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?

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.