Dotted around China’s industrial heartland, well-connected consultants are helping factory owners flout labour laws to churn out goods that end up on the shelves of well-known Western stores. Brimming with guanxi – the Chinese term for the strong personal connections that can prise open business deals – this army of advisers openly brag about their ability to guide nearly any factory through inspections designed to ensure that goods are made safely and that workers are paid correctly, a South China Morning Post investigation can reveal.

“As long as you cooperate, keep the troublemakers out of the factory on inspection day, and make sure workers follow our guidance on answering questions, we will guarantee you pass,” a consultant in Shanghai said after the Post posed as a factory owner looking to sell goods to European buyers.