A remarkable stand-off occurred recently between employees and management at the huge Chinese manufacturing company Foxconn. These are the people who make all our Apple stuff, Microsoft, Dell, Sony, Nokia, Samsung, Acer etc. In fact, they manufacture about a third of all the electronics we use in the west – including the computer I am writing this on, and quite possibly the one you’re reading this on.
So it was that 150 Foxconn employees took their stand on a factory roof, threatening mass suicide if their managers refused to renegotiate their working conditions. In 2010 fourteen employees followed through and died in a similar stand-off, and now many Foxconn factories are rigged with nets to curb the suicide attempts.
Foxconn employees (who number in the hundreds of thousands) are working shifts of twelve to sixteen hours a day at 30p an hour. They are patrolled and filmed to make sure they’re working in silence as they piece together our phones and laptops with their fingers in long, long human production lines. There are workers as young as twelve, and at night they don’t go home, they bunk up in cramped dorms on factory grounds. This is their life. This is my computer. This is your phone.
I’m at a loss. Are Microsoft and Apple less to blame than Foxconn? Am I less to blame than Apple and Microsoft? Can we imagine any way of living and doing business that doesn’t rely on this kind of slavery? How do we even begin to opt out? I don’t know where to start, besides repentance. All ideas are welcome..