By on March 29, 2022

General Motors’ joint venture in Shanghai is reportedly having employees sleep on factory floors to remain operational during regional COVID-19 lockdowns. The facilities are operated collaborative by GM and state-owned Chinese partner SAIC Motor Corp, with government restrictions being in place until at least Friday. Due to the tens of million people affected, it’s one of the largest lockdowns instituted since the pandemic started.

Initially reported by Reuters, the situation was framed as GM finding a workaround to ongoing Chinese lockdowns while other companies simply stopped production. But that seems to be glossing over some of the relevant context, mainly that the plant is now loaded up with workers who are sleeping inside the factory and living in relative isolation to ensure the facility is compliant with China’s stringent zero-tolerance policy while still managing to remain competitive. 

As luck would have it, automakers and suppliers in the region that failed to embrace similarly drastic measures were forced to close.

From Reuters:

A key auto supplier, Aptiv PLC, told workers at one of its Shanghai facilities that supplies Tesla and GM’s Shanghai joint venture to head home on Tuesday because of the need to enforce COVID controls, people briefed on the measure said.

The Aptiv closure came on the second day of a lockdown in Shanghai, home to 26 million people and a major hub for manufacturing of vehicles and other goods. The city has instituted tough controls on movements of people to try to control the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

The lockdown, one of the biggest tests for China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, has forced automakers and suppliers to either try to adapt with extreme measures to keep factories running or to shut down and risk delayed shipments at a time when demand for vehicles is strong.

German auto supplier Bosch on Tuesday said its two plants in Shanghai are working with reduced personnel. “We are doing everything we can to maintain the supply chains as much as possible and to serve the demands of our customers,” the company said in a statement.

For global automakers and suppliers, the latest coronavirus-related disruptions in China, the world’s largest market, are piling on top of problems created by the war in Ukraine.

The measures GM took to keep its Shanghai plant open equate to a “closed-loop” management process, which China’s financial hub has asked companies to adopt to stay open during a two-stage lockdown to battle its outbreak.

The process mimics similar tactics utilized during the Winter Olympics in Beijing designed to separate personnel and participants from the general public. Workers are isolated in groups that share shifts and then live and work separately from the rest of society to minimize contact. Food is brought in from the outside and often cooked on the premises, though it’s unclear exactly what these arrangements entail. Some reports have employees sleeping on concrete flooring, while others claim cots have been placed in isolated corners of the factory.

The relevant GM facilities are responsible for the assembly of Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac products — all of which the manufacturer said were able to continue operations “normally” thanks to contingency plans made with suppliers to mitigate any future uncertainties related to COVID-19. However, there’s likely a limit to this if other facilities in the region are going down due to the stringency of the restrictions in and around Shanghai. Should lockdowns continue branching out, or if special permits start being revoked for delivery vehicles, supply shortages seem assured. That is unless more businesses adopt similar policies that keep workers from leaving the premises.

For now, companies like GM-SAIC and Apple suppliers (e.g. Foxconn, Shenzhen Deren Electronic, TLC Corp) are attributing their ability to remain operational during lockdowns to their adoption of the aforementioned management processes that have resulted in staff also becoming residents. Meanwhile, others (Aptiv for example) have opted to shut down operations temporarily to remain in compliance with government mandates.

Considering all the talk about global companies (including GM) utilizing Chinese slave labor in the past, it’s surprising this isn’t getting more negative attention from Western media. But it’s hard to get reliable reports on the living conditions inside these facilities, even if everyone who has visited an automotive plant would probably assume they’re less than ideal. China has long been infamous for allowing poor working conditions and new criticisms have emerged alleging that pandemic has been used to institute more government control over the citizenry. Though we don’t yet have a clear picture of what that looks like in terms of these euphemistic-sounding “closed-loop” systems beyond the occasional leak and whatever the relevant companies are telling us.

[Image: Linda Parton/Shutterstock]

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33 Comments on “GM China Has Employees Living Inside Factories...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Considering all the talk about global companies (including GM) utilizing Chinese slave labor in the past, it’s surprising this isn’t getting more negative attention from Western media.”

