It’s easy to be impressed by the technological innovation produced by most major tech companies, lured by the promise of lightning fast Internet, more convenient & fully integrated mobile devices, and unprecedented connectivity with the world around you. But have you ever stopped to think about the people that actually bring you these devices?
I’m not talking about the likes of Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt, the powerful barons of industry who are undoubtedly reclining on their mountains of money high above us in their ivory towers, but about the actual people; the assembly line workers that produce the devices that have become such an integral part of our lives. My guess would be no, you probably haven’t given those people much thought at all, most likely because they are building these devices in other countries where companies like Apple, Google, HP, and Dell don’t have to pay them as much money.
But with news out of China that the Hon Hai Industries (also known as Foxconn Technology Group) factory in Shenzhen, China, a major supplier for several of the aforementioned tech companies and a major manufacturer of Apple’s iPad and iPod, has seen an unprecedented number of employee suicides in the past few weeks, the public is slowly realizing that perhaps there are victims to such technological innovation, and with that, in an effort to save face, Apple and HP have decided to take a closer look into business practices in China…just so we can all sleep a little better at night.
To their credit, Apple, HP, and Dell have all publicly stated that they are looking into the matter, with Apple releasing a statement affirming the tech giant’s commitment to, “ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity.” While Apple goes on to say that they are in direct contact with the senior management of the China-based plant, do they really think that’s going to help.
Not that I’m saying that the average Chinese working conditions are necessarily deplorable, but they must be pretty bad if workers would rather kill themselves then face another day on the factory floor. Further, the fact that companies like Foxconn lock up their tech factories, with their employees inside, tighter than Fort Knox is probably not just an indication of Steve Jobs’ desire for secrecy, but evidence that perhaps the Chinese companies have something to hide.
That being said, I’m already skeptical about the possible findings of any of the inquiries undertaken by officials at Apple, HP, or Dell. Clearly any investigation into this recent rash of suicides is only for show for the media here in the West, as I’m sure a strict policy of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell is in effect. Apple knows that it won’t find the same availability of cheap labor to build its iPods and iPads anywhere else in the world, so it certainly doesn’t want to screw this partnership up.
I mean, if these American companies consider exorbitantly long work weeks, draconian levels of control and restrictions for employees, and the fact that most rank-and-file employees at these Chinese factories seem to live at their jobs, to be par for the course when it comes to satisfactory working conditions, I would guess that Apple and HP would have to witness some employee being whipped and crucified before they would begin to raise concerns.