Consumers Can Make the Change: Vote With Your Dollars

“That would require someone to care. That would require someone at Fox Conn and the other suppliers to care. That would require someone at Apple and Dell and the other customers to care. Currently, no one in the ecosystem cares enough to even enforce that.” (35:33)

Here, Mr. Daisey discusses the factory workers who are disabled after years of monotonous, repetitive work.  He points out that the factory workers will continue to endure these terrible conditions if no one steps up to fight them. So whose responsibility is it? Which party should step in to fix these working conditions? As a human being, I want to say that every person involved – Apple executives, Fox Conn Managers, Apple consumers – should feel responsible. Ultimately, the decision makers at Fox Conn are the only people who can make the change. However, this change can result from a domino effect, starting with the consumer.

Fox Conn has a responsibility to its employees to provide safe working conditions. Unfortunately, in a location where the workers have very little other employment options, Fox Conn holds far more power than it should. They are able to exploit their workers and force them into unsafe conditions because the workers are simply working to stay out of poverty. (Or really, they are most likely still in poverty. They are simply working to stay on the better end of it.)

Many argue that Apple, as well as Dell and the other technology companies, should be responsible for the working conditions of the Fox Conn workers. However, these are Fox Conn workers. While Apple contracts this company to manufacture products, Apple is not actually employing these Chinese workers. Legally, Apple is not responsible for these workers according to the contracts that each of these parties hold.

The consumers, on the other hand, hold the power in terms of social responsibility. Consumers can and should voice their opinions by spending their money on the companies that they support. Customers can show Apple that this behavior is unacceptable. As a result, Apple can voice this concern to Fox Conn, threaten to take business elsewhere, and demand change. Without Apple’s business, Fox Conn would lose a significant amount of business and be forced to make changes.


What we talk about when we talk about Shenzhen

30 minutes ago, I was writing a blog on the topic about how Apple’s renascence after it outsourced its production to China, as well as how Apple’s financial report in Asia section boosted after the China’s market opened to it in 2009. However, after I read the posts of my classmates wrote about Shenzhen, China, I decided to erase what I have written and started this post.

After I finished the monologue by Mr. Daisey, I do not know what to say about Shenzhen anymore. So I try to find my original impressions about that city. Shenzhen, like Mr. Daisey mentioned in the talk, was nothing but a small fishing village located at the southern end of China.  I can still recall the patriotic song, The Story of Spring, praising the leader Deng Xiaoping from my childhood. “Year 1979, that was a spring. There was an old man,  who drawn a circle on the map of China, near the southern sea.” Yes, that was the first time I knew about Shenzhen, around my age of 12. 34 years ago, Deng Xiaoping, the chairman of China at that moment, decided to make Shenzhen area to be the “Shenzhen Special Economic District”, which started the beginning of well-known Chinese Economic Reform. I have to admit that Shenzhen’s speed of developing and expending is unbelievable to most Americans , while a small recovery work of side-way in their local community may take forever.  However, that is actually what is happening in most cities in China, including my hometown, Hangzhou.

“I do not know much about China.” said Mr. Daisey, which actually is the sentence interested me the most during the monologue. How did a person, not even a journalist, not familiar with Chinese culture ending up in Shenzhen and doing interviews and investigation. Instead of being amazed by his experience, I started to pay attentions to all the details about his trip to the city I have been to over 5 times. There came out so many random things I do not even know about in China.  However, I think I know much more about China than Mr. Daisey. A factory gate security carrying a gun? Guns are highly forbidden in China, and even some policemen no longer hold a gun during duty nowadays. Most security guards work for the factory are also recruited from the countryside, just like the other factory workers. I can hardly believe that the government will actually allow such random recruited person to carry a gun. An abruptly ended ramp on the high way? I could never see that with my at least 19 years living experience in China, and I have been travelling a lot. When he tried to explain how the “secret union” works, I could not help to laugh out, and I realized that he knows nothing about China, indeed.

