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Chinese Labor Conditions Awful? You Are Guilty, Too

The recent handwringing over poor labor conditions and practices at Chinese factories that make electronics devices is hypocritical and misplaced. We are all guilty of owning products manufactured under conditions most us who live in the West would never accept.

The New York Times recently featured a series of exposé articles using {complink 379|Apple Inc.} and its biggest contract manufacturer, {complink 2125|Foxconn Electronics Inc.}, as examples of how Western OEMs benefit from labor conditions at Chinese factories that would be considered appalling in Europe and North America but that are readily accepted and defended by the companies' management as well as government officials in China. I discussed these on Friday in Does Apple Have a Foxconn Problem?

The reports are damning, but nothing here is new. We've all turned our collective eyes away from what we know is happening in Chinese manufacturing plants, since the products they churn out are made more cheaply, faster, and often better than at comparable Western facilities. China is the world's manufacturing center not just because of the lower labor costs — so stop believing the hype — but also because Chinese manufacturers can get away with practices nobody would accept in the West.

You still don't believe me? OK, please answer these questions: Would you sleep where you also work? Would you send your teenage children to work in a factory where they live in hostels (stuffed 10, 15, or more to an apartment)? Would you work at a plant where safety rules are regularly violated at the expense of your health? And would you work for a company that systematically practices forced overtime but denies it when cornered?

That's just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that manufacturing companies in China squeeze their supply chains for higher and higher margins to boost profitability and satisfy the demands of companies like Apple.

Foxconn has a mega facility in Shenzhen that is bigger than many American cities and where it employs more than 400,000 workers. The company has at this site its own security, restaurants, movie theaters, swimming pool, fire stations, and other facilities found in any modern city. Yet, for all its wonders extolled by Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, few of us would want to work at a facility like this. Here's what Jobs had to say once about the Foxconn plant, according to a report:

You go in this place and it's a factory but, my gosh, they've got restaurants and movie theatres and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it's pretty nice.

I wonder, though, if Jobs himself would have taken a job here. He never had to. As a Westerner, Jobs lived under different standards rigorously enforced by regulators, monitored closely by human rights organizations and constantly scrutinized by lawyers. Any of the violations and numerous injuries reported in the press would have attracted a swarm of lawyers.

But not in China. That's partly why companies like Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Mobility, and Nokia make their products there. The workers at these plants have limited options. Many people point to the fact they wouldn't have a job at all or would be making a lot less, had Apple and its competitors not outsourced production to the likes of Foxconn.

That may be so, but that argument amounts to still a lot of BS. We who buy the products should have at the back of our minds the knowledge some of the devices manufactured by the electronics industry in China were produced under unsavory conditions. We should have this at the back of our minds when we buy Apple shares and celebrate the stock jumping another double-digit percentage point each time the company announces another record sales and profits.

Industry executives have known about these situations for a long time, and they are quite aware their bonuses depend on squeezing more gains out of the supply chain by outsourcing production to areas where the total cost of production is constantly being tamped down. That squeeze is at the expense of someone, and the claim that this is not the case — by Jobs, his successor Timothy Cook, other electronics vendors, and the consuming Western buyer — is hogwash.

They are not the only guilty ones. In fact, if guilt could be weighed and measured out by portion, I would suggest depositing the heaviest portion at the doorsteps of the Chinese government. It wanted economic growth, and that's what it's getting. But its citizens are paying an awful price with their health and personal freedom.

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42 comments on “Chinese Labor Conditions Awful? You Are Guilty, Too

  1. James Moriarty
    January 30, 2012

    I own nothing, use no products from – not even “free” applications – from Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Mobility, or Nokia.

    I do not shop at Wall Mart. 

    Granted, due the massive loss of nearly all our manufacturing capacity overseas, and very much to China, I cannot get along totally without buying goods that are manufactured in China. It is, alas, thanks to Republican “economic policy” starting with Reagan, impossible to get along without feeding the beast at least somewhat.

