you go about figuring out what the future may bring for your company when no one can predict the future?

The other sessions I attended were on business models for the Bottom of the Pyramid (which, in a way, is related to the last session on future strategies as well) and on responsible business in Myanmar. I will follow up with a separate post on the latter one, hopefully soon.

Apart from the content of the sessions, I really enjoyed the mix of people attending this summit: corporate representatives from several countries and across a wide range of industries & many NGOs were there and easily approachable during the many opportunities to chat and meet people. Though there were also two groups (mostly) missing: SME representatives and government. I think this could really strengthen the discussion if CSR Asia manages somehow to find a way to tap into these groups as well for future events.

All in all, being here was worthwhile. Next year’s will be in Hong Kong, so I am definitely going to try and attend again.

CSR Asia Summit 2013: impressions of day 1

Finally, today, the reason why I added Bangkok to my itinerary started: the CSR Asia Summit 2013. I have been looking forward to this conference for the past few weeks, so I’ll post a few quick impressions here. So far so good, and I’m happy that I decided to spend a few days here.

The summit’s theme is ‘Responsible growth – inclusive development’. Especially in Asia this is a relevant theme I think, as business has an opportunity in many countries here to also help local communities in their economic and social development through their business activities. However, this is tough to do and requires a different way of doing business, which the session on Bottom of the Pyramid opportunities showed, where three companies – each very different in size, in strategy and in industry – shared how they provide energy, health products, or financial services to local communities. And make a profit (it is, after all, a business).

Some points on what I’ve noticed so far:

  • the summit has brought together a mixed and interesting group of people with over 450 participants from more than 30 countries. People come from big & small business, active in a variety of sectors (retail, palm oil, insurance, pharmaceutical etc), ngo’s, consultancy – the only group that I haven’t really come across yet is (local) government. And, everyone is easy to talk to, interested (and interesting!) and open for new contacts. Pretty essential for a successful conference! Interestingly, the Dutch seem to be the best represented coming from Europe – not counting Europeans based in Asia. I guess we’re living up to our international reputation of being a sustainability leader…? Not a lot of Japanese (or Koreans, actually) here though, which is not a good sign, but I also think the fact that the language here is English without interpretation available might have something to do with that.
  • the programme is filled with only a few plenary sessions, and mostly smaller panel/Q&A sessions on more specialized topics. And: plenty of time to network and meet new people in between. The sessions range from climate change business strategy and the role of women entrepreneurs to GRI’s G4 and business and human rights. The sessions I’ve attended so far have been interesting with good speakers (this seems to be a requirement to make it in CSR!) and practical discussions: how do you set up a successful Bottom of the Pyramid-business? (part of the answer: with lots of time, trial and error, creativity, and lots of conviction to overrule the sceptics) How do you put together a constructive community dialogue? Especially the session on community engagement was interesting for me: a topic I don’t know that much about (apart from that this is complicated to do when you are in the extractive of agriculture industry), but the speakers spoke a lot from their personal experiences in Papua New Guinea and Sarawak: we heard some fascinating anecdotes on when it goes wrong, but also on how you can work together well. Very interesting, because this seems like such a complicated topic to me that has so much potential impact on people’s livelihoods.
  • despite the many choices in sessions, I also miss some topics that I think are relevant in the Asian context – and relevant to the summit’s theme. But I’ll see what happens tomorrow, and I might be surprised after all, so more on that later.
  • and… finally, the participants don’t seem to be active Twitter-users. Not necessary of course, as CSR practicioners, but it would’ve been great to follow more of the discussions online – especially because there are so many different sessions. For now, the #csrasia hashtag that I’ve been using (assuming it’s the right one) is quite lonely…

And in between it all, interesting conversations (I’ve loved being able to talk about the things I care about with so many different people today, and hearing their views and ideas), useful contacts and am curious about what tomorrow will bring.

Destination #1: Bangkok

The smell of food on every corner you turn to.

That, for me, is mostly what Bangkok is about. Admittedly, I am not well-travelled across Southeast Asia but you just don’t get quite as many food stalls in Japan or China (but at least more common in China than in Japan). It makes a city feel completely different, with so many more people out on the streets.

Bangkok is my first stop on a bit of a whirlwind trip across Asia. I’ve come to realize that I’m a very very different business traveller than holiday traveller. In the latter, I’m happy staying somewhere cheap, figuring out everything myself, etc. But now, I feel my focus for the next two weeks is the work that I’ve come here to do: making the most of attending the CSR Asia Summit, and building my local networks in China stronger alongside gaining much more knowledge on CSR developments. And I don’t want the distraction of having to find a hotel, or realizing that I’m in a very crappy hotel, or lugging around a suitcase in search of a metro.