    It’s not surprising, since Covid restrictions are not the same as slavery – unless Tucker tells me they are.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Whatever keeps the iPhone and new MacBooks coming. Chinese living conditions are not of my concern. I mean we keep a population in virtual slavery because we like lettuce for .49 cents a head so I’m not sure why anyone should be outraged here.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      The U.S. media is largely left wing and embraced the globalization-good narrative years ago. That is why Rump won the election in 2016, at least in large part. It’s also why you’re not going to hear a whole lot negative about China. There’s really just no interest in covering that. It’s a huge piece of our wealth puzzle, and by “our” I mean our elites.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Oh the non elites don’t care about it either. So long as you get your new SamsungGoogleAppleOnePlus whatever phone every 2 years when your contract is up and get that new TV from Wal Mart that is 10 inches bigger than your neighbor’s every couple of years.
        But do go on pretending that you are not a significant part of that particular problem and keep blaming “The Elites” and “The Rich”.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Art – You are correct. As long as one can selfishly “get theirs” cheaply, they won’t care if toddlers are on the assembly line and the product is made from clubbed seal pups.

          • 0 avatar
            wolfwagen

            What do baby seals have for lunch?
            Club sandwiches!

            I’ll be here all week, don’t forget to tip your waiter/waitress

        • 0 avatar
          Superdessucke

          Have you ever tried to buy an American made smartphone? Shoes? Underwear? Well, the latter might be doable, but barely! Americans are throwing their money around right now. Now would be the time to start inshoring some of this stuff. I mean, isn’t this what Brandon promised us?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            He promised a plan for Covid too.

            And yet..

          • 0 avatar
            Superdessucke

            I would love to buy a made-in-America pair of grape huggers. But thus far no change. This needs to be corrected.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            @Superdessucke,
            “Now would be the time to start inshoring some of this stuff. I mean, isn’t this what Brandon promised us?”

            I’m able and willing to own and manage a small electronics factory here in the US.

            All I need are investors who want lower returns, and customers who want higher prices.

            Connect me with these people, and I’ll get to work!

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Naa…make them wherever it is the cheapest to do so. The people that could be employed in those factories should learn to code or something. The writing has been on that wall for decades. People’s failure to react and prepare is not of my concern. If I have learned anything on these forums it is that I should not have to subsidize dumb decisions.

            See opinions on healthcare for those not vaccinated on this site. They know the risks. Well, we’ve known since the early 80s where the job market was heading. They knew the risks of not preparing. I fail to see why my purchases of undergarments or textiles should now subsidize those poor decisions.

          • 0 avatar
            aja8888

            It took 50 years to offshore our technology and manufacturing and it will take that long to bring it back.

          • 0 avatar
            Superdessucke

            “I have learned anything on these forums it is that I should not have to subsidize dumb decisions.”

            If you pay taxes in the United States, then you subsidize theae “dumb decisions” already. We have generations of people on welfare living in big cities and in rural areas. And then there is the cost of all the crimes they commit. I think you would find that inshoring manufacturing jobs back to the United States would be cheaper in the long run.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            They should get good. And are you saying my taxes will go down? Doubt it. I’ll be paying the same taxes and spending more on underwear. Pass. Plenty of jobs out there now.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Superdessucke, You have it reversed. Capitalism embraced globalization. The ‘left’ as you phrased it, including unions have long advocated against it. Karl Marx predicted it over 170 years ago, as an inevitable result of unfettered capitalism.

        • 0 avatar
          Superdessucke

          @ArthurDailey – Historically that’s true. However, the modern left (Democratic Party) has embraced professionals and rejected the working class. That really began in the McGovern era but became plain by Clinton. The modern left embraces globalization and largely views the working class as deplorables. Trump exploited and played this into his presidency. Problem will be in what comes next.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      I am sure Comrade Carlson will say it is slavery and the Great Leader Putin must be supported at all costs.

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        Say, Jeff. You appear to be a regular Carlson watcher that knows ahead of time what he will say, if anything, on this issue. When you watch him again tonight, please take notes and make another comment here tomorrow to let us know what he said. Thanks in advance!

