Movie Review: “A Decent Factory”

I just watched the 2004 documentary “A Decent Factory”.

This bare-bones documentary examines efforts by Finnish cell-phone maker Nokia to monitor its own supply chain. The film follows Nokia’s internal ethics advisor and a British ethics consultant on a trip to Shenzhen, China, to audit the operations of a factory making parts for Nokia phones.

The film is worth watching if you’ve got an interest in the subject matter, and would be a great teaching tool for a business ethics class or a class on supply-chain management. But don’t expect the slick production values of The Smartest Guys in the Room (the Enron movie) or even Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Don’t expect much flash: just a camera following the auditors around the factory, interviewing managers and workers, examining safety and environmental practices.

One of the most striking things about the movie is that working conditions in the factory are, well, so-so. This isn’t a sweatshop: workers are under-paid a little (compared to what’s required by Chinese law) and they complain that the food in the factory cafeteria is bad. But there are no 16-hour days, no oppressive heat, and no beatings. In part, that’s what makes the auditors’ (and, in the end, Nokia’s) position so difficult, and is likely to leave many viewers feeling somewhat ambivalent. If the factory were a real sweatshop, it would be easy to abhor it, and perhaps easy for Nokia to cut it out of their supply chain. If, on the other hand, the factory were a model of progressive working conditions…well, then it wouldn’t have been in the movie. As it is, Nokia is faced with a dilemma: as a socially conscious company with socially conscious customers, they can’t just turn a blind eye to violations of minimum-wage laws or ignore lax enforcement of safety standards, but neither can they simply insist that the factory’s owners simply eat the full cost of bringing their practices up to par.

This, in part, is what makes this movie interesting. It illustrates why business ethics (or at least the ethics of supply chain management) is so challenging. Foot-stomping criticism of brutal sweatshop labour is easy. Cases like the one shown in A Decent Factory are much harder. Grey areas where things aren’t perfect and improvement is possible-but-not-easy demand thoughtful problem-solving and a serious commitment to improving (rather than perfecting) performance and having better, rather than worse, answers at hand when called to account.

IMDB’s page about “A Decent Factory”
Nokia’s Supplier Requirements
List of other movie reviews on this blog.

Relevant Books:
Nokia: The Inside Story
The Nokia Revolution : The Story of an Extraordinary Company That Transformed an Industry
Essentials of Supply Chain Management, 2nd Edition
Implementing Codes Of Conduct: How Businesses Manage Social Performance In Global Supply Chains

3 comments so far

  1. […] (#2 on the list) appeared here as the subject of a movie I reviewed, called A Decent Factory. The movie was about Nokia’s attempt to manage things like labour standards in its supply […]

  2. […] next recommendation is admittedly the dullest of the bunch, but still worth considering. A Decent Factory is a story about audits. Not financial audits, but supply-chain audits carried out by Nokia at the […]

  3. A Decent Factory « commorgiland on

    […] the factory, yet are too great to ignore.  As corporate ethicist and blogger Chris MacDonald points out “Foot stomping criticism of brutal sweat shop labour is easy,” but, “Grey areas where things […]

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