Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quote of the Week

Well, I was really tempted to give this week's Quote of the Week honors to Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski, who responded to the Pats' return trip to the Super Bowl (Gronk's first appearance in the big game) by telling an ESPN Deportes reporter, "Yo soy fiesta". Well said, Robert--you are the meathead's meathead.

But instead, I'm going to follow up on last week's Clip of the Week, in which Jon Stewart exposed some of the horrific work conditions in China that help create our iPhones (and Xboxes, and Playstations, etc...).

This story gained some more traction over the weekend, upon the release of a long New York Times article that examined some of the issues that led to our nation's now-ravished manufacturing base. The piece is fascinating and well-written, and it's frankly a must-read for every American--especially Apple fans.

Those who have read me often know that I am far from an Apple fan--I think Apple is (or, at least, has become) an evil corporation masquerading as the consumer's "fun friend" (note their EULAs), and I don't support their manipulative and exploitative business model at all (even while I admit that many of their products are pretty cool).

That said, Apple is far from unique in its massive use of Chinese labor to create its products--they just happen to be one of the biggest companies, and therefore easiest targets. What I've chosen as this week's Quote of the Week is from the New York Times article, does involve Apple, and it's simultaneously amazing and troubling.


"Apple had redesigned the iPhone's screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company's dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day."
                      - New York Times

My first reaction to this anecdote was "wow". The Chinese, with their billion-plus people, simply operate on a different level of scale and speed than we do here in America. It's hard to compete with that, no matter who you are.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to agree with Yves Smith's take on the matter--if an American company housed its own employees on-site, and was able to force its workers into an immediate 12-hour shift without notice and with nothing more than some tea and a biscuit... wouldn't we have some people complaining that those were conditions amounting to slavery?

There's definitely a problem here when it comes to worker conditions, and I think we risk ignoring the troubling legacy of the Civil War if we continue to ignore these kinds of issues. Yes, slavery is illegal here and in most countries, and it has been for some time. But slavelike working conditions are still very much alive, and we have benefited greatly from them here in the United States (as consumers, not as workers). Is that really something we want to see continue?

[New York Times]

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