Sometimes there’s a small and simple way to tackle a large and complicated problem. For her thesis project, product design student Grace Tsai wanted to do something to reduce China’s growing income gap. “If the gap gets bigger,” she says, “migrant workers from the countryside won’t be able to survive in the expensive cities, and neither will their families, who depend on their income.” Migrant workers make up about 10 percent of China’s population, and as a group they contribute the most to China’s economic growth. However, because they are less well educated than their urban peers, they are often underpaid and treated poorly by employers. China’s new labor contract law was put into effect on January 1, 2008, but migrant workers are generally not aware of their rights under it. “When I researched this issue, I found a report that said 40 percent of migrant workers never sign their labor contract. I realized that this was something I could work on,” explains Tsai. Her project, Contract Helpmate, which won Parsons’ Product Design Thesis Prize for 2009, is an attractively illustrated booklet that offers clear information about workers’ rights and labor contracts and tools to help workers protect themselves from abusive management.
Tsai, now a graduate, is looking for a business sponsor to get the project off the ground. “They could help me distribute this all over the country,” she says. “I want to make it happen for real.”