Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Then the screams began."

All right, I know, I said I was not writing about these topics, but, really, have you read this report in today's New York Times about the conditions in the Chinese factories that build the world's high-tech gadgetry?

Those accommodations were better than many of the company’s dorms, where 70,000 Foxconn workers lived, at times stuffed 20 people to a three-room apartment, employees said. Last year, a dispute over paychecks set off a riot in one of the dormitories, and workers started throwing bottles, trash cans and flaming paper from their windows, according to witnesses. Two hundred police officers wrestled with workers, arresting eight. Afterward, trash cans were removed, and piles of rubbish — and rodents — became a problem.

It's a long and detailed article; you need to read it all. But it concludes with this observation:

“You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,” said a current Apple executive.

“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Go. Read. The. Article.

Also worth reading: Making It in America, by Adam Davidson of NPR's Planet Money team.

These meetings can lead the company to move dozens of jobs to another country or, in some cases, to create new jobs in the U.S. When Standard decided to increase its fuel-injector production, it chose to do that in the U.S., and staffed up accordingly (that’s how Maddie got her job). Standard will not drop a line in the U.S. and begin outsourcing it to China for a few pennies in savings. “I need to save a lot to go to China,” says Ed Harris, who is in charge of identifying new manufacturing sources in Asia. “There’s a lot of hassle: shipping costs, time, Chinese companies aren’t as reliable. We need to save at least 40 percent off the U.S. price. I’m not going to China to save 10 percent.” Yet often, the savings are more than enough to offset the hassles and expense of working with Chinese factories. Some parts—especially relatively simple ones that Standard needs in bulk—can cost 80 percent less to make in China.

These are complex issues. I'm pleased that journalists are taking the time to really dig into them, and to help educate us all, for as Dan Lyons said: "The problem I’m having isn’t with Apple, but with me."

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