Take a look around you, and try to guess which of your electronic belongings were “MADE IN CHINA.” If you guessed your laptop, your cell phone, or your iPad, you’re probably right.
Labour’s cheap in China, and Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest technology manufacturer, takes advantage of this fact. (Its workers earn a maximum of $1.18 per hour!)
Foxconn makes electronics and sells them to companies we purchase things from every day: Sony, Motorola, Apple, Nokia, Dell, Hewlet Packard. Foxconn employees are committing suicide and attracting bad publicity for the technology manufacturer because of their low wages, and so, Foxconn’s decided to replace its workers with robots. (Go figure.)
“The root causes [of the problem] are low prices from multinational companies and tight delivery schedules,” said Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch. “Workers are only seen as fitting production needs rather than as … human beings.”
“Foxconn does everything it can to avoid and minimize social interaction,” said Ellen Friedman, lecturer in labor studies at Sun Yat-Sen University.
Employees may not understand each other, speak different dialects, but the technology manufacturer prefers it this way. In fact, it admittedly forbids discussion in the assembly line. The less people are able to talk to each other, the more work they’ll do.
People can’t stretch or go to the washroom for too long (there’s a convenient electronic card that monitors this), and breaking rules can lead to discipline: losing up to half of your earnings for a certain day!
Employees just go through the same routine over and over. “When we’re standing, if something drops, [my superiors allow us to] bend down to pick it up,” employee Li Xiang Zhu told Southern Weekly. “You wish so badly that things would keep dropping just so you never have to stand back up.”
And yet, workers who aren’t qualified in other fields are essentially trapped in their positions. Foxconn isn’t the only technology manufacturer; there are others, but these other companies also abuse their workers. It’s like the poverty cycle: so easy to fall into and so difficult to escape. Now that Foxconn intends to replace its employees with robots, who knows what might happen?
But companies like Apple are turning a blind eye to this issue. Foxconn’s partners are entirely capable of helping Foxconn’s workers, but they say that worker abuse is Foxconn’s problem—not theirs. Apple, for example, spends just nine dollars on labour for every iPad that we spend half a grand on! If Foxconn’s partners split profits more evenly, worker abuse could become an issue of the past.
By continuing to buy Sony laptops or Nokia cell phones, we’re no better than Foxconn or its partners. We’re saying that workers are just production and not human beings. We’re encouraging worker abuse.
Next time you need a new computer, take the time to think about where it’s coming from before you buy the model you’re looking at. Although buying a Foxconn-manufactured computer would ensure that its workers would earn some money, worker abuse is still an issue in our world.
If you want to do something about worker abuse, have a look at what makeITfair, a project focused on changing Apple’s behaviour, is doing.