The email came barely two months before Christmas, in 2007. My editor wanted an article about manufacturing in China. Products being sold around the world were made in the country and he wanted to prick the conscience of consumers before the festive season shopping orgy began – so the focus was to be on labour conditions and the quality of products. Especially toys.
There was no better place to start than in Yiwu, the Zhejiang province manufacturing powerhouse and a favourite low-cost market for retailers. Christmas goods were already halfway to tinsel-dressed shelves across the globe, but Valentine’s Day would be next, so the factories were still hard at it. Stuffed hearts bearing the words “I love you” in all imaginable languages – albeit with spelling mistakes here and there – filled the first factory I managed to sneak into.