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?

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Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

He was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), is rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (also its highest rating), and is a recognized SuperLawyer.

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.