    These conditions COULD be fixed. We could demand that in exchange for an import license any company – and any and all of its suppliers – agree to abide by U.S. workplace safety standards, including breaks etc. And that the companies must agree to allow inspections at any time, anywhere, without prior notice.

    But it won't happen. Not as long as someone — not me – keeps electing Republicans to congress.

  2. prabhakar_deosthali
    January 31, 2012

    In my opinion the real reason for all this uproar against a company like Apple using the services of  Foxconn is not that we are the saviours of human rights but because we are loosing those thousands of jobs which the Americans would have kept, had not the greedy American executives used those cheap labor chinese factories to increase their profit margins.

     

  3. LineChaser
    January 31, 2012

    Regarding the “massive loss of nearly all our manufacturing capacity”, you may not be aware that the vast majority of goods and services sold in the United States is produced here.  In 2010, imports were about 16% of U.S. GDP.  Imports from China amounted to only 2.5% of GDP.

    You also may not be aware that the United States is the world's second largest exporter.  Three quarters of those exports come from manufacturing.  In 2010, the US exported almost $1.3 trillion in goods; 90% of that was non-agricultural products.  That needs to be considered before parroting protectionist propaganda.

    Also, in the last 30 years, Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress for more years than Republicans.  Neither party has an interest in erecting import barriers of the kind you suggest.

  4. Daniel
    January 31, 2012

    “Some of the devices manufactured by the electronics industry in China were produced under unsavory conditions”

    The working nature and employment situations in China are very Pathetic. Once I had been in China as a part of industrial consortium and happen to visit some of the companies. In most of the companies, the working environments are not so good and most of them are working more than 12 hours. When compare with neighboring countries, most of them are under paid for the same effort. They are not able to raise their voices against such things in any forums to represent such concerns.

  5. tioluwa
    January 31, 2012

    It's obviously a complicated issue, CNN's freedom project has also exposed alot of aweful working conditions in other such factories like the foxxcon, but the issue is are we all really ready to do anything about it, or are we jus talking for the joy of it?

    Left to me, the not so open nature of the Chinnese government, and their dominance in the manufacturing sector will make this a hard nut to crack, worse of all, I think everyone is just talking, the stake holders are not that concerned about the problem

  6. Himanshugupta
    January 31, 2012

    i watched this documentary and was not so shocked because i have seen much worse in manufacturing units in Asia. This news took too much weight because mighty electronic companies are directly involved. I agree that we should not put a blanket on such issues but until and unless companies put strict rules and regulation on contract and do not squeeze every drop of profit out, nothing much would happen.

  7. FLYINGSCOT
    January 31, 2012

    Poor labor conditions have been around since the start of the industrial revolution and will continue to exist as long as we reward people for making their quarterly numbers base mainly on financial target.  Let's start rewarding people for humanitarian targets too.

  8. LineChaser
    January 31, 2012

    This is a situation where sunlight is indeed the best remedy.  As a result of the negative publicity, Apple has joined the Fair Labor Association.  As a condition of FLA membership, Apple and its suppliers will be subject to unannounced audits and also enforcement of the FLA code of conduct, which is based on standards approved by the United Nations' International Labor Organization.

  9. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 31, 2012

    It usually takes a disaster the size of the Foxconn deaths to put a spotlight on a longstanding problem. But it is often too little, too late. By the time ENRON got publicity for its abuse of the retirement system, its employees were destitute. Abuse of the US financial system prompted brokerages to shut down. Unfortunately, once something like this comes to light, the net result is job loss. Could Foxconn improve conditions? It could, and it is likely that for some time, at least, it will still have a competitive edge.

  10. bolaji ojo
    January 31, 2012

    Linechaser, When Apple published a list of its suppliers and said it was joining the Fair Labor Association, I applauded the company's move even though I thought it was an unusual move on the part of the company; Apple is more known for secrecy and the publication of the list of suppliers was suspicious.

    On reading the New York Times articles, however, I learned reporters had requested the list of the company's suppliers and that request had been turned down. How convenient for Apple that it published the list and announced joining the FLA only days before the New York Times published the first of the articles, which had been shared with Apple ahead of publication.

