If you’re reading this blog post, you are almost certainly doing so on a digital device made in China. And that means you’re almost certainly doing so on a device made in Shenzhen.
Don’t know where Shenzhen is? Neither did I. It’s here:
It’s a city bigger than New York or London, yet it was built only in the last 30 years. It’s one of China’s largest manufacturing hubs, and thus where ‘all our shit’ gets made. By hand. In 15 hour shifts. By workers as young as 12.
Conditions are poor. Really poor. You would not want to do this, and you would not want your children to do this. No one is allowed to speak while on shift.
If you use these products, which we all do, and if they’ve helped save you hours of labour time by speeding up communication, then you can damn well afford the 40 mins it will take to sit and listen to this piece on This American Life about a reporter who went to the factories of Shenzhen, and what he found. Let me put it more clearly: if you are reading this, you have a duty to listen to this.
Do it now.
Having listened, I’ve been thinking about the workers there, and it seems that things are coming to a head in terms of protest. Here’s a Reuters report from yesterday:
Thousands of Chinese workers protesting over compensation and job security at a Sanyo Electric Co Ltd plant clashed with police in southern Shenzhen, media said on Monday, the latest outbreak of labor unrest in China’s manufacturing hub.
In case that leaves you panicked – don’t be. The article continues: ‘No impact was expected on clients from the stoppage at the factory…’ Phew. All your devices will still get made.
The FoxConn plant, which makes pretty much all of Apple’s products, as well as things for other major brands, was also in the news as a ‘mass suicide’ was planned a few days ago by 150 workers protesting at appalling conditions there.
I’ve blogged about this here before (Expensive Machines Made by Cheap People), but I do think it’s high time that people began to take more notice, and put pressure on Apple and others to demand that conditions are improved. Yes, that’ll mean we pay more for products… but do you not kind of think that that’s worth it?
With the writing I’m doing on piracy I have been mulling whether conditions in these factories are in any way analogous to the oppressive regimes sailors found themselves in in the early 1700’s. In both cases they were doing semi-skilled hard labour that made other people incredibly rich, but left them injured and impoverished. The question is, what would a Chinese manufacturing piracy look like? Hijacking of containers of new iPhones ready for export? Now THAT would get the Hipsters in a twist to do something…
It seems extraordinary that in a Communist country workers are having to battle for fair access to the wealth that is being created… but as Western capitalism finds a new host with cheaper labour, it’s perhaps not surprising at all. I’m really not sure what the best step forward is here, and how it might best be possible to put pressure on Apple and others… any ideas or links, do share please.