No matter your view of Chinese manufacturers, you can’t deny that they are innovators in the field of forcing people to assemble popular electronics in factories. It’s almost an art form to them.
Workers are jumping out of windows en masse because they would rather die than make another iPod? Screw better working conditions. Throw some nets up and drag their asses back to the assembly line when they land.
Need to produce the PlayStation 4 cheaply so Sony doesn’t take their business to an even crappier sweatshop? Just go to schools and force the kids to work in your factory in order to graduate. You can call it, uh, an internship — yeah, an internship. Brilliant! Let’s go to lunch.
Fast Food and the Living Wage
That’s right, in the latest update on how Chinese suffering produces many of the things we enjoy, it has been reported by local news agencies that around 1,000 students from the snappily named Xi’an Technological University North Institute of Information Engineering (which I’m assuming is not a party school) were forced to work on an assembly line in order to graduate. They were shipped over 800 miles away to a “vocational campus,” aka sweatshop, owned by the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, the Taiwanese Foxconn Corporation, to work for little or no pay (this has not been clearly established) making the yet-to-be-released video game console.
During this time, the students were made to piece together and package the PS4 11 hours a day for one week with two 10-minute breaks per day. And conforming to the honored Chinese tradition of making factory workers’ lives as miserable as possible, the students were not afforded the same rights and privileges as regular workers, which I’m assuming are less than stellar to begin with.
Foxconn clarified in an email to Al Jazeera: “Participation is voluntary; interns are free to terminate their internship at any time they choose.” Oh, well that really puts everyone’s minds at ease. So they completely ignored the little detail about extorting the students with their diplomas, but come on, did you expect a real answer? It kind of sounds like they just tweaked a stock response meant for the occasions when they are caught using actual, chained-to-a-radiator slave labor.
Meanwhile, the university was unapologetic. They released a statement, saying: “With their conscientious work attitude, they have dramatically improved work efficiency.” It’s pretty much the kind of robotic response you would expect.
Want Attention or to Tick Off Your Bartender, Then Do this
This is not an isolated incident. The same company was exposed using students to make iPhones last year. And apparently it is a common practice in other factories across China. The schools, of course, receive payment for the labor, so they are eager to hand over their students/slaves to teach them how to “endure hardship and work hard,” as the university’s statement also said.
But of course the piece often missing from stories like this is the reason factories in countries like China continue to dehumanize workers and treat them so poorly. It is because the rest of the world pays them handsomely to do it. There is no vote more powerful than the dollar vote, and the Western world has cast theirs in favor of these kinds of practices several times over. The demand for the PS4, iPhones and other goods is strong, despite the suffering of those who make them. You can condemn this practice as much as you want, but you will be hard-pressed to find a product that isn’t the result of some type of suffering or harm. We are all guilty and it’s not going to change anytime soon. The sad part is that these students actually got off easy compared to millions of other modern-day workers.