    Sunlight? Yes, from the press otherwise we would all still be in the darkroom.

  11. old guy
    January 31, 2012

     our world is a near stable state where Entropy always increases. naturally we hv to pay more everyday. But in all history -things hv become cheaper and cheaper – but by entropy – you cannot get anything cheaper without taking it away from someone else.

    technology/ new ideas/ knowledge etc. make things cheaper – yes. but some one gets greedy – and then exploitation starts – why an I'product – look at gold/ platinum or the diamond – is there no blood on them at birth ?? OR look at the armaments / the missiles – is there no blood at the end of them

    was there no blood on the indigo / opium which was forced on the indian farmer during Brit rule and does not the lack of human rights in the gulf countries trouble you when you put in the gas – or – in the US – does it not trouble you that yr increasing carbon footprint submerges islands and uproots people .

    well learn to look at the total pic – rather than pick up a rant fr the day. hv a nice day – think more 🙂

  12. Damilare
    January 31, 2012

    Indeed we have all been guilty but writing about it through media such as these sometimes force a change in the positive direction. Although the Chinese government may be blamed for subjecting its people to such terms, a realistic look at their population will show that confronted the same amount of population and poverty the western governments will do differently…

  13. Taimoor Zubar
    January 31, 2012

    I agree that the working conditions at the Chinese factors may be one of the worst, but then one has to look from the perspective of the workers working there as well. For them, they don't really have much choice in terms of a better place to work. Philanthropy is limited and there's no such thing as a free lunch. If the factories are forced to improve upon the working conditions, all of this means additional costs. Their cost advantage may no longer remain and they may not be able to compete. So what happens then? They shut the factories down and fire the labor. Hence, I feel there may not be an easy solution to the situation.

  14. old guy
    January 31, 2012

    tks – nice to know u r around. carry on friend

  15. Susan Fourtané
    January 31, 2012

    Taimoor, 

    I also agree that there may not be an easy solution to this situation. What could some solutions bes? 

    a. Bring manufacturing back to the US or elsewhere 

    b. Change Chinese poor working conditions which have existed before Apple's existence 

    c. Force the Chinese government to change their labor laws and demand better work conditions in their factories according to the new laws 

    d. other

    What could the solution be? 

    -Susan

  16. bolaji ojo
    January 31, 2012

    Hi Old Guy, Thank you for the comments and the perspective. It's much appreciated. The historical perspective you injected is relevant and it's certainly true that “we have all been guilty always.”

    We have also been responsive to plights around us. We have been good at identifying injustice and trying our best to correct them. We have built many institutions to assist the weak and destitute. We make sure the rich can continue to increase their wealth but we also make sure they don't have to do this at the expense of our society. We've exported the best of mankind.

    America gave the world the concept of basic human rights and taught mankind these rights are universal. I agree that imbalances and injustice are a part of our lives. We also strive to be better than we are.

  17. Agermano
    January 31, 2012

    No, Sir, I am not guilty because no crime has been committed. You ask a bunch of questions but don't wait for the answers. Yes, I would probably do many or all of those things, if there was no other viable alternative.

    You make a critical mistake in assuming the workers' rights which Westerners and, particularly, Americans, enjoy just spontaneously happened. You seem to have no appreciation for the fact that these customs and conventions were worked out through market or political processes over a century or more. It is wrong in the extreme to apply our notions of right and wrong to a country which is trying to get its foot into the 21st century.

    China does have many problems, and working conditions is one of them. But China is also a one-party State which makes forcing change there very difficult. The only hope we have of changing the state of affairs there, and everywhere else in the developing world, is for us to set good examples of Liberty and orderly market processes. As the prosperity of the Chinese people grows, pressure will come from below and within to change conditions. Any attempts to short-circuit this process will lead to unnecessary conflict, and obstinacy on the part of the Chinese rulers, which will end up hurting the very people you claim to want to help.

