This week, I've been reading and listening to a lot of articles about working conditions at the Foxconn facilities in China. These stories are primarily focused on Apple, but nearly any computer, gadget, or mobile device is made there, ranging from iPhones to Android tablets to my Kindle Fire.
I have a longer blog post teed up that I might post tomorrow – a combination of some analysis with a bit of emotion, which I'm trying to temper.
The items that I've read (and you might want to read or listen too) include:
- How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work (NY Times)
- In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad (NY Times)
- Your iPhone Was Built, In Part, By 13 Year-Olds Working 16 Hours A Day For 70 Cents An Hour (Business Insider)
- Foxconn chairman equates iPhone-creating workforce to animals (Digital Trends)
- Chinese students forced into working for Foxconn (TechEye.net)
- MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY (This American Life – radio story, a must listen)
There are plenty of documented working conditions, safety problems, child labor, etc. that are deplorable. It makes you stop and think about the human cost of our cheap shiny gadgets. It makes you think about the decline of American manufacturing (remembering that Apple used to assemble Macs in Fremont, California).
I've been tweeting about this a lot and I've learned much from my followers. “Prison labor” is probably not the right term to use for the Foxconn plants, as employees can quit (and high turnover has been a concern and cost for Foxconn), but some of the working and living conditions sure seem prison-like.
Also interesting are comments from readers of a Chinese-language version of last weekend's NYT piece: “Chinese Readers on the ‘iEconomy.”
It was pointed out that I haven't “been to the gemba” to see first hand, having never worked in China. But, I'm reading first-hand accounts of those who have been there. Granted, those people might have “an agenda,” but who doesn't?
Another frequent comment is “You might think Foxconn is bad, but other factories there are far worse.” Others frequently say, “Well, the alternatives – working on a farm and being poor and starving – aren't good, so working in that factory is actually a leg up for Chinese workers.” But, I think it's a false choice that the only two alternatives starving on a communal farm and working in unsafe factory conditions.
So what are your thoughts and reactions to these articles? Do you have first hand experiences to share? I'd like to keep the discussion fact-based, but feel free to share your emotions about this as well – as it's not just a business story or an engineering story, it's a human story.
Don't want to miss a post or podcast? Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.