GM China Has Employees Living Inside Factories

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gm china has employees living inside factories

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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  • JD-Shifty JD-Shifty on Mar 29, 2022

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

  • Zerofoo Zerofoo on Mar 30, 2022

    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.

  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.