     

  18. bolaji ojo
    January 31, 2012

    Susan, I doubt option A is going to happen anytime soon unless a major disaster occurred or we were at war with China. Something crazy like that would pull manufacturing back pronto. Otherwise, like Steve Jobs reportedly said, those jobs aren't coming back. Some manufacturing will return occasionally but not the millions of manufacturing jobs already lost.

    I prefer options B and C.

  19. old guy
    January 31, 2012

    hey guy

    i like yr confidence – america – the USA u refer to has seen civilisation fr yrs before 1600 and then after 1850. give or take a few decades.Barely 200 yrs of civilization that too which gave rights to all only in 1970s. Oh come on drop the epaulettes on yr shoulder. i come from a civilisation from 3000 BC to date. a bit decadent today but was a WORLD leader till 300 yrs ago. INDIA.  

    i agree that opposition to any system helps correct it and keeps it in stability – yes. but most of us homo sapiens sapiens – as they qualify us cannot  get rid of our greed and the need to becoming better off.

    i hv penned the words with care as i always do. please introspect ma friend  

  20. bolaji ojo
    January 31, 2012

    Agermano, Correct. The better labor conditions we enjoy in the West today were won over decades and perhaps over a century as you rightly pointed out. But they were won because many people, including those who were better off and didn't have to fight, never kept quiet. I have read the history of European and US labor struggles and know that many people gave their lives so we can enjoy the rights we have today.

    The 8-hour workday was not a right handed happily down by employers and shareholders. Workers fought for it just as they did for vacation days, sick days, pension and retirement packages, and even the finer things many Chinese workers haven't even heard about like ergonometrically correct chairs, desks and computer stations!

    We didn't leave the workers to fight for these by themselves in the West. Many of the people who ensured these became “rights” were themselves well off and didn't experience firsthand the problems they wanted eliminated. But they empathized with the workers and put themselves in these workers' positions.

     

    Apple is taking the right steps to correct problems at its contractors and has said it expects to unearth even more problems. Even these ones will be corrected, the company said. Apple is not alone but by leading the company ensures others will follow.

    You are right. You are not guilty because no crime has been committed. That means I am not guilty too and everyone is innocent, including the Chinese government. But I can also think of laws that were on the book years ago but which we are ashamed of today.

    You are also right in acknowledging the problems that exist in China and noting that with increasing prosperity the Chinese worker would be better able to represent themselves, change their working environment and perhaps even their system. A former literature Nobel laureate wrote: “The man died in a man who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.”

    If there's any guilt today it's because we often keep quiet when we can at least speak for those less fortunate that we are.

  21. Kevin Jackson
    January 31, 2012

    Things aren't all that bad.

    Consider that these poor, abused people are getting to eat and sleep indoors instead of starving and dying outdoors. I am so sick of people judging parts of the world they have no real understanding of base on conditions in the US.

    Yes, we have “standards rigorously enforced by regulators, monitored closely by human rights organizations and constantly scrutinized by lawyers” add to that minimum wage laws and labor unions and you have the real reason jobs have been moved overseas.

    But, China is cracking.

    The Chinese government has had to allow farmers to sell their products to the highest bidder (rather than being forced to sell to the government at the price the government sets), the beginnings of capitalism. The reason? Farmers saw no point in doing the work without any reward for that work.

    Factory workers in some regions have organized and demanded better pay and working conditions. The results have been meager but it is a start, from the ground up, towards western conditions.

    Japan has taken manufacturing jobs from China! Japan is so good at automation they can beat even the near slave labor rates in China for many products. This indicates that in the near future, cheap labor will not be much of an advantage. Then China will need a new plan. A quick look around the globe will indicate that a system of free exchange of products and services and the ability to gain personal wealth based on knowledge and hard work results in great increases in wealth and stability for a nation as a whole.

    The US has such a staggering debt there is no way out but to inflate the currency. The Feds have been printing extra dollars since 2008 and are expected to continue to do so for at least another two years. If the Feds double the dollar supply, labor rates in the US will be effectively cut in half. That should return many jobs to the US. That will not be good for China overall but, with a second viable manufacturing option, companies would be in a better position to consider working conditions when negotiating contracts.

