Just read a chilling article on Chinese factory working conditions in — of all places — the Salt Lake Tribune (h/t to All Roads Lead to China). The article is by Loretta Tofani and it is entitled, “Chinese workers lose their lives producing goods for America.” It is one of seven articles by the Pulitzer Prize winning Tofani detailing the unsafe, even deadly, working conditions to which Chinese factory workers are so often subjected.
This is brilliant and necessary reporting.
One of the articles in the series is entitled, “Who is Responsible” and it asks that very question, but does so almost exclusively from the perspective of moral responsibility. I want to know if American or other foreign companies might some day find themselves on the wrong end of a horrible lawsuit in a U.S. or other court.
Can a maimed Chinese worker sue a U.S. company in a U.S. court (for U.S. style damages) if that U.S. company never once checked out the factory from which it receives all of its product? Some of its product? Does it matter how much instruction the U.S. company gives the Chinese company regarding production? Does knowledge matter? Can a poisoned Chinese worker sue a U.S. company in a U.S. court for having chosen to use a poisonous coating because it cost a Yuan less? Can a Chinese worker sue a U.S. company in a U.S. court for having allowed its Chinese supplier to use a poisonous coating because it cost a Yuan less? These are questions that every American company that does any manufacturing in China should at least be contemplating.
On December 10, I will be speaking in Washington D.C. on what Western manufacturers must do to protect themselves when outsourcing to China at the LexisNexis Product Recall Liability Conference: Made in China and Beyond. Some of the top tort litigation plaintiff and defense lawyers will be speaking on the litigation angles relating to Chinese products and I plan to raise some of these questions there.
In the meantime, I would very much like to hear from anyone who has ever researched or dealt with these issues. What do you know?