I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
—Bob Dylan

I have been hearing of labor shortages in China since forever and though there no doubt is a shortage of skilled and managerial labor, I have always found it hard to believe there is such a shortage of factory workers. I have always believed that if the factory owners paid more, they would have plenty of workers. I have always seen “labor shortage” as just a far too convenient excuse by Chinese factories for failing to deliver their product on time and for seeking to increase their charges.

But two different conversations over the last couple of weeks are causing me to doubt my own analysis.

The first was with a client who makes furniture in Vietnam in his own factories. He told me he has been having a real tough time getting workers for his factories, even though he insists (and I believe him) he pays above market and does whatever he can to make his factories a good place to work. He said that the problem in Vietnam is that living in the countryside is not that bad and that after a year or so in the factories, many workers decide to return to their farms back home. He admitted that if he were Vietnamese, he would rather live a bucolic existence with low wages than work in a factory for higher wages. He said “it’s not like China here. I’ve been to some of the villages where my workers come from and though not much is happening in those places, it certainly isn’t grinding poverty either.”

Then just yesterday, another client told me a similar story regarding his China factory. He said he was paying above market wages and doing what he could to make his factory a good place to work, both short and long term. He said that despite this, he was losing more workers each year to their hometowns. This guy has two factories (neither in Guangdong Province) and he claims he is losing workers not to factories closer to his workers’ hometowns, but to the hometowns themselves as more and more workers are deciding they can lead better lives not working in factories at all. He said that as China continues to improve the life of its rural citizens, we are only going to be seeing more of this.

What are you seeing out there in terms of Vietnam and China Labor?

Dan Harris

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

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My 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.

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

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). 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 me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus 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.