An Introduction to China’s Social Corporate Credit System

Global Perspectives

An Introduction to China’s Social Corporate Credit System

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China’s social credit system is both a singular database and a set of databases that keep up-to-date information on the behavior of individuals, corporations, and governmental entities across China. The social credit system has similarities with the credit ratings provided for individuals and corporations in other countries, but captures information on a wider variety of behaviors.

China’s social credit system promotes the establishment of a unified record system for people, businesses, and the government. This seeks to track and evaluate standards of trustworthiness and merit.

China’s social credit system is considered to be an ambitious initiative that has far-reaching implications on Chinese society. It is designed to construct a platform that monitors individual, corporate, and government behavior across the nation in real time.

Business owners who operate in China need to maintain a thorough understanding of this system and how it can impact their business. By understanding the rules and regulations that govern China’s social credit system, business owners are best positioned to meet standards of compliance that pertain to their industry.

At present, taking part in both the private and government versions of the social credit system is technically voluntary. However, in the future, the official social credit system will become mandatory. That being said, there’s significant pressure to take part now.

Below, we explain what the Chinese social credit system is, how it works, and what its potential implications for businesses may be.

Quick Facts About China’s Social Credit System  

China’s social credit system was formally announced in 2014, but has existed on a regional level since 2009. While many elements of the social credit system are operational already, the aim is to provide a fully functional system – enabling the ranking of all Chinese citizens and businesses – by the end of 2020.

Currently, businesses are being categorized based on their compliance standards, as well as their audit and financial records. More than 33 million businesses in China have been given a score, and many companies have already been blacklisted. 

Because the system is still in the process of being implemented, there are regional variations. Some city councils run the system in certain regions while other areas base scores on data held by private technology platforms.

The system has the capability to carefully monitor and control individual behavior. People are rewarded or punished based on their scores, and people’s scores can increase or decrease based on their individual behavior. Foreign companies are advised to seek assistance from a local expert who can ensure full compliance, and provide advice that can help increase their score and prevent them from being blacklisted. 

China Social Credit Ranking System
China Social Credit System

What is the China Social Credit System?  

China’s social credit system also knows as China’s ‘Ranking System’ uses big data to monitor and assess trustworthiness. The goal is to construct a high-trust society that is based on individuals and companies following the law. There are distinct social credit systems for citizens, businesses, and government officials.

By assigning social credit scores to individuals and entities, people and businesses can make more informed decisions about those with whom they choose to do business. Social credit scores can mean rewards or punishments for those being scored. 

For citizens, the system works similarly to obtaining a credit score in english-speaking countries. Because there is limited credit information on each citizen in China, banks and other creditors sometimes have difficulty assessing whether the individual will repay a loan.

The social credit system helps provide more information about the trustworthiness of a person. The system tracks compliance with laws and legal violations. In the future, it may track additional information.  

The social credit score system focuses on whether businesses comply with laws and regulations and pay their taxes when assigning a score to businesses. Product and service quality will also be factored into a business’ score. 

How Does the Social Credit System Work?  

The China social credit system assigns a score after collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data. Businesses collect information on their own operations and are required to submit this information to local and national authorities. This information is consolidated in a centralized database.  

Additionally, the government submits data on businesses that is obtained through standard government inspections. Data is integrated into the monitoring system, which calculates a social credit rating for each business.  

Factors that can be considered in calculating the score may include: 

  • Whether the business has paid taxes on time 
  • Whether the business maintains necessary licenses 
  • Whether the business fulfills environmental-protection requirements 
  • Whether the business meets product quality standards 
  • Whether the business meets requirements specific to their industry 

Important to note is the fact that businesses’ scores may decrease based on the behaviors of their partners.  This means enterprises need to think very carefully about who they do business with in China. 

China Social Credit System Schedule
China Social Credit System Implementation Schedule

Potential Negative Effects of a Bad Score 

Some of the possible negative effects of a bad score include: 

  • Travel bans – Individuals may be banned from flying or getting on a train, or from purchasing business-class tickets. Some hotels have also banned people with low scores
  • School bans – People with bad scores, or their children, may be barred from enrolling in higher education or applying for high school
  • Job prohibitions – A bad score can mean that a person may be denied the ability to perform work in a big bank, executive job, or at a state-owned firm. Businesses may be excluded from public procurement projects
  • Increased scrutiny – Businesses with poor scores may be subject to more audits or government inspections
  • Decreased internet speeds – Your internet speeds may be decreased based on your behavior 
  • Public shaming – The government keeps a public list of individuals and businesses with a poor score. This can make it difficult for businesses with low scores to build relationships with local partners who can be negatively impacted by their partnership. 

In addition, businesses of individuals need to consider the negative effects that the actions of a person or business can create for others due to a poor social credit score. For example, engaging with companies that have a low social credit score (such as those that are ‘blacklisted’) can reduce your own social credit score. In addition, if an individual with a poor social credit rating opens a business, the business may automatically begin with a low social credit score.  

China’s Social Credit System and the Blacklist  

China currently has a number of national and regional blacklists based on various types of violation. These systems will be integrated with the social credit system.

Businesses can be placed on a blacklist due to a particular violation or because of a poor social credit score. A government notice released in 2016 encourages businesses to consult the blacklist before they hire someone or assign them a contract. 

A blacklist of people restricted from taking air and rail transport (Image Credit: Credit China)
A blacklist of people restricted from taking air and rail transport (Image Credit: Credit China)

Please note that companies will not be blacklisted automatically for compliance failures.  The corporate social credit system also maintains an Irregularity list. This list deals with significant (but not yet ‘blacklist’ level) non-compliance. Presence on this list means the business is in danger of being blacklisted and should quickly take steps to improve their reputation.

Potential Rewards of a Good Score 

Companies with a high score are placed on a “red list”. There are a range of rewards to businesses that do well in this regard, including:

  • Streamlined administrative procedures. For example, companies that are classified as an ‘Advanced Certificate Enterprise’ may receive faster customs clearance. A-rated tax-payers may have their tax returns processed more quickly
  • Fewer inspections and audits
  • Fast-tracked approvals. 

Current Misconceptions Surrounding the Social Credit System

Due to the social credit system currently existing as a number of localized programs – as opposed to a coordinated national system – there are a host of misconceptions that need to be addressed. Business owners should understand that different regions vary in the type of data collected. There are also variances in the way that data is collated and assessed, and the manner in which rewards and punishments are enacted.

Some detractors of the system mistakenly believe that ratings given to individuals are the same as those given to businesses. This is largely incorrect and can be evidenced by the varying levels of scoring and assessment protocols that are utilized by different Chinese cities.

Distinctions Between Alibaba’s Sesame Credit and the Social Credit Rating

The social credit system is often confused as a private credit provider. It is commonly likened to Sesame (Zhima) Credit, which is operated by Alibaba’s Ant Financial.

Whilst Alibaba was involved in constructing infrastructure mechanisms for the social credit system, Sesame Credit is an optional platform that exists on its own. It is distinguished by its use for individuals, as opposed to businesses. Preparing for the Implementation of the Social Credit System

The social credit system remains, in some respects, the result of China’s goal to streamline its business landscape and remove bureaucratic limitations. Chinese authorities are driven by the long-standing belief that streamlining business environments has the potential to grow its economy. At the same time, authorities are motivated to maintain oversight over companies and other entities.

The social credit system allows authorities to produce a self-regulating market, complete with stringent oversight and a structured process of administration. Whilst it is undoubtedly strict in its application, it can also offer tangible benefits for foreign companies.

Foreign companies looking to extend or establish their operations in China will benefit through a greater leveling of the playing field with their domestic competitors. The social credit system will enforce more sustainable business regulations that are standardized across different Chinese regions.

In preparation for the implementation of the social credit system, it is imperative that businesses understand which information they need to provide to authorities. Once this information is identified, businesses should conduct an internal audit which will allow full compliance with the necessary regulations.

In addition to these measures, businesses should prepare a supply chain audit and confirm that any business partners meet social credit guidelines. Businesses should also analyze their IT and data security, as the transmission of this data to government bodies will need to be undertaken.

Whilst not mandatory, businesses should assess whether their operations are conducive to the advancement of government policies. This can include measures of corporate social responsibility that align with government priorities and wider policy initiatives.

Preparing for the Implementation of the Social Credit System

The social credit system remains, in some respects, the result of China’s goal to streamline its business landscape and remove bureaucratic limitations. Chinese authorities are driven by the long-standing belief that streamlining business environments has the potential to grow its economy. At the same time, authorities are motivated to maintain oversight over companies and other entities. 

The social credit system allows authorities to produce a self-regulating market, complete with stringent oversight and a structured process of administration. Whilst it is undoubtedly strict in its application, it can also offer tangible benefits for foreign companies. 

Foreign companies looking to extend or establish their operations in China will benefit through a greater leveling of the playing field with their domestic competitors. The social credit system will enforce more sustainable business regulations that are standardized across different Chinese regions. 

In preparation for the implementation of the social credit system, it is imperative that businesses understand which information they need to provide to authorities. Once this information is identified, businesses should conduct an internal audit which will allow full compliance with the necessary regulations. 

In addition to these measures, businesses should prepare a supply chain audit and confirm that any business partners meet social credit guidelines. Businesses should also analyze their IT and data security, as the transmission of this data to government bodies will need to be undertaken.  

Whilst not mandatory, businesses should assess whether their operations are conducive to the advancement of government policies. This can include measures of corporate social responsibility that align with government priorities and wider policy initiatives. 

Evaluating the Social Credit System

As the social credit system is relatively new, and unfamiliar to individuals and businesses from other countries, it may seem ‘scary’. However, a significant degree of the reporting in english-language media has been based on linguistic confusions and policy proposals that have not yet been implemented. For example, businesses do not currently get penalized for ‘frivolous spending’, as has been widely reported.

In many respects, a credit score in the United States, for example, can have just as serious consequences for individuals and businesses, as China’s social credit system: For example, access to transport can be seriously curtailed in the US due to a poor credit rating through higher insurance premiums and limited access to car loans.

In addition, those most familiar with the social credit system and how it is being implemented, citizens and businesses in China, are widely supportive of the system. In one peer-reviewed study, 80% of respondents either somewhat approved or strongly approved of social credit scores. Just 1% of participants reported either strong or some degree of disapproval in the system.

While not all studies have shown such a high-level of support for the system within China, all show a broad degree of support. See, for example, the study below.

China Credit System Citizen Approval
What do people in China think about ‘social credit system’ monitoring?

Conclusion

The potential consequences of your social credit score are significant.  Therefore, it is essential that you can demonstrate full compliance with all labor and employment laws in China. Note, that this is not just about avoiding the blacklist: It is also about getting credit for your strong compliance record. 

By working with a local expert like New Horizons, you can identify the type of information that you will need to provide to authorities, receive an internal audit to ensure compliance, and access due diligence on potential business partners.

Additionally, you can transfer employer responsibilities to New Horizons through our China PEO platform to benefit from our in-house legal and tax teams who ensure full compliance with local laws 

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