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. Continue reading China Working Conditions Podcast
While this podcast was not the first I have heard of the harsh working conditions in less developed countries, it did paint a much more vivid picture of what happens there. First, I struggled to conceptualize just how big these factories are. The sheer volume of people who enter/exit (and eat!) in that space is truly astonishing. Even though the original 10,000 people in each of 20 cafeterias was later corrected, it still stands to show just how enormous the factories in Shenzhen are.
Hi Classmates, I have been sick all week and not able to post to the blog until now.
This podcast struck home for me as an Apple “fan boy” and as a human being. The speaker expertly used pauses, trepidation, and repetition to drive home points, generate thought from his listeners, and to increase engagement and entertainment. To me, this was not so much a think-piece on Apple as it was a comment on consumerism and the adverse effect it is having on the world and humanity. Below are a few of his points that struck the loudest cord with me.
Our consumerism’s effect on the Environment: “The air in Shenzhen is like a booted foot resting on your chest, but after a few days you hardly notice it at all.” The term that comes to mind for me is “creeping normalcy.” When something seems terrible at first, but the person being exposed to it gets used to it and forgets how terrible it is over an extended period of time. It is a shame that our consumerism in the western hemisphere has led to this terrible condition somewhere else on a planet we share. It is also a shame that the Chinese workers who are forced to live in these conditions probably no longer notice it. I wonder how good the air in Iceland would taste– smell, feel— to one of these Chinese workers if they could step on a plane and get away.
The Size of the factories: Although this estimate was later edited at the end of the podcast, the speaker tries to get you to imagine the size of a factory which holds 20 cafeterias that each seat 10,000 (later, each is stated to seat 4,000). I imagined what it would be like to work in a factory that houses enough people to fill the Wells Fargo Center 20 times over, or Lincoln Financial field 7 times over, venues that I am familiar with. It was an interesting exercise, and I would recommend other listeners to try to imagine 400,000-500,000 people in a scale that is relatable to them.
The aesthetics hiding what is inside: In between the factory gate and the factory, there is an expansive plush green lawn (that nobody sets foot on). Before one can even enter the actual factory, there is a huge corinthian (corinthian!) lobby which contains just a receptionist. It makes me unhappy to think about how much money was spent to create these illusions of wealth and happiness when at the same time their workers are packed a dozen at a time into 12×12 rooms into bunk beds with so little space that the average American literally would not even be able to fit into them.
Suicide- After much thought, I disagreed with him on his stance on the suicide of Foxconn workers. Even while acknowledging that the Foxconn suicide rate was actually far lower than the suicide rate in the rest of China, he countered this point by stating that if workers in one company were consistantly committing suicide in the United States, we would take notice. I simply disagree with this point because while he earlier dropped his jaw at the sheer massiveness of this operation, he then brushed this notion aside when bringing up suicide. I think it is completely fair for Foxconn defenders to point out that the suicide rate is below the national level. When you put a half million people to work, and only 12 of them commit suicide in a year, there is clearly no correlation between working at Foxconn and committing suicide. It seems that if these half million people were viewed as citizens of the same city rather than workers for the same company and 88 of them committed suicide, as would be statistically likely, no one would blink an eye. His “week after week, month after month” rant about suicide is intentionally misleading and heavily implies that death is a more enjoyable route than working in these factories– which by the way, is something these workers are doing by choice. I believe he has forgotten the alternatives to this work for these laborers, which I speculate might be simply starving. This is still terrible, but this was a bone I had to pick with him.
Overall, I enjoyed listening to this podcast and reflecting on it afterwards.
For George Orwell, it was the year symbolic of an oncoming communist future.
For Apple, it was a year in which they were still the underdog.
Had Apple’s famous 1984 Superbowl commercial ran this year, the reaction would’ve been entirely different. In 1894, Apple was a fledgling company who made cheerful computers with monitors rounded to mirror the human face. Today, Apple is a giant whose products we have become completely reliant on and whose secrecy masks user data misuse and child labor in China.
Today’s Big Brother isn’t Microsoft–it’s Apple.
All Apple products are manufactured in China. We know this. We know that they’re probably made by people that are overworked and underpaid, but we don’t really know to what extent. The company that manufactures all Apple products is called FoxCon. Mike Daisey went to FoxCon and reported a portion of what he saw on the podcast, This American Life. He went undercover and was able to observe FoxCon at work. From the floor, the most startling thing he reported was silence. 30,000 people work at FoxCon. 30,000 silent people, not allowed to talk on the line. 30,000 people who create no noise. No whirring machines sound because when human labor costs next to nothing, whatever can be done by hand–is.
Your iPhones are handmade in China.
Chinese people working 16 hour days without breaks handmade your Mac.
The precision that Apple is renowned for is made at the cost of 30,000 people’s fine motor skills.
1984 is here.
Standard Leather Bag: $100. HANDMADE Leather Bag: $400. The joy of owning a product that is handmade: Priceless
People who describe their goods as being handmade, usually do so in an apparent manner in order to make sure that you realize it wasn’t some kind of robotic machine that knitted the wool scarf or assembled the leather bag that they are selling. It ensures the buyer that there is a real person, a genuine face behind the product, who put in valuable hours and effort into the making of it. This “handmade” label, gives the product a personality, and justifies the higher price requested for it. When we go on a trip to another country, we seek for the word “handmade” when we are shopping, because we associate the word with being authentic and more real than others.