But how Shenzhen actually is? As the largest economy center in the south, Shenzhen has been consider to be the place where “China Dream” happens. This is the city you want to go in the south if you have nothing to lose and want to start your life from scratch.  Beijing is the other option for northerners. Millions people left their fields and families at countryside and had their new beginning started in the factories. You do not need a diploma from high school to work there, but you will be paid more than you can ever earn from cultivate your fields at your hometown. Your housing and meals will be provided for free and, most importantly, you will be living in a city. Just like Mr. Daisey mentioned during the monologue, the turnover ratio of recruitment is about 10 percents overall. People are leaving their jobs. However, that that moment, different from the beginning, they are no longer the “farmer-worker” they used to be, but a “citizen” of Shenzhen. Just like all the people in the rest of the world, the factory workers in Shenzhen have their own dreams. Dreaming that they will quit the factory work one day and start their own small business; dreaming that their children will have good education in the city and have friends in the city; dreaming that after all the pain they have suffered, they will have a real modern life in the city, Shenzhen. Different from most tragic stories, amazingly, there are sufficient amount of people in Shenzhen actually made their dreams. They owned their business, have their children in the good schools and live a middle-class life in wealthy communities.  That fact that everything could start from a 12-hour daily shift job in the factory attracts even more people from the countryside to join the “army”. What they believed is not that this is the world well-known “blood factory”, they consider this city to be the place where all the hard working could be paid off one day. And also, this is one of the few life-changing opportunities they could ever have in their lives. They believe they are investing today for their future.

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A peak of Shenzhen

The posts and materials I have been reading and listening to have made me feel pretty bad about Shenzhen. But the conflicts between what I have saw personally and what I have heard from all the critics really make me feel like to talk about this city. The different perspectives amazed me because they make me begin to rethink all the things I have been believed before. After reading this post, I hope you may also have some change of impressions about this city. So now, what we talk about when we talk about Shenzhen?

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After listening to the pod cast it was definitely troubling to me to hear what workers have to go though in China so that we are able to have our smart phones and other devices. At the same time I’m not going to act like this is the first time I have heard this type of situation. For example there has been news of Nike having sweatshops for as long as I can remember and it hasn’t seemed to hurt them too much. Also, while I find the working conditions wrong I don’t think it is going to stop me from purchasing electronics and other products that are made this way. I think there are two major problems that are causing this.

The first problem is, like me, the majority of consumers see two things when purchasing a product. They see the product itself and a price. To keep this price low producers have to take advantage of other countries that have lower standards of living and working conditions. While there are some companies out there like Patagonia, who pride themselves on how their product are made, I think the market for these products  is way too small for the majority of companies to join. Not saying that Americans are selfish, but if by buying products that are made under poor working conditions gives them a healthier life style they are going to do so.  What I mean by a healthier lifestyle is the money the saved by buying the cheaper product. For example if there were two identical smartphones and one cost $50 more, but states that it was produced in a factory that has higher working standards than its competitor, I still don’t think it would convince to many people to buy it. When people are looking at smart phones they care about what features it has and not where it was made.

                The second major problem and main problem in my mind with this situation is the living standards that are set by these foreign countries. I think a lot of companies make themselves feel better about the situation because they are able to say that they are giving the workers a higher standard of living than what the workers would normally have. From the pod cast we heard that there are over 400,000 workers at the factory. I think this shows that 400,000 people feel that working at the factory is better than other jobs they could get or not having a job at all. I mean it’s not like they are being held there and forced to work. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think that it is right to have 13 year old workers, or have people work 34 hours straight, but are these companies really the ones at fault here. While it might not be morally right to the average American, companies follow laws not moral obligations.  If we want there to be change we need to change the laws and not press on them morality, especially when these moral obligations are only held by countries with higher living standards like the U.S.

One Omelet, Please

“You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”  I wish those wise words had originated in my mind from someone other than Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club, but they did.

In the 1-hour monologue delivered by actor Mike Daisy as part of his full performance, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Daisy uncovers the harsh reality of the conditions at the Foxconn Factory in Shenzhen, China.  At the outset, Daisy sounded all too familiar to me; he describes himself as a technology-crazed middle-aged man with the hobbies of reading blogs written by other Apple enthusiasts and spreading rumors of the next fresh Apple product.  The point of the podcast which piqued my true interests was when Daisy discovers the four unknown pictures snapped from an iPhone from within the mysterious Foxconn factory.  The pictures depicting wooden pallets, a conveyor belt, and out-of-focus large space and an expressionless woman clearly gripped his imagination.

Traveling in the “city without history” with his translator, Cathy, Daisy provides a beautifully grim depiction of Shenzhen.  He recounts that Shenzhen is the 3rd largest city in China with over 14 million people and a powerhouse producer of all of our “crap.”  As he describes the city, a picture began to form in my mind.  Shenzhen is a massive, poorly constructed and tacky Times Square with flashy advertisements constantly blinking through a thick gray haze.  Daisy’s description of the “silver poison sky” also contributed to the deathly metropolis of the densely populated city.  Later, when Daisy and Cathy’s vehicle abruptly halts at an unconstructed exit on the main highway, the general public safety of Shenzhen is severely called into question.  The taxi driver and the two travelers peering over the 85-foot drop behind the single orange traffic cone planted an end-of-the-Earth picture in my mind.

