I don’t write about politics anymore on Facebook, simply because I’m tired of having to explain my opinions and feelings to people who like to argue about politics on the internet like they’re in a late-90′s chat room. This isn’t about arguing, and it’s not about red vs blue or who said what. This is about how I feel, what I think is wrong, and questioning how we could possibly go about fixing things.
So back in February of 2011, I read THIS ARTICLE on the Wired Magazine website, about issues surrounding factories and workers in China. It’s specifically about Foxconn, the manufacturer which produces all things Apple, along with HP and a few others. The Wired writer went to the factory’s campus to take a tour and find out if it was really such a bad place. The suicides that have happened there have all been defended as ‘not related to the job’ and ‘normal problems’, but China is notorious for covering things up.
Reading this article, I was struck by my anger at Apple for choosing this place to manufacture my phone, computer, and iPod, and also mad at the manufacturer for apparently driving these people to suicide. Because seriously, when you LIVE WHERE YOU WORK, your ‘normal life problems’ ARE work-related, plain and simple. I was mad at the lack of information available to me about what was going on, and mad that the reporting could be skewed in almost any direction, and I wouldn’t know.
You can read about the Foxconn suicides HERE (where they discussed raising the workers’ salaries to try to fix the problem), HERE (where ‘scrutiny’ came into play), and HERE (in which workers across China were revolting in unified protests).
In all honesty, I don’t think the workers need more money. More money is always excellent, but against the rest of the country, these workers are already making bank (insane, right?). I think they need a better quality of living, period. Apple went in to see if they could help, but all we got to read about that was ‘We’ve made some recommendations’. Although, to be fair, THIS was also reported: “In the report, Apple said it also discovered underage workers at various suppliers and terminated contracts with three facilities that didn’t change their policies promptly. It also said that it was working to ensure that minerals used in electronics manufacturing, like tantalum, tungsten and gold, do not come from war-torn regions.”
So, it’s excellent that Apple is trying to pay attention, but can we trust them? Stuff like this is enough to make me want to get rid of my iPhone, or at the very least, not buy a new one. But what about my clothing? There’s always one scandal after another involving some company (last year here in Germany, it was a company called KIK that was found to be using sweatshops overseas) that makes and sells clothes.
People on ONE side of this somewhat political debate will argue that it doesn’t matter if China is abusing workers, because it promotes trade and is helping China’s economy to grow. News flash: China has America by the balls and doesn’t need our business anymore. They have the rest of the world to sell to.
But in my opinion, we can do better than that. I say that companies CAN look further than next quarter’s sales goals to see the bigger picture, and be that positive change. It’s a sad state of affairs when no one wants to take the initiative, but sometimes, we CAN’T. I can’t change what’s going on in China, and neither can any of my readers.
But Apple. Dell. HP. They CAN.
How? Contracts with the manufacturers.
This was my initial thought. I wanted to find out what was really going on at Foxconn (which is hard, even though the NYT just did another exposé last week) and then start writing letters to the companies, if what I found was worth arguing about. And then I was going to pass the information to all of my friends, start a FB group, and do whatever I COULD to get these issues noticed.
Then, this video showed up. God, I love TED.
Here is Auret van Heerden, saying exactly what I’ve been thinking.
Look. Globalization is working now, for the US and Europe, because it is exploiting poorer and/or developing countries and their lack of human rights, trade laws and regulations. Americans lose jobs to globalization, because we have LAWS against human rights violations and minimum living wages here, just like they do in most of Europe. Don’t blame the immigrants for taking your jobs, blame the companies who are moving their factories overseas and outsourcing their work to poorer countries. It is NOT a question, as is often argued in the US, of having the ‘wrong type of education’. This is a question about the bottom line. These are businesses we’re talking about, not teaching positions at an Ivy-League school.
We love the cheap prices, the cheap labor that can go 25 hours a day. That’s not going to last forever, and we all have to ask ourselves if our iPhone, sweater, or shoes are a ‘bargain’ at whatever price we’re getting, if people suffered to make it. Why are the lives of people we’ve never met in India or China worth less than our own? They’re not. No matter how selfish you are.
Thankfully, there are organizations who are working with the multinational companies to try to inspire these changes. I read this today from the Fair Labor Association:
“January 13, 2012 – Apple joins FLA as a Participating Company.
The Fair Labor Association today announced that Apple will join the FLA as a Participating Company, effective immediately. The FLA will independently assess facilities in Apple’s supply chain and report detailed findings on the FLA website. Apple becomes the first technology company to join the Association as a Participating Company. “
This means that ALL information about Apple’s suppliers and supply chain will be posted to THEIR website, independently of Apple’s, and all of that information will be available to the public. It’s great news, because for now it means that we don’t have to boycott Apple products, which have come to be integral parts of our lives. It’s great that an organization like this exists, and is trying (and succeeding) to make a difference.
There aren’t very big differences that WE as consumers can make, except for the decision of what to do with our almighty buying power. I don’t buy meat full of chemicals, because I don’t condone the farming methods that these animals came to be slaughtered and shipped to my grocery store by. I don’t buy things with High Fructose Corn Syrup in them, because I don’t think it needs to be in my effing Orange juice that is claiming to be ‘natural’. I DO NOT SUPPORT THESE BUSINESS MODELS. So why would I buy clothes or technology products from a company who is facilitating human rights abuses? Do I support that? Hell no!
You can call me an elitist if you want, but I DO value the lives of others as much as my own. And I’m not going to hide behind American Exceptionalism or ignorance of these issues in order to continue to live blissfully unaware in consumer heaven.
I’m going to be reading this website EVERY DAY. I hope you will think about who made your products and buy accordingly, too.