Ah, January. Here in Champaign, January for me means running on the indoor track here at the U of I (5 times around is a mile, can't beat that!). Yesterday, I was running and listening to This American Life on my iPod. I am never disappointed by TAL, but the epidsode I listened to yesterday beat even my high expectations. When I clicked on the app, I was a little hesitant because the title, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" didn't instantly suggest anything to me. I was quickly engrossed though by Mike Daisey, a comedian-actor, giving a 40-minute monologue on his trip to China to see where iPods and other Apple products are made.
Daisey has a two-hour one man show on the trip called "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," returning to the stage in NY, but I had not heard about it until the condensed TAL podcast. In the monologue, Daisey confesses himself to be a true follower of the Apple religion and lover of all things Apple. Then, he was inspired to travel to Shenzhen, a city in China (bordering Hong Kong) where consumer electronics are manufactured for devices from the most popular companies. His first stop is a factory called Foxconn, which employs 400,000 people at that location. Daisey, risking arrest, interviews hundreds of workers and (as you can probably guess) hears as many stories of harsh working conditions, work-related illnesses and injuries, retaliation and general oppression by employers and the government. These stories are hard to hear, but I think it is only right that as an iPod/iMac owner, I have to hear them.
Now, I'm not anti-globalisation or anti-trade, and I'm from a right-to-work state. I understand that the alternative ways to make a living for some Foxconn workers may be even worse than working for Foxconn. I know that as horrible as it is to imagine 12, 13 and 14 year-olds working long hours in a factory doing repetitious work, there are worse fates for pre-teens in many developing countries. But none of that takes away from the fact that developed societies, who benefit from these ultra-cool technology devices, have all determined that these types of working conditions are intolerable and codified that determination into law. In a perfect world, China would experience the same legal transformation that occurred in Western countries during our industrialization to prohibit child labor and unsafe working conditions and provide workers legal remedies for pay disputes. That transformation seems a long way off for China, though.
Anyway, I have no development answers, but I do recommend the podcast or play. It is not preachy or ideological. It's even funny.
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