5 problems with printing yearbooks in China

CHINA SHENZHEN - APRIL 20: The biggest CCTV surveillance camera producer in China factory tour on April 20 2010 in Shenzhen.

Sometime after a yearbook company in BC began printing yearbooks in China, the cost of yearbooks amongst all companies came down drastically, possibly to compete with Chinese-printed yearbooks. In the past year, we’ve done more research on Chinese printing and have concluded that schools benefitting from the savings (a theory only that this gets passed down tangibly to students) is not enough reason to justify the practice of Canada-China trade. Also, as we’ve done more research, we’ve concluded for ourselves that even the most ethical of printing facilities in China still pose serious problems. Here’s why:

1. Schools in Canada receive poorer-quality service. We learned that when prices in the industry dropped, the quality of service with some companies decreased. Yearbook reps had to work harder for less money in this commission-based industry, needing more accounts to make the same income they were previously making.

2. A chain reaction of income loss affects a whole city. Imagine a scenario where several schools who previously printed with a local company suddenly pulled out to start printing in China. The income loss to the local printer would likely result in job loss for employees and fewer purchases by the printer of materials, maintenance, and services. Losses would be felt even by restaurants that surround the printing company where workers had eaten for lunch, by catering companies which catered office parties, by companies who supplied the office with water coolers or coffee. Loss of revenue to one company means cuts elsewhere which are felt all along the supply chain and laterally, too.

3. Our tax base decreases when jobs available decrease. If we could keep all of our business operations in Canada, it would create jobs, obviously. More employed people means more taxes, which means more money available for schools, health care, roads, water, etc.

4. China is reported to be breaking its World Trade agreements. According to the (very dramatically named) documentary Death by China, directed by UC-Irvine business professor Peter Navarro, (and full of Republican pro-business agenda and Fox News-like hysteria) available on Netflix or YouTube, China continues to manipulate their currency, mistreat workers, and neglect environmental and health standards. It’s worth watching. Also, worth reading is Labour Law: Trends and Practices in China, by James Zimmerman in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

Because of the widespread corruption noted in Chinese factories and government, with scheduled factory tours not always revealing authentic working conditions, it’s important to get third party checks and endorsements. Here is a list of considerations for legally and ethically operating factories to meet. However, after reading How China is Screwing Over Its Poisoned Factory Workers, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could know for certain the conditions endured by people working down the supply chain in creating a yearbook or video yearbook: the conditions where the ribbons are made, the inks, the paper, the electronics, the fabrics used.

By giving Chinese companies our money, we’re giving them power to take advantage of migrant workers, literally working them to death, and we’re giving more power to a grossly corrupt totalitarian government.

5. Cheap flashy doodads from China are poisoning our environment. Our landfills do not need more unnecessary objects that fall apart quickly. Sometimes companies buy branded products from China or Korea for hardly any money at all, to appear to be giving added value to customers and clients. We see this everywhere—dentist and law offices, insurance companies, yearbook companies. But it’s all just garbage, often replaceable by online technology. We imagine that teachers would appreciate paper or e-vouchers for free lunches or coffee as thank yous over plastic water bottles, pens, foam squeezy anti-stress balls. As Summit Yearbooks strives to be an environmentally responsible Zero Waste company, we are rethinking how we do everything, striving to find adequate or superior replacements to the usual ways of business.

The argument has been made by some that by manufacturing goods in China which more people can afford to buy, that we are actually creating more jobs in North America because more purchases mean more stores needed. Take this biased and very poorly argued article in Forbes, for example, where this and several other dubious-at-best points are made. The theory is that if Gap clothes are made in America where workers are paid fair wages, the clothes will be higher in price, fewer people will be able to afford them, which means fewer factory workers will be needed and fewer stores. But this is only true if we maintain the current capitalist model of company owners making many millions every year and CEOs making up to $400k+ a year. If more entrepreneurs and CEOs were like this hero, getting their life satisfaction from creating opportunity for other people, making other people happy and able to meet their basic needs, rather than making themselves happy through the addictive habits of consumption and hoarding, we could afford to have more production and trade taking place in our own country without much drop in sales.

At Summit, we don’t fault average citizens for buying products made in China. We can only buy what is available to us. We can’t all afford to be choosey about who makes our clothes or TV when our primary concerns are our own families’ budgets during tough times. We do have to hold our public bodies to higher standards, particularly when they have more collective power than the average individual.

If students want yearbooks, and if yearbooks are a part of a highly valuable curriculum, schools have the money to spend on ethically-made and FIPPA-compliant yearbooks. That being said, Summit’s prices are quite competitive with Chinese-printed yearbook prices. Where cost remains an issue—and as a company we care very much about making yearbooks accessible to ALL students—Summit Yearbooks has an unparalleled sales and advertising plan for schools to use with our help, placing ads for local businesses in several places, increasing impressions and therefore value to businesses.

As a result of this research, we’re giving a great deal of thought to our own buying decisions. We hope that you will, too.


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