Do you know where your smartphone was made?
If you follow news in the tech arena, you have probably encountered the Apple/Foxconn controversy that has recently emerged. Apple’s relationship with Foxconn, their primary manufacturing partner in China, came under scrutiny after reports of worker suicides at the plant emerged. In late January the New York Times published an in-depth article on Foxconn and Apple titled “In, China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad.” In describing conditions at the Foxconn factory, the article notes:
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
Monologist artist Mike Daisy has also played a large role in bringing to light the conditions at Foxconn. Daisy currently has a one man show called “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, in which he explores the rise of Apple (and Steve Jobs), and delves into the growing controversy over Apple’s labor practices. Daisy actually visited the Foxconn campus in Shenzhen, China and spoke with workers. Excerpts from his riveting show aired last month on the popular American radio show “This American Life”, and it’s definitely worth a listen.
The recent controversy over one of the most popular technology companies in the world raises some interesting questions. What can we as consumers do? What should we do? A recent New York Times article raises the question of whether or not international pressure can cause more harm than good. They cite an article written by Paul Krugman back in the 1990s in which he states that “as long as you have no realistic alternative to industrialization based on low wages, to oppose it means that you are willing to deny desperately poor people the best chance they have of progress for the sake of what amounts to an aesthetic standard — that is, the fact that you don’t like the idea of workers being paid a pittance to supply rich Westerners with fashion items.”
What do you think?