When a product is handmade, it becomes more “valuable”… At least this was what I thought, until Mr. Daisey mentioned how the majority of the electronic products we use are also go into the “handmade” category. He describes the factory floors he has visited as being dead silent. This silent is partially caused by the fact that the workers are not allowed to speak, but he mentions that there is a deeper silence, which is caused by the fact that there are no machines. Daisey says, “Everything that can be made by hand, is made by hand”. After hearing this sentence, my perception of the word handmade changed; because in the technology industry, I would think that electronic devices are being assembled by robots or machines. That would make more sense now, wouldn’t it? I associate the word “handmade” more with fashion and decorative items, but before listening to Mike Daisey I never even thought about the fact that my i-Phone is also “handmade”. Maybe this was due to the fact that, unlike most of the “handmade” fashion or decorative items, the “handmade” label on electronics, is not advertised quite openly.
As I mentioned above, if labeling the a product as “handmade” adds much more value to the product, then why do these technology companies not mention this? This is a tricky question, since if they started mentioning how their products are handmade by people and not machines in order to cut down costs, how labor forces are being exploited in Chinese sweatshops in order to squeeze out profits in every possible way, how the workers in these sweatshops sometimes loose their hands, while “hand” making products, would the “handmade” label still add more value to the product? Would people be willing to pay more for “handmade” electronics, if they knew that the money will never go back to the workers themselves who put in their valuable time and effort into the production process? These technology companies should use technology in their production process wherever they can, so that these workers are not used like robots or machines.
If, i-Phone: $649, i-Pad: $299, then what’s the price of “Loosing the ability to function your hand while assembling these “handmade” products”?
After listening to This American Life, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the type of people who are running these manufacturing companies. I would to understand what is going through their minds when they monitor these workers. Listening to the podcast, I am sure many of us already knew about the harsh working conditions regarding the sweatshops, but how do we as consumers look using these products and turning a blind eye. It is saddening to see how Foxconn and other sweatshop companies have the ability to just let money cloud their judgment. I always thought what if it was their 12-14 year old daughter working in these factories would the sweatshop owners or the American companies owners still continue doing business with them? Where has the morality of these companies gone? From changing the production line with older workers when auditors come to the harsh working and living conditions workers have to go through is just disappointing to see.
One thing that really caught my attention was when they talked about how some people see the benefit in sweatshops as an effective way to fight poverty. Yes, I can agree to an extend that they are being taken out of their state of poverty, but they also have to realize that the workers are still technically in the same situation as before because they are still living in poverty from the rich benefiting on their behalf. Some of the production workers are saying that the being in poverty with manufacturing jobs are preferred over agriculture, but with these production line jobs their mental and physical health is actually suffering more. For instance, these companies do not care about providing you with medical support if you hurt yourself because the workers are seem as disposable goods that can be easily replaced. This takes me back to my first blog entry about individual sustainability, where our society has helped promote a world of self-interest and success. This type of mentality can contribute to the focus on profit maximization, which can hinder one’s judgment. Why is there this mind-set of selling the cheapest product when we in the US have fought for labor rights for 100 years? Do we want to just keep our achievements to ourselves because it seems that way when we outsourced our production jobs without the protections of workers?
Personally, for me, I never actually realized where these products came from, but it was always in the back of my mind. I own many of these products that are produced in these manufacturing companies in ShenZhen and when I first heard the name of this city is shocked me because this is where my family is from. The last time I was back in that area I was about six years old, so I never got a chance to actually see the city the way it was described by Mike. Even now I do not hear about these factories my family from that area speak and I think it stems from the normality of getting work in these manufacturing companies to make a living. On the other side of the world, people are so blinded by all the social benefits these products bring like a sense of status and belonging in our culture. Our societies are so fixed on having the best and providing people an image of your success because nobody enjoys the feeling of being ostracized. I believe the our own individual intentions along with the society we have socially constructed with material goods has these conditions acceptable.
After listening to the radio show The American Life featuring actor Mike Daisey, I discovered that there is a major need for our society to address employee satisfaction. Mike Daisey emphasized the poor working conditions present in the Foxconn factory. This factory manufactures products for a variety of well-known companies such as Apple, HP, and Dell. After speaking to factory workers, Daisey discovered the factory has small living quarters, long working hours, toxins impacting the health of employees, and a labor board that neglects to address problems employees face. Why won’t Foxconn address these problems? More importantly, why do companies like Apple sit and watch their factories treat employees poorly? Continue reading How satisfied are you?
“I think, what I thought, is they were made by robots.” Mike Daisey’s subconscious notion of the manufacturing process of Apple products was perfectly aligned with what I had imagined. Apple products are so futuristic and streamlined that it is only logical to assume all parts of the Apple supply chain would have the same characteristics. Considering I envisioned that high-tech machinery in a white, sleek factory pieced together each device, this podcast was truly fascinating and eye-opening for me. Continue reading “I think, what I thought, is they were made by robots”