Via Mike Daisey’s blog I was led to the following bit by the Economist:
Anyway, that’s one angle: sweatshops are awful, but working a tiny rice farm is clearly worse, judging by the workers’ own preferences. However, the stance one takes on this depends on the question one is asking. An article on hardships in the garment industry in New York in 1909 might have elicited the response that things couldn’t be too bad since people were still immigrating from eastern Europe by the millions to take these jobs. Clearly they were better off working in a sweatshop in Manhattan than leading a miserable existence of poverty and repression in a shtetl in Poland. But at the same time, these workers were angry enough at the conditions they were subjected to that they staged the massive shirtwaist strike that year. Needless to say, that kind of politically free labour organisation is much harder to conduct in China because the state bans the formation of independent unions not controlled by the Communist Party. There’s a sequence in Mr Daisey’s piece where he describes seeing Foxconn’s perfectly open blacklist of employees who are to be immediately fired and not accepted at other factories because they are “troublemakers”; Mr Daisey notes that in a fascist dictatorship, you don’t have to resort to euphemisms the way management does in democracies. And that, too, rings true from my talks with underground Vietnamese labour activists. It’s hard to say how big the discount is on the manufacturing price of an iPhone due to the Chinese state’s ability to repress the formation of labour unions, but it’s not zero.
And I think that really hits an important point. Manufacturing in a totalitarian state means that there is an extra pressure against wage increase because labor organizing is a punishable crime.
There is some other great stuff in the article as well, so you should read the whole thing.
Update (3/22/2012): This American Life has pulled the episode because Mike Daisey’s story contained a lot of fabrications. The facts of FoxConn weren’t fabricated, but a lot of his personal stories and encounters were. Any statement that starts with “I have seen” is probably suspect and untrue. This original post is left below, because it was a point in time writing based on the impact the episode had on me.
How often do we wish more things were hand made. Oh we talk about that all the time, don’t we. “I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch.”
But that’s not true. There are more hand made things now then there have ever been in the history of the world.
Everything is hand made. I know, I have been there, I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than a human hair, one after another, after another.
Everything is hand made.
This American Life has an incredible show this past week, an adaptation of Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” for the radio. It’s the story of his trip to Shenzhen, to find the origin of his iPhone.
The story is amazing. The story telling is amazing. And the questions it raises about what it means to be a part of the global economy, are interesting and thought provoking.
If you’ve ever owned anything that has “Made in China” stamped on it, you should listen to Mr Daisey and The Apple Factory.
On some feed I came across: How to get rejected from the App Store, and as I read through it I became more and more glad that I’ve got an Android phone. Some of the top things that I do with my phone are explicitly prohibited by Apple. Streaming internet radio, directly syncing podcasts to the phone, having widgets on your desktop, improving on the phone built ins (in this case calendar display), all of these things are prevented on the iPhone.
Yes, the iPhone has a more consistent UI. It’s easy to be consistent if you limit your functionality, and require that everyone that owns your device runs your client software on a desktop in your house as well. Android phones don’t ever assume that. An Android phone is more than a smart phone, it’s a cloud access point. If you have to use a cable to put data (