I am left with a disgraceful feeling towards the end of Daisy’s monologue.  At a restaurant, Daisy and Cathy meet with an older man with “leathery skin.”  He worked in the Foxconn factory for several years before mangling his right hand in a metal press used to produce iPads.  After receiving no medical attention, the factory managers fired him for his slowness, but he luckily found more reasonable employment at a woodwork plant.  The sad irony is that he’d never seen an iPad turned on before, but had lost the normal use of his hand in making one.  Upon turning on Daisy’s iPad, his eyes glowed and the feelings of sacrifice and injustice washed over me.

Today, more hand-made products are produced in cheap-labor countries than ever before.  However, I wonder if the cost of the inhumane practices embedded in the toys outweighs the ephemeral satisfaction of the end-user.  Or simply, just how many broken eggs are worth one shiny, plastic omelet?

What does “Made In China” really mean?

In today’s society, the technology sector is filled with products made all over the world. Whether it be from China or Mexico, a majority of technology products found in the U.S. are imported. To businesses, this is a vital part of their success; however, the origin of a product’s life means very little to the general population. Instead, the numbers representing the price of a product is the key purchasing factor for consumers. In Michael Daisey’s The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, he discusses the manufacturing issues associated with bringing us innovative technological products by means of a one man dialogue. This blog will discuss my analysis of his opinion regarding products made in China.

As many people know, China is one of the largest exporters of electronic goods in the world. Chinese factories make televisions, video games, headphones, computers, and a plethora of other electronic consumer goods. While it is common knowledge that China dominates the manufacturing industry, it is not common knowledge as to how they do so. According the Daisey, almost all of every U.S. citizens’ “crap” comes from a city called Shenzhen. For those of you who are unaware of Chinese geography, Shenzhen is an oceanside city located in the southeast part of China (approximately a two-hour drive north from Hong Kong). It used to be a quaint city until it embodied a “modernize China” strategy. In asking foreign companies to help “modernize” Shenzhen, the city quickly gained aid and began to grow immensely. Factories, shops, and LED lights now line the streets of Shenzhen while pollution contaminates the air. One Shenzhen company that Daisey’s monologue focused on and I would like to discuss is Foxconn.

Foxconn is an electronics manufacturer that houses 430,000 workers and produces approximately a third of the world’s electronics equipment. This includes products from Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Bose, Samsung, etc. In Daisey’s monologue, he states how he wants to find out more about this mysterious Foxconn by standing outside of its gates and interviewing people. After his co-worker manages to find the first willing interviewee, a line forms behind her and many workers want to be interviewed. From his time speaking with the employees, Daisey discovers that the company has dangerously low standards for its employees. One 13 year old girl revealed how incredibly simple it is to get a job working at Foxconn. Especially since the suicide rate is so high. When asked if her age was checked by the company, she responded that it is not checked and the company knows whenever an age inspection is going to take place so they can initiate safety measures to insure they do not have any violations. This news not only shocked Daisey, but it also left my mouth agape.

With modern media now focusing more on labor conditions of foreign countries, do consumers really think that companies such as Apple and Microsoft don’t know such corruption exists at their manufacturing companies? It is extremely hard to believe that technology companies so dedicated to the details of their products would oversee such inhumane labor conditions. What if the issue is not in fact the companies themselves, but the fact that most people tend to see what they want to see instead of acknowledging the truth? The truth behind the white label stating “Made in China.” As citizens of not only our own country, but citizens of the world, we must ask ourselves “How can we let this happen?” Although many are not directly involved in the decision-making of these large companies, as consumers, we have the right to stand up for what we believe in and convince people and companies alike to understand the label and accept the disappointing truth. Without acceptance there will never be change.

The Shocking Truth About my iPhone

I found the “Mr. Daisey and Apple” podcast fascinating, but also disheartening.  Mike Daisey has a fantastic sense of humor that made this hour podcast pass very quickly and added some lightness to the sensitive topics that he discussed.  It seems to me as though he unveiled quite a few secrets that Americans and other people around the globe would be shocked to hear about, and that was my exact reaction.  I don’t know much about journalism, but I feel like the best way to get an interview from someone or get information is not to just show up at a large factory, let alone in China, essentially begging for information.  He tried to contact people through other methods, but said he got shut down trying those ways.  So he decided it was time to do it his way, and he proved me wrong.  His way seemed to be incredibly successful because it seems as though every worker coming out of that Foxconn factory had a story to tell.  What really got to me was the 13 year old female worker who’s job it is to clean the iPhone screens as they go by her on the conveyer belt.  When I was 13, I was in 7th grade worrying about pre-algebra and middle school dances, and the thought of a job was unimaginable.  The possibility of workers this age, and even younger, having to report to a factory to work anywhere between 12 and 16 hour days seems so far away to me, but the sad fact is that this is a reality for these young workers.  This young woman tells Daisey how Foxconn always knows when an outside company, the companies that actually care about the ages of workers, is going to come to inspect, so they simply pull the younger workers out of work for the day.  This seems outrageous to me.  Daisey even implies that Apple probably knows about the young ages of their workers seeing as they are a company with a compulsive need for information.  I would like to think that they did not know, but it is hard to imagine that being possible.

