The NYT’s gadget guru David Pogue makes several smart points about labour conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese company that builds products for Apple pretty much every other electronics manufacturer.Americans have recoiled in surprise at descriptions of Foxconn working conditions, and this outcry has led Apple to order inspections and Foxconn to give its employees raises.
But these concerns are arguably misplaced.
As Pogue observes:
- Chinese people have read about conditions at Foxconn, too, but 3,000 of them still line up to apply for jobs every week
- These jobs are viewed as “starter” jobs, not career jobs–a chance to make some quick money before doing something else
- Many Chinese people agree with NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof that the jobs are much better than the alternative, especially for women.
On this last point, Pogue quotes a letter he got from a young Chinese man who is now at school at a US university:
My aunt worked several years in what Americans call “sweat shops.” It was hard work. Long hours, “small” wage, “poor” working conditions. Do you know what my aunt did before she worked in one of these factories? She was a prostitute.
Circumstances of birth are unfortunately random, and she was born in a very rural region. Most jobs were agricultural and family owned, and most of the jobs were held by men. Women and young girls, because of lack of educational and economic opportunities, had to find other “employment.”
The writer goes on to say that he is upset by the way many Americans view this issue.
Specifically, he says, Americans don’t understand how few opportunities there are in China relative to the United States. And he argues that hiring more workers and paying them lower wages is better than being forced to pay higher wages to fewer workers:
If Americans truly care about Asian welfare, they would know that shutting down “sweat shops” would force many of us to return to rural regions and return to truly despicable “jobs.” And I fear that forcing factories to pay higher wages would mean they hire FEWER workers, not more.