How Costly are our Commodities?

It is often easy for us in the developed world to forget about the contexts in which our everyday products are made. Based on infamous revelations about horrible working conditions from the past, such as bringing Nike’s use of sweatshops in Vietnam to the limelight, we can easily be apathetic in these findings. In Nike’s case, I suppose if you strongly opposed their production choices you could simply not buy Nike shoes – probably a painless choice of action. But when news surfaces on the shocking conditions (or is it shocking? I feel our society accepts that these conditions exist and complies with the notion that there’s nothing we can really do about it) of Chinese workers at Foxconn, there is much more of an impact. Or at least I hope there is. Why? Because FoxConn assemblies products that are pervasive in our everyday lives, products that we are reliant on for transmitting information, for garnering information, and for maintaining social relationships, among many other functions. Foxconn assembles Apple products as well as other electronic and entertainment products, such as Kindles, DVD players, and gaming consoles. About two weeks ago Jon Stewart ran a piece looking at these conditions on The Daily Show, from another news story, which was the first time I had heard about these specific circumstances. I was genuinely shocked about the suicide nets that have been put up in reaction to mass suicide threats from the workers, and of course the 31 cents per hour wage. And then Stewart goes on to point out that Americans are only saving 23% of the products’ price by manufacturing these gadgets outside of the US. Literally the next day in my class, Global Media Industries, my professor showed us the popular Banksy rendition of The Simpsons opening titles. It points out how detached we can be from the production process of popular goods and services we consume and critiques this global division of labor. I mean, even pandas and unicorns suffer for our constant demands of entertainment! Here is a clip of The Daily Show segment (sorry for the quality and Chinese subtitles– I am unable to watch Comedy Central’s site outside of the US!).

After seeing this, I found what I believe to be the source of this wave of information coming from the Chinese factories. Discussing this issue with my friend Adrienne via Skype (on my MacBook no less! Oh the irony), she guided me toward the story that was on This American Life a few weeks ago. The episode focuses on a spoken word show by Mike Daisey, and how his love for all things technology and being a willing member of the Cult of Mac, led him to China to investigate what was going on (this was after hearing that someone’s iPad came with photos of the Chinese factories stored in it). The show is riveting, as Daisey has a way with story telling and can somehow infuse such a serious and sad situation with a degree of humor. I strongly recommend that you listen to it here. You’ll be glad you did.

“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”

I don’t know about you, but I think paying 23% more is a small price to pay for peace of mind and basic human rights. I would like to know that the MacBook I’m typing on right now wasn’t made by someone who now has serious physical disabilities due to the constant repetitive motion of swiping an iPhone screen, or that that someone isn’t contemplating participating in a mass suicide as the only way to rebel against their employer. Of course, I am very aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that plenty of other commodities, such as the scarf around my neck or the socks on my feet, are made in similar environments. Awareness is the first step in changing our views in how corporations should ethically operate. You can sign a petition for Apple to change their policies here: Make the iPhone 5 Ethically

 

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