One thing that really struck me about Daisey’s podcast is that he kept using the word “crap” instead of listing out consumer products that we now take for granted.  As I thought about this more and more, I realized that he is right.  Most of the stuff we own now can definitely be called “crap.”  We think technology is so important to our lives and that we cannot survive without it, but no one ever thinks about the hundreds of thousands of people that put our “crap” together all the way over in Shenzhen, China.  I think Daisey using the word “crap” to describe the products whose factories he went to see really strengthened his argument.  It made me think more about what superficial effect this “crap” has on our lives, and I am sure I am not the only one that he made think.

I found the part of the podcast where Daisey interviews the people in the “real union” about their experiences.  One man that stood out to me was the one whose hand was crushed during work at Foxconn.  It is hard for me to imagine him not receiving any medical attention, or compensation, for his injury.  Not only did he essentially lose his right hand, but he lost his job too because he was fired for being too slow.  I am guessing that this is not an uncommon event for the large factories in China, which makes it even more disturbing.  It seems as though even when these hard working people do try to fight for their rights, they essentially just lose their jobs for even trying.  It is heartbreaking.  If any of this information came out about a large company in America, it would make headlines in seconds and cause a public outrage.  It just seems as though this is the norm for these factory workers in Shenzhen.

The only thing that slightly salvaged my view of Apple was towards the end of the podcast, when Glass talks about the measures they have been taking to monitor and improve working conditions.  It seems as though Apple audits some of its suppliers every year, and if working standards are not up to their code of conduct, they work with them to improve the standards.  If the supplier is not willing to work with Apple, the company will just stop buying from them.  The only choice consumers really have is to believe Apple when they say that poor working conditions are being looked into because we have no other option of what to believe.  Nicholas Kristof brings the idea to the podcast that while the conditions of sweatshops are not great and can definitely not be defended, they have actually raised living conditions and allowed more people to have jobs in what used to be rural areas.  While I guess this fact can make me feel slightly better about using my MacBook to write this blog post and reaching for my iPhone next to me to check my email, it is hard to look at these gadgets the same way after hearing all of this information.  I cannot help to think about how many workers it took to put together my Apple devices, let alone everything else that I own.

Food Justice: Bringing the right kinds of businesses into the poorer communities

It is no surprise to read an article about the ever-increasing rate of obesity in the United States. Over the past several years, news articles and reports have discussed this issue at length, blaming parents, schools, fast-food restaurants and more. But there is so much more to this. First, I want to explain that it is not obesity that I’m attacking. It is simply the unhealthy eating and lifestyles that concern me. Overweight, underweight, whatever weight a person might be, they are susceptible to an alarmingly large range of diseases and disorders as a result of eating processed, packaged, and generally unnatural foods. This might not seem like an issue for the business students of the world, but it can be.

This article is about an organization called Earth Amplified and a business that they launched called S.O.S—System out of our System—Juice. This organization works in low-income neighborhoods to educate youth about healthy eating and food production. SoS Juice is a business that strives to bring affordable, healthy food to these neighborhoods. They employ people from these neighborhoods and give them a feeling of ownership over their food production and consumption. This is one of the most important things that business students need to understand on this subject—people in low-income neighborhoods will never be able to eat healthy without access to healthy food. The price of healthy food compared to unhealthy food is extremely off-balance. Businesses have a responsibility to charge the proper prices for their food. (With all of the environmental and health impacts associated with a cheeseburger, the proper cost of it should be far greater than a dollar.)

A large problem is the marketing campaigns for many of these restaurants. “The flaws of our global economy are best exposed by looking at our food system—soil-depleting and oil-depleting factory farming, economic policies that contribute to starvation abroad, and disease and obesity at home, all packaged with a marketing campaign to enforce the “buy first, ask never” social contract—just buy what they say to buy, and eat/shut up.”

Further, another article sums it up perfectly. “The fast food industry spends more on advertising in four days than the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s leading organization fighting childhood obesity, spends on health education in an entire year.”  This should not be the case. Business students and CEOs have the power to make a change for the better. Change marketing and change store locations so that consumers can make healthy choices.