Saturday, February 04, 2012

Apple in China: iRobots | The Economist:

Anyway, that's one angle: sweatshops are awful, but working a tiny rice farm is clearly worse, judging by the workers' own preferences. However, the stance one takes on this depends on the question one is asking. An article on hardships in the garment industry in New York in 1909 might have elicited the response that things couldn't be too bad since people were still immigrating from eastern Europe by the millions to take these jobs. Clearly they were better off working in a sweatshop in Manhattan than leading a miserable existence of poverty and repression in a shtetl in Poland. But at the same time, these workers were angry enough at the conditions they were subjected to that they staged the massive shirtwaist strike that year. Needless to say, that kind of politically free labour organisation is much harder to conduct in China because the state bans the formation of independent unions not controlled by the Communist Party. There's a sequence in Mr Daisey's piece where he describes seeing Foxconn's perfectly open blacklist of employees who are to be immediately fired and not accepted at other factories because they are "troublemakers"; Mr Daisey notes that in a fascist dictatorship, you don't have to resort to euphemisms the way management does in democracies. And that, too, rings true from my talks with underground Vietnamese labour activists. It's hard to say how big the discount is on the manufacturing price of an iPhone due to the Chinese state's ability to repress the formation of labour unions, but it's not zero.