An iPhone! An Xbox! Our dignity for a pair of shoes!
SACKVILLE (CUP) — An investigation by a Chinese non-governmental organization recently exposed child labour at an East coast factory owned by Foxconn, the manufacturer behind 40 per cent of all consumer electronics, including the Apple chain, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The company would later admit to finding interns as young as 14, working as part of a school program that employs them for up to six months, and promised to rectify the situation as soon as possible.
But this isn’t the only major controversy involving the Taiwanese giant. Foxconn is internationally known for its overall treatment of employees, which includes demanding work up to 72 hours a week at little pay, over-discipline on the part of management, and excessive and forced overtime. These conditions have led to so many employee suicides that the company was forced to install “suicide-prevention netting” at some of its factories. In Mexico, workers were told that their buses would be late and that they would be required to work overtime without pay. It was later revealed that those buses were directed by Foxconn management to delay their route, a finding that incited a riot at the plant.
What makes this plant so appealing to the tech giants in the West, however, is just how cheap production costs are. An iPhone currently generates $452 in profit for Apple through Foxconn, whereas, if produced in the United States, that number would drop just under $300. But shouldn’t Apple be satisfied with such a profit margin anyway? Isn’t the small drop worth the benefits in advancing human rights? Apparently the answer is no.
Apple isn’t the only one: Nike is known for employing workers, sometimes under the age of 16, in environments with similar or harsher conditions overseas, and faces much criticism to this day for improperly addressing the issues. And then there are the numerous chocolate companies purchasing cocoa from countries like Cote d’Ivoire, where the use of child labour is prevalent and well-known.
The reality of the world, however, is that it is highly unlikely that consumers will refrain from purchasing these products over these issues. The concept “Made in China” has found a place in popular culture, and has desensitized us all to what exactly that implies. Indeed, I honestly don’t see myself holding off from the next new phone or television over this, but that’s not because I don’t care — it’s because consumerism has become a lifestyle for us; the next best thing is a need rather than a desire. That’s the downside of advancing consumer technology.
That doesn’t mean this must remain as the status quo, though. Governments have the power to push legislation to discourage companies from outsourcing manufacturing labour to locales that don’t satisfy a certain workplace standard.
It should be in their best interests to do so — manufacturing is a huge job-and-wealth-generator. In this economically unstable era of our history, it seems that’s just what we would need. Not to mention that we have the capacity, with existing giants like Flextronics, Celestica, Sanmina-SCI and Jabil Circuit, each based out of North America.
If we pride ourselves for being above everyone else, perhaps it’s time we stopped exploiting everyone else’s hardships.