Foxconn Chinese Employees just one symptom of the disease

Chris Prillo's headMy favorite Iowa expat, Chris Prillo, shone a light on an injustice in the tech community again on his blog. Writing from information gleaned from an article on M.I.C. Gadget:  The Real Truth Behind Foxconn’s Suicide Cluster. The M.I.C. Gadget article had a translation of the text from an article by a Chinese journalist who went undercover at the factory to see the conditions first hand.

Chris points out that the company is treating their employees as less than human and since they are making hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, they could pay them more, make them work fewer hours, and offer them a more stimulating work environment.

Kudos to you Chris!!

One of the commenters made the observation that the conditions are the result of the open market for labor. Another blamed the oppressive Chinese government. After these two comments, I just couldn’t remain silent! I spoke directly to the second issue, but the first is the underlying problem with unregulated capitalism.

These people are living in the worst position at the conjunction of several bad cultural paradigms. China is experimenting with allowing private enterprise to produce rewards for its citizens. The North American & much of the European market is full of people clamoring for more and more technology and other stuff for less and less money.

Workers at Foxconn, ChinaOur mature industrialized economy has created an expectation of our citizens that they will be treated fairly and humanely by their employers through living wages and time off for rest and relaxation. We fought hard for these privileges in the last 100+ years. Chinese workers are living in conditions like other workers experienced prior to the success of the labor unions:  child labor, indebtedness to the company because they supply the needs of the workers without paying them enough to cover it, lax health and safety regulations, and no time off. It’s a sad commentary on a workplace when a worker has to misbehave just to change positions while on the job or wish to get sick so they can rest.

The commentators also thought that the problem was that this one company couldn’t treat the workers any other way or they’d lose their competitiveness to the others who were operating in the area. Of course that’s true. But the reason that environment exists is NOT the fault of China, nor any one company.

The situation exists because consumers are pushed to desire more and more and companies have to deliver it for less and less so they can keep increasing their profits while getting their workers to give them more and more effort for less and less compensation. Thus the company can get rich while the workers scrape by. But American workers will only tolerate so much–and so they should. But then our government decided that corporations should be able to take their business anywhere without limits and even rewarded them when they cut costs with offshore workers while subtracting jobs with humane conditions by closing site after site after site.

Not just high-tech jobs like iProducts, but general appliance builders like Maytag employees who live in my neighborhood of the midwest watched as the company shipped plant after plant-full of jobs to Mexico and other places.

Now, I don’t think it’s wrong for a company to make a profit. That’s what gives people incentive to work. But they have to remember the people who made it possible for them to profit and make sure they profit too. Instead, they try to get more and more profits out of these people and screw them if they complain–the job will go away altogether! So shut up and stand at your job and take what you get and be happy about it!

So how can we help these Chinese workers? Boycotting the products they make is one way. But that will hurt them more in the short term. And most people aren’t going to give up their fancy dancy little gadgets that they believe they cannot live without because the company that makes them told them so.

The best way to help these people — and the people in the US who are jobless or under-employed — is to make sure these corporations are NOT rewarded for abandoning hard-working, educated, reliable human beings in this country so they can go to other countries and exploit the people there who have little choice about where they can work and cannot complain at all because their government is oppressive.

If these companies still move factories and help-centers to other countries, we must demand they treat these employees humanely. They can still make a greater profit that way because a living wage in other countries is so much less than it is here. And we should reward the creation of jobs here.

Now that we have a progressive government in office, we can make these types of demands and expect to be heard. The Clinton Administration was trying to hard to be in the middle and pandered to business with all of those failed free-trade agreements. The Republicans who took over calling anything offered by Democrats as Socialist–even the things they supported–and pandered our economy even more for the corporate community. Jobs didn’t just move over seas, they ran out of this country like rats off a sinking ship.

It won’t be turned around in one year–or maybe even eight, but we do have a chance to turn it around. Humane treatment of employees is not just good for the employees, but ultimately it is good for the companies and the nations they live in.

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