Jan 30, 2012

What will result from the exposure of FoxConn working conditions?

Apple got a serving of bad publicity along with the good recently. At nearly the same time astonishing revenues were being announced, we started to hear about the working conditions at FoxConn, the Chinese factory where iPads and iPhones are assembled. According to reports that I have seen, workers live in overcrowded dorms, work extended hours and the workforce has included underage individuals. While I doubt these revelations will any direct impact on Apple or its revenues, could it actually result in working conditions being improved for those who put together all the tech products that we all love? I don't particularly enjoy purchasing a sense of guilt along with the latest devices.



Honestly, the impact will probably be very limited.  I suspect that Apple will press for curtailment of the most egregious of the labor practices at FoxConn, and I suspect FoxConn will become better at concealing them.  There are reasons that it is cheaper to manufacture products in China than the US, aside from a robust and versatile supply chain for tech product components in China.  There is no OSHA (and even though some people think of that as a good OSHA="gubment", look at the reduction in the rate of workplace deaths and injuries since OSHA came into being).  There are no unions to advocate for reasonable hours, pay and working conditions.  I don't mean to sound overly relativistic, but China is not the U.S. or Europe, and it can be easy to expect conditions there be comparable to what we in the west are accustomed to for workers.  At the same time, before we shake out heads and tsk-tsk too loudly, people might want to see what conditions are like in the US for migrant workers.  I grew up in the South where workers were in the fields when it was 90+ degrees doing back breaking labor for little pay.  They also lived in overcrowded facilities.  Perhaps things have changed since I left, but I've seen nothing at FoxConn that is worse than the conditions I saw for many of the field hands in my youth.  


Even so, most western companies don't like news stories linking them to exploitive labor practices, so I suspect that Apple has been on the phone with FoxConn trying to improve the situation if only to avoid bad press. 


Well, in fairness, it's not just Apple. I've read a few stories that seem to indicate that conditions at places that produce Android phones were even worse than the ones at the companies that produce Apple's products. Apple, however, is a bigger target so I suspect that's why they were focused on and not Android.

That said, I certainly do hope that all of this press coverage brings about positive change at those plants. However, let's bear in mind that this is China not the US or western europe. The culture, politics and government are different there and I'm not sure how much power Apple or any other company has to fix that.

Hopefully they will push for some changes and the chinese government - who has the final say in anything - will go along with them. The workers certainly deserve at least that much from all concerned, so let's hope it works out in a positive way.
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