Another difference is that if I’d be travelling for a holiday, I’d never cross these distances and spend so little time in each place. At the same time, it also feels good to be doing this as I think I’ll get a much clearer idea of each city and be able to compare each of these four much better. This is, of course, slightly helped by the fact that I’ve been to all of these cities before (though ranging from 14 to 1 year ago) so that means I’m not totally lost in a new place.

It’s been good getting used a little to Bangkok again – which was, in fact, 14 years ago since my last visit. Finally meeting one of my LinkedIn contacts in person for drinks and dinner led to plenty of interesting CSR & Asia topics to talk about. And we tried out a pretty good example of I guess a social enterprise in Bangkok (though it seems to be doing quite well): Cabbages & Condoms. Good food, for a good cause: the man behind these projects is Mechai Viravaidya, a former minister and founder of the Population & Community Development Association (PDA). The association aims to promote family planning through innovative programs and approaches to make the use of contraceptive a less sensitive matter in Thailand. The restaurant is only one way of raising awareness, with proceeds from the restaurant going to PDA’s social projects. Daphne has some more extensive information about the man and his work.

How to let SMEs grow in Japan

Tokyo / Marunouchi & Tokyo station

Towards Tokyo Station in Marunouchi

Last week in my post on flexible workspaces, I hesitated about putting in this (part of a) sentence:

[…] the government has more than once announced that small business entrepreneurship will be an important driver for innovation in Japan. If Japan has the right sort of regulatory environment to make that happen is another issue […]
I wasn’t sure if I should use this because it also leads to a lot more questions. Such as, what is the state of small business entrepreneurship in Japan now? What changes are needed in the regulatory environment to make this happen? Etc.So, imagine my luck spotting two articles tonight that talk about these exact issues. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies (in popular terms: Abenomics) consists of several pillars – or ‘arrows’ – of which the third is Abe’s strategy for growth. Policies include  liberalising the domestic labour market, expanding the opportunities of women in the workforce, promoting green energy use and deregulation.

And these are exactly the things that are needed to create a business environment in which young entrepreneurs and new start-ups can succeed, as the Japan Times today discusses. In this article several companies are highlighted, mostly in the IT-industry, which are great examples of how a single entrepreneur can build a successful company such as Gree, Inc. and DeNA. Yet, the article also mentions that the success of Abe’s policies is essential in order to grow a more entrepreneurial business environment.

A second article, found on East Asia Forum discusses a related topic: the lack of internationalisation amongst Japanese small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These companies mostly work as suppliers to the large multinationals, many of which we all know like Mitsubishi, Toyota etc. The article gives some reasons for this limited international reach, amongst which several external factors (eg, underdeveloped infrastructure or inadequate legal systems in neighbouring countries). It also mentions several domestic factors such as the lack of English-speakers in the Japanese work force: how can you do business abroad when you cannot communicate with potential partners or customers? (in the case of Japan, I would argue it can also be very beneficial to have Chinese- and Korean-speakers amongst your employees).

The post on East Asia Forum also looks expectantly towards Abe’s third arrow – and notes the opportunity for Japan’s SMEs of increasing regionalism in Asia with several regional trade deals being negotiated (the RCEP, TPP and a China-Korea-Japan FTA).

Change in Japan is often slow, but for a healthy economy it will be important for Japan to make progress on these topics. Let’s see how fast Abe can go…

Weekend reading, early edition: on shale gas, factory audits and urban vitality

I know it’s not really the weekend yet, but since I will be away enjoying good music and sun over the next few days, I’ll leave you with some good reading for the weekend to come. All China, I’m afraid.

Behind the scenes at factory audits
Factory audits are very common at Chinese factories for foreign companies producing in China as a way of managing risk and ensuring that local circumstances follow whatever guidelines the company has set down in its supplier code. But, how do you know what is really happening? The New York Times published a long read this week uncovering how audits at Chinese factories sometimes do work (I’m hopeful that this isn’t happening everywhere….).

I’ve posted previously about Steven Zhang’s website where he shares his factory stories. His latest post is on factory owners’ environmental consciousness.

Shalegas in China
There’s a lot of discussion currently in the Netherlands whether or not to approve trial exploration of shale gas. Shale gas field are under development in a lot of other countries already, including in China. So, both ChinaFile and the Wall Street Journal published articles this week on how the China developments are going so far.

Comparing Almere & Tongzhou
I have a long list of unread articles waiting to be read on my RSS-feed from the UrbaChina-website. But, I’m highlighting this one I spotted, because of the – for me – unusual juxtaposition of two cities: Almere in the Netherlands and Tongzhou in China. The post highlights a PhD dissertation from TU Delft in which the writer explores the relationship between space and society as a way of studying urban vitality in so-called new towns.

Happy reading!