    Conditions in China are better for the people then they have been in a long, long while and are improving every day. There is little point in hand wringing over the fact that they are not yet quite on par with the west.

  22. bolaji ojo
    January 31, 2012

    Old guy, I wish America was as perfect as my initial response to your comments might have indicated. It is not. Many other civilizations also preceded the American one, again, as you rightly pointed out.

    You are not going to get me to say anything wrong about India 🙂 I love the country and respect the people too much to disparage its ancient civilization. However, we only have today, right? And we have to do whatever we can to correct anything we see wrong, as a famous, founding father of India did!

    Jokes aside, greed is what drove the West to manufacture in China and it is driving capitalism today but it must be tempered with respect of others' rights. Hopefully, manufacturers will still be able to make money even after implementing labor rights we can all acknowledge exemplify the best of all civilizations, old and new.

    🙂

  23. bolaji ojo
    January 31, 2012

    Kevin, Thank you for bringing some perspective and balance to the discussion. Yes, you are right. My own handwringing (true) did make it seem like a case of the glass is half-empty but in reality the presence of western manufacturers in China is forcing change on the society incrementally.

    This is worth celebrating. The Chinese worker isn't waiting to be “rescued” by Westerners. They are organizing and demanding better working conditions. And they are benefitting from having stable jobs that pay better than they can get from working the farm.

    We can always do better on the labor front but as you noted, we should celebrate the progressive improvements as much as we ask for even better conditions. I should have stated that in my blog but hey, you just gave me a good subject for my next blog.

  24. old guy
    January 31, 2012

    yes friend. when the sword is tempered it knows where the problem lies.

    in a complex society – solutions are not simple. to all i would recommend reading 'C NORTHCOTE PARKINSON'S  book :EAST AND WEST”   it shows how balance of power has shifted over 2000 yrs.

    ma best wishes  

  25. William K.
    January 31, 2012

    Stop trying to dump guilt on me, OK!!! I have done work in a factory in China, in Dong Guang City. The conditions are a long way from “awful”. Of course, those folks in tha factory do actually have to do the work that they are paid to do, which is indeed a radical concept to many in other parts of the world. And for the safety concerns, there is very little regard given for being stupid. There are safety rules, which when translated into plain english seem to be common sense. Workers are expected to stay away from ares that would be guarded and interlocked in other countries, and the workers are able to follow those instructions and avoid being injured. Of course, the plants that I worked in were manufacturing plants, not small recycling businesses. I am sure that some of those are probably unsafe. And mostly the plants were not nearly as plush as most of our unionized plants in the USA. But these factories do indeed allow more people to make a far better living than anything else they could be doing. Factory work is making a better life for a whole lot of folks in China.

    But the other thing that I saw was a city full of people who had come in from the countryside where they were earning almost enough to get by, to instead work in the factories where they wound up earning enough to support all kinds of stores selling a lot of things that were not “bare minimum nessessities”. That was the big thing, which is that suddenly there are ways for a lot of people to have a lot more than they ever had before.

    It has become clear that the way to stop China from surpassing us as a world power and industrial power would be to send them lots of lawyers and lots of labor unions. I am sure that thiss remark will be challenged, but think about it.  

  26. Anand
    January 31, 2012

    I recently read an article on forbes which said : “The Apple Boycott: People Are Spouting Nonsense about Chinese Manufacturing“. Pretty relevent to the topic discussed here. Interesting to see authors counterview on this matter.

  27. chipmonk
    February 1, 2012

    The much overdue public outrage against Apple is not so much about how Foxconn has been mistreating their Chinese workers but the realization that all that marketing aura that Steve Jobs was so good at putting out was financed by sweat-shop exploitation.

    To Apple groupies it is a big letdown to realize that Apple too is just another US MNC that is just one law away from openly practicing slavery !

  28. barry.victor
    February 1, 2012

    This is non sense. more than 60% of the profits were kept with Apple and only 2% left to Foxconn China and its Chinese workers. The Koreans take another 15%. Why bothered now by the 2% of revenue while the Amercicans take the most ? The 2% of revenue represent the least value-add in the supply chain. Are Amercians really argued and interetsed in the 2% ?