        • 0 avatar
          Ol Shel

          ANd yet you said nothing about YOUR opinion of Carlson’s defense of Putin, and other authoritarians.

          You could have, but you specifically chose not to.

          We have to wonder why…

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    China just being China. The country that unleashed covid on the world is holding people hostage because of covid restrictions.

    How long until Brandon advocates for this?

  • avatar
    wolfwagen

    I have seen pictures of the “dorms” in China. They are not what you think. THink of 10 – 20 people living in a 16×16 room With triple bunks, Electrical cords all over, some used as make shift clothes lines. Some of the bathrooms are nothing more than holes in a floor with a catch bin on the lower floor.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Well it can’t be very many. We keep being told that factory jobs have been automated out of existence.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    This could be good or bad depending on how GM treats these employees.

    I used to work for one of the major railroads. There was a railroad strike during Ronald Reagan’s first term as President. During strikes, non-union employees are distributed around the system to keep things going as best they can. A few foremen stay inside the picket lines so that there is someone who knows what to do. (If they leave, they can’t return until the strike ends.)

    A couple of days into the strike, I discovered that the foremen where I had been assigned were hot bunking on a cot in a boiler room and subsisting on what they could buy out of vending machines with their own money.

    For the engineering field tests I had been performing up to the start of the strike, we had a passenger car that was equipped with living quarters as well as instrumentation. The living quarters consisted of bedrooms, bathroom with shower, and a kitchen with well stocked refrigerator and freezer.

    I gave the foremen a key to the car and told them to make themselves at home. In view of what they were doing for the company, it was the least we could do in return. I got back to the place some fifteen years later. We were still remembered fondly.

    If GM is wise, they will treat these employees well. A clean, comfortable, quiet place to sleep; clean clothes daily; and good food. Doing so would earn GM priceless good will with their work force. However, since it’s GM and China, I’m not optimistic.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Thanks for that story. One question. Why could the Supervisor not return it they left the workplace? during my time as a true believe, free marketer, right wing conservative, we crossed many picket lines.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        The foremen also belonged to a union. Their continuing to work during the strike was tolerated as long as they didn’t blatantly cross the striking union’s picket lines. Non-union employees, like me, could cross picket lines although the strikers weren’t happy about it.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    From time immemorial, folks in different countries do different things differently and under different rules and different customs. Folks born into and living in these various different countries exist under these differences. Some of us can look in and be outraged/indignant/sad with what goes on elsewhere in other countries as “that’s not how it should be!” according to the onlookers own situation. As with other current world situations this is another case of “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”. I’ve been out of the market for GM products since 2009 when my tax dollars bailed them out of self-inflicted financial distress – this is another situation where GM is being GM. GM is operating in China, a different country doing different things differently and under different rules and different customs.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “…even if everyone who has visited an automotive plant would probably assume they’re less than ideal.”

    Unless you’ve been to China and observed first hand how people in rural areas without factory jobs live, you have no standing to comment on conditions in factories producing our goods. Those are very desirable jobs to the local population. Be happy you don’t live there.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    “it’s surprising this isn’t getting more negative attention from Western media.”

    Oh, come on, Matt.
    NBC owned by Comcast.
    CBS owned by Paramount.
    ABC owned by Disney.

    None of the entertainment conglomerates that own these “news” services have any dollars tied up in the Chinese market. Nope, nix, nada, nyet. Not a one!

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      “it’s surprising this isn’t getting more negative attention”

      Not at all. Corporate media only hurts itself by reporting news. They have to tow the line if they want access, so they’ll continue to lick boots and repeat what they’re told to repeat.

      Shhhh, can’t say the quiet part out loud.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    people in many poorer countries make less but save more money. This could be more of that

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    It is interesting how every decade or so we find another boogeyman to blame for our consumption habits.

    I’m no Nike fan, but when their proclivity for using child labor was discovered by the masses the knee-jerk reaction was to boycott Nike.

    What was the result of the boycott? Closure of the factory and the children working in the factory went back to almost starving while working on a farm and prostitution.

    Just because WE wouldn’t work those jobs doesn’t mean someone else shouldn’t.

    It’s not our job to make those decisions for people.

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