Apple - Foxconn suicides: Who's responsible?
A recent article on Catholic Online (which you can read here) explained why Apple and other US firms are turning increasingly to Chinese factories to generate ever-increasing profits. Firms cite the high expense of hiring American workers and the high productivity of Chinese factories as key factors in their decision making, as well as the ready availability of cheap, highly qualified engineers and laborers. Meanwhile, Americans decry conditions in Chinese factories, which they see as deplorable, and the hemorrhage of American jobs to outsourcing.
Suicide nets at the Foxconn factory in China where Apple products are assembled.
Factory managers rotate workers from job to job to reduce boredom and provide cross training, they also provide recreational facilities to the workers, and even counseling and mental health services when needed.
It might not seem like such a bad deal for the workers whose alternative might be to eek out a living in the countryside, or to make do with less.
So why the suicide nets?
A number of factories across China have nets designed to dissuade and, if need be, catch workers jumping to their death. Suicide has become a serious occupational hazard for workers in China's factories, and the news is starting to grab headlines.
The fact of the matter is, life in a Chinese factory is unpleasant, boring, repetitive, and workers have little to no privacy, and few rights-if any. The food is nothing to write home about either. Employers can set workers to task at any hour, force them into overtime, and arbitrarily fire them if desired. It's as near to slavery as one can get without the chains.
In the west, it's easy to blame the multinational corporations that employ the workers in such conditions, as well as the Chinese government, but there are three things people must know when discussing these issues.
Executives have a duty to create profits: Note, that's profits-not jobs. Americans are quick to decry outsourcing, but an executive's duty is to make the most cost effective labor decisions possible. This often means outsourcing. Add the fact that many corporations while based in the US are genuinely multi-national and the decision to outsource is generally sound. In fact they may not see "outsourcing" as outsourcing at all, but rather as simply creating jobs in another area.
Americans insist on corporate profits: If corporate profits were reduced, or did not exist, then the retirement plans of most Americans would cease to be. Many Americans, even working-class Americans, now have some degree of investment in the stock market. We're proud of our retirement plans and we like to boast about our profits (when we have them). Without corporate executives making profitable labor decisions, our retirement plans would grow much more slowly.
We're addicted to cheap electronics: Let's face it -- would you rather pay more or less for your iPhone? According to Apple, producing the iPhone in the US would add at least $65 to its price. For some (to be fair, not all) that would be too much to spend. And it's not just iPhones. How do you like your big screen TV? Would you buy it if the cost was doubled? Every day we consume cheap products that are manufactured in China. We demand these products at the prices they are. Executives know this because higher-priced products simply cannot compete. Americans want manufacturing jobs for themselves and humane working conditions overseas, but when given the option, we buy otherwise.
Ultimately, this means we as a country must reexamine our habits and the message we are sending to corporate America. Yes, the Chinese government, the factory managers, and the multinational corporate executives are very much responsible for those suicide nets around the factories. However, we too are responsible for those nets. Our government regulations, and our consumer behavior, our relative lack of skilled labor (at low price) are also responsible for the outsourcing of our jobs.
It should be noted that these practices also create jobs in America-just in different sectors. For example, Apple's success has led to the creation of tens of thousands of retail jobs. But is this the trade we want for our manufacturing industry?
The answer to these questions must be settled by the American people who must spend time learning the facts and considering the problem. The situation is far more complex than what can be explained in the scope of an article.
But let it be made pointedly clear: How we behave in the free market dictates what that market does. We drive the market as consumers, not the executives, not the managers, and not governments.
As for the workers - China has their own plan to combat discontentment in the factories. Robots are now being installed in ever-increasing numbers thus making human workers obsolete and eliminating the myriad concerns, and expenses, with worker's rights.
So we have an ontological question to answer.
What's your response?
Share your comments below.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Apple, Foxconn, suicide nets, worker's rights
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