  29. barry.victor
    February 1, 2012

    Definitely give you a thumb-up.

  30. Susan Fourtané
    February 1, 2012

    Bolaji, 

    I agree. My idea for option A was as illustration that the whole case is not so simple and needs deep understanding of many, many factors including how manufacuring has moved to China, since when and why. 

    Options B and C sound logical to me and actually helpful if they were possible. Then we should start talking about International Politics, International Economy, and have a good grasp of knowledge and undertstanding of the Chinese history and culture. 

    -Susan 

  31. bolaji ojo
    February 1, 2012

    William K, Thank you for sharing that experience in Dong Guang City. It illustrates the variety of experience that workers have in different factories worldwide. As you noted, a broad brush isn't what we should use to describe working conditions in China. You also rightly noted that conditions aren't what Western workers may be used to but that it's still preferred to the alternatives Chinese workers were used to.

    Obviously, China isn't the U.S. but I hope many of those like yourself who have come to the defence of China aren't implying that the situation is fine and we shouldn't try to make it better.And, the goal certainly here isn't to dumb down China and have the jobs return to the West. It's not going to happen; the supply chain isn't that flexible and not even a battery of lawyers and labor unions will make it happen.

    China is a part of global commerce now and that's the way it will remain.

    Again, I appreciate your comments.

  32. bolaji ojo
    February 1, 2012

    Barry.victor, Perhaps the Chinese workers will get to share more than 2 percent and Apple might have to make do with slightly under 60 percent if it looked more closely at the working conditions and allowed Foxconn to operate the way we do in the West.

    This isn't just about profit sharing, however. The Chinese government decided to embrace capitalism where the winner gets to keep a greater percentage of the profit but it's also an elastic system where the workers occasionally get to flex their muscles. If it wants to keep more of its fat profit margins, Apple may have to give more to the folks who make the products and ensure their working environment is safe.

  33. Hawk
    February 1, 2012

    William K., When you worked in a factory in China, did you also sleep in a hostel? And at your hostel, were there nets on the upper floor to ensure you didn't commit suicide?

    I am interested in the accommodation you had. Also, don't forget to remind us how only “stupid” workers who can't follow instructions get hurt or how you stayed in China because you were making much more money than you would have made in your home country. You did stay in China, didn't you?

  34. William K.
    February 1, 2012

    When I worked in the factory it was because my company was installing equipment that had been purchased for use in the factory. WE were not product producing employees, with the result that our responsibilities were totally different than the factory employees. Also, our management was different. It also meant that we moved around a bit and were able to observe how the employees were working, without being challenged at all. THose dormitories not only save employees from the struggle of having to find an apartment in an area where that is a challenge, they also provide them with a great deal of security for their property while they are at work, and reduce the need for travel to and from work. Supporting a car or motorbike is not cheap, you know.

    WE did not live in the dormatories or barracks, since we would have been challenged in communicating because we did not speak the local dialect.

    So we did not “live the life of a laborer”, but we certainly did get to see them working. IN that part of the world all shops are “sweat shops” because the temperature varied from about 31 degrees C up to about 37 degrees one day, for which there was an official government warning that it was going to be hot. 

    Of course the hourly employees in the factory did have to work quite a bit harder than the UAW employees in an American auto plant, but then, as an engineer, I also have to work much harder than those UAW employees in the auto plant, at least , harder than those in the areas that I have seen in the ten years that I have been servicing and installing equipment in auto plants. 

    When we were not working I was able to walk around the area and observe that the people did seem to be doing much more than just barely subsisting. So my conclusions are based on the facts that there are a lot of stores and shops selling a lot more than the bare nesessities, which indicates that the folks are doing a bit better than just getting by. The widespread proliferation of shops selling all sorts of fun stuff indicates to me that there are a lot of people who are doing much better than just getting by.

    OF course, by some other standards they might not be doing so very well, since in all of my weeks in China I don't think that I saw any fat people, and certainly none of the really obese people that I se here in the USA. So perhaps by that standard they may not be doing so very well. 

  35. William K.
    February 1, 2012

    When I worked in the factory it was because my company was installing equipment that had been purchased for use in the factory. WE were not product producing employees, with the result that our responsibilities were totally different than the factory employees. Also, our management was different. It also meant that we moved around a bit and were able to observe how the employees were working, without being challenged at all. THose dormitories not only save employees from the struggle of having to find an apartment in an area where that is a challenge, they also provide them with a great deal of security for their property while they are at work, and reduce the need for travel to and from work. Supporting a car or motorbike is not cheap, you know.

    WE did not live in the dormatories or barracks, since we would have been challenged in communicating because we did not speak the local dialect.

    So we did not “live the life of a laborer”, but we certainly did get to see them working. IN that part of the world all shops are “sweat shops” because the temperature varied from about 31 degrees C up to about 37 degrees one day, for which there was an official government warning that it was going to be hot. 

    Of course the hourly employees in the factory did have to work quite a bit harder than the UAW employees in an American auto plant, but then, as an engineer, I also have to work much harder than those UAW employees in the auto plant, at least , harder than those in the areas that I have seen in the ten years that I have been servicing and installing equipment in auto plants. 

    When we were not working I was able to walk around the area and observe that the people did seem to be doing much more than just barely subsisting. So my conclusions are based on the facts that there are a lot of stores and shops selling a lot more than the bare nesessities, which indicates that the folks are doing a bit better than just getting by. The widespread proliferation of shops selling all sorts of fun stuff indicates to me that there are a lot of people who are doing much better than just getting by.

    OF course, by some other standards they might not be doing so very well, since in all of my weeks in China I don't think that I saw any fat people, and certainly none of the really obese people that I se here in the USA. So perhaps by that standard they may not be doing so very well. 

  36. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 1, 2012

    William K: I also thank you for your first-hand report while working in China. I encourage all our readers to read your accounts (below) and continue to do as much research as possible. An educated consumer may be the best agent for change, if that is the direction consumers are headed. Frankly, I'm not sure about that.

  37. Hawk
    February 1, 2012

    William K. Thank you for the additional information. It's obvious change is occurring in China, perhaps not at the same pace some of us would like but these are still significant moves for a so-called Communist country.

    These are early development stages for China and I doubt anyone (but the Chinese themselves) can stop the country from overtaking the United States to become the world's leading economy in the future. With that progression in the country's development also comes responsibility too, though. Responsibility to their own citizens and workers, other nations and companies they do business with.

  38. bolaji ojo
    February 2, 2012

    James Moriaty, Interesting graphics and charts. It's a complex situation and I am not sure it can be reversed. Thanks for sharing.

  39. bskram
    February 2, 2012

    William, your post begs the question. What exactly are you saying? I also spent time in this facility installing equipment and my conclusion is that the working conditions are horrendous. This facility is as bad or worse than what Nike was doing with sneakers and clothing. Back then everyone was up in arms about the slave labor, why is it you do not hear anyone calling for a ban on Apple products? Perhaps I just answered my own question?

  40. bolaji ojo
    February 2, 2012

    bskram, Different Strokes! I have been in China but haven't had the pleasure of working in a Chinese factory, not even one that could be a model of labor rights. But i know enough from what has been admitted by even Apple and human rights activists that these are not always the best.

  41. William K.
    February 2, 2012

    I was there about sevn years ago, and this was a somewhat newer factory, and the product was much more technical than those overpriced Nike shoes. Some of their products would be classified as “life critical”, meaning that if the product failed people could die. But they also made other things in other buildings. 

    I would be the first to state that the employees were not having “a picnic in the park”, but on the other hand the buildings were not crowded and there was plenty of air circulation. I am certain that they did earn all the money that they were paid.

    Of course, it was one factory complex out of hundreds, so it might not have been typical. WE did not get to tour the dormatories, although they did point out that one building was the womens dormatory while the men's dormatory was on the other side of the roadway, about 50 feet away, in the same complex. It would have been interesting to see, but that part did not happen.

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