Harsh Labor Practices

Mr. Daisey’s podcast describing his experience as the Foxconn plant in China was both enlightening and frustrating. While I have always heard horror stories about the labor practices of companies like Apple or Nike, I have never been exposed to it in the form of a personal account with such detailed description and emotion. I think that this added human element really helps the listener sympathize with the people being affected by Foxconn and Apple’s negligence. In this way, I feel that the issue has been presented to me in a different way that allows me to develop a new appreciation for it. That being said, it also gave me a strong sense of frustration with respect to the issue. This frustration stems by my inability to make a change. Am I supposed to throw out all of the products that are made in factories with unfair labor practices and refuse to buy any more Apple products? Do I sacrifice my ability to function within my own society to save another? Am I, the American Consumer,  the problem or is it a problem with China’s social institutions? Are Chinese and American societies inherently separate, or does our extensive economic partnership make our societies one in the same? Essentially, my conflicted emotions regarding the topic is based on my inability to determine where the true responsibility lies to solve these problems. Is it my job to protect China’s laborers or is the job of the Chinese people themselves?

I am not sure what the answers the these questions are, but I do know that something needs to be done. For me, the most moving part of this story was the part in which Mr. Daisey describes the recent trend of factory workers committing suicide due to the continued mental and physical stress associated with her work. If there was ever a trend like that developing a the General Motors factory in Detroit, it would be headline news across the country and the executives of GM would probably be held accountable. Unfortunately for the Chinese people, however, their society lacks the social institutions to protect them from greed and corruption and they are forced to work long, brutal hours under horrible conditions. But where is the incentive to change anything? The people capable of making changes in China are blinded by the immense growth they’ve experienced by partnering with American companies and the American business owners are distracted by their huge profit margins. The American public, as a whole, is overcome by a tidal wave of new technology and consumer goods that make life easier at a reasonable financial cost to even acknowledge the problem. This leaves the Chinese people themselves to fix the problem, but they are discouraged by the alternative of no work at all and suffer a lack of the social mobility needed to make a change.

I do believe that awareness is the first step to the solution. The more people who recognize the issue, the more people will be willing to do something about it. But the context our American, Chinese and global societies obscures our priorities and forces us to focus more on issues more likely to be found in People Magazine rather than issues that really matter.


4 responses to “Harsh Labor Practices

  1. I thought your question regarding who should bear the blame for the terrible labor practices, was a really good point and the heart of the story by Mr. Daisey. Is it the consumers fault, American businesses, or foreign government for these working conditions? I understand your frustration as to feeling helpless. To avoid buying a product based on the conditions abroad leaves you at a disadvantage in our own society, especially with a product like Apple. At the same time, I do not think all the responsibility of change is on the foreign governments. I agree with your point of spreading awareness, as this is something consumers can do to help change the current conditions. The more public knowledge there is about these labor conditions, the more American businesses will be forced to make positive changes and provide aid to fix it.

  2. I think the point you brought up about whether the fault and the duty to fix it lies with the American companies or with the Chinese? Foxconn is the real problem here, at the core of it, not Apple. The idea that it might not really be primarily Apple’s duty to enforce labor laws but rather the duty of the Chinese government has not really been brought up yet. I really agree with the idea that it is the job of the Chinese government to enforce Chinese labor laws appropriately at Foxconn and not let them get away with poor labor practices. I can’t help but wonder whether Foxconn is so important to the Chinese economy, their GDP and essentially their bargaining power with the US that the Chinese government may not want to crack down on the huge company in the way they ethically should.

  3. I really like the questions you pose in the first paragraph. I think that Americans want to change, but uprooting a whole society from its comforts is extremely difficult. I think it depends on the magnitude of the message to get Americans to stand up and make a difference. Many people will say that labor conditions are terrible, but they won’t do anything about it because it means that their products will be more expensive, or they won’t have them at all. This brings me to your third question about whether or not American consumers are the problem. I think that Americans, along with other world-wide consumers, definitely are. If there was no demand, there would be no problem.

  4. James I think your General Motors example of workers committing suicide in Detroit really drives home the point that awareness is the most powerful solution here. America’s news outlets, if not the world’s media would be all over a suicide story like that taking place at GM. It is unfortunate that our society has come to accept that poor working conditions are “just the way it works” over in China. It would be terrific to see the Chinese government enhance its labor policies or a company like Apple step in to a greater extent but until the problem truly affects everyone’s wallets we may need to rely on People Magazine running an article on the issue…

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