Humanized Management? Capital and Migrant Labour in a Time of Labour Shortage in South China

TitleHumanized Management? Capital and Migrant Labour in a Time of Labour Shortage in South China
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsChoi, Susanne Y. P., and Peng, Yinni
JournalHuman Relations
Pagination287 - 304
Date Published2015
Keywordshumanized management, labor shortage, managerial control, migrant labor, South China

This article explores changing strategies of managerial control in a labour-intensive factory in South China at a time of labour shortage. It describes power relationships between capital and migrant labour under changing labour market conditions, migrant cohorts and global business environment, and analyses a new paternalist managerial strategy named ‘humanized management’ and workers’ reactions to it. Although ‘humanized management’, as part of East Asian paternalism, advocates mutual respect, care and reciprocity between management and labour, it constructs workers as irresponsible, spoiled children needing to be led, moved, touched, taught and ruled. Its human focus notwithstanding, the new strategy did not result in substantial reforms of managerial despotism, nor did the factory institute any welfare programs for workers. Because of these discrepancies between the ideological avowals and practical application of ‘humanized management’, the new approach was disregarded by workers, who preferred to rely on individual measures such as threats to quit, or collective action, to win concessions from management. The study provides new insight into the changing relationship between capital and migrant workers in South China and informs the debate in industrial sociology and human resource management research about the efficacy of East Asian paternalist management in improving capital–labour relationships.