After listening to the podcast by NPR, I was surprised and somewhat appalled by the conditions Chinese workers manufacture technology products in. Though the speaker, Mike Daisey, certainly had a bias, the working environment and dormitories sound challenging and detrimental to living a happy life. During the speaking portion, where Daisey talks about his findings during his visit to FoxConn, the fact I found most horrific was the installation of suicide nets. Though it seems the suicide rates at Foxconn are about the same as the suicide rate across all of China, it speaks to a serious problem that suicide nets needed to be installed. For numerous employees to commit suicide in such dramatic and public fashion by leaping off the top of a building, there must be a serious issue with the quality of their lives, which is largely dominated by Foxconn. I don’t think it is fair to rush into judgment and blame only Foxconn for this suicide issue, but further investigation is definitely merited both within Foxconn and across China.
I also wish the podcast detailed what happened to workers once their hands no longer worked well enough to assemble the pieces and devices used in computers, phones and other electronic gadgets. Daisey talked about worker’s hands becoming too mangled and damaged to perform the daily duties, and being forced to leave the factory around 26 or 27. I wasn’t sure if this was typical of all workers, or only an issue for some. Either way, I would like to know what happens to the workers once they are “thrown out like trash”. I don’t know what career opportunities exist in China for former factory workers no longer able to work in factories, but I can’t imagine there are a lot of them. Another issue I had with Foxconn is the alleged child labor. This again could be systemic across China and not specific to Foxconn, or not even be as widespread as Daisey made it seem during the podcast, but even a few child workers is not good. I don’t know what recourse exists for these 12, 13 and 14 year-olds toiling for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in a factory, but there probably aren’t many in China.
The final point I would like to call attention to is how systemic these issues are across China. They are not isolated to Foxconn or Apple, but are instead prevalent for almost every factory (though to varying degrees) and company conducting business in China. This speaks to an issue with all companies trying to provide items for consumers at as low a cost as possible. I don’t think it will be possible for workers in China to receive better working conditions until Chinese society acts in a coordinated manner to provide for workers. The reason these factories drive workers so hard and for such low wages is because us western consumers want our products as cheap as possible and we want the newest, coolest and best devices. Unless people are willing to pay two, three even four times the current price for items, I doubt conditions will materially improve. I also think Apple receives an unfair share of criticism for the role they play in exploiting Chinese workers. Based on this podcast and several readings I have done, it does seem they don’t treat workers as well as they deserve, but the conditions are no different than workers of Samsung, Dell, Intel or other large technology manufacturers. Apple is just an easy target because they are large, well known, and very distinctive. Overall, I found this to be an interesting podcast, one that challenged me to think about the products I use as a part of my everyday life, and how they are built. This podcast was done around four years ago, so I would be interested in seeing if any follow-up has been done, and to see what the changes have been made during that time.