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article imageOp-Ed: Apple, Dell, HP Chinese workers sign no-suicide pledges

By Paul Wallis     May 26, 2010 in Business
American corporate icons Apple, Dell and Hewlett Packard have again been caught out by revelations from their Chinese workers at their manufacturer Foxconn's Shenzen plant. These workers now have to sign documents agreeing not to commit suicide.
While not being directly connected or in any way condoning the workplace issues, three of the big four in computers are now acutely embarrassed, again. Foxconn’s parent, Taiwanese Hon Hai Precision, has stated it’s having difficulties managing its 800,000 strong workforce on the mainland.
OK, that’s the disclaimers out of the way. The report from AFP as shown in The Sydney Morning Herald is nothing short of obscene. Working for a staggeringly generous $300 a month, Chinese workers are being subjected to conditions that would have had 19th century reformers beyond outrage.
1 Nine people have committed suicide at Foxconn’s Shenzen site.
2. Nets are being hung around buildings to deter leapers, according to reports. Roof patrols are now being conducted.
3. Employees are being asked to sign agreements promising not to hurt themselves or other employees.
4. Workers speak of “harsh supervisors” and incredibly cramped, almost Dickensian conditions.
So- Is there a problem? There are several, and they’re not all Chinese problems.
Let’s look at this in business and dollar terms:
How many American billionaires and corporate giants does it take to get a foreign contract to comply with the conditions of a contract? So far, not enough. There’s no particular indication that the various protests from America’s Biggest Best and Brightest are being taken too seriously.
If you measure the dollar revenue from these products against the number of lives lost, what’s a Chinese worker’s life worth? Not much, apparently, even in terms of paperwork. There are no indications of any form of compensation, investigation, or other normal procedures after these deaths.
Would consumers go nuts if they had to pay a few dollars more for better manufacturing conditions which would obviously improve quality and the knowledge that their appliances weren’t killing people? Probably not. Apparently this novel concept hasn’t been considered either.
This is the 21st century workhouse, in a sort of creepy, obsessive, disgusting form. I’m not prepared to accuse Apple, Dell, and HP of any form of participation in this insane type of work practices. It’s unlikely that they find this situation any less obscene than anyone else, and even indications from their apparently comatose (or possibly extinct) PR media do indicate long term strong displeasure at the situations.
I am, however, prepared to say that the obvious lack of chromosomes, testosterone and estrogen in their response is a staggering admission of impotence in even influencing their own manufacturing processes.
Is this what being a big name manufacturer means, just suck on it if they don’t like it?
Who’s running this toilet?
Even one out of ten recent attendees at Congressional and Senate hearings into the 2008 crash have been able to pronounce, if not understand, the concept of responsibility. So far, nobody’s responsible for this. Not an encouraging comparison.
How long does it take to say: “Get the act together, or we go to India, or maybe even, perish the thought, that other great Third World labor source, the USA.”
Watch the moves, they'll be interesting.
I just wish they could be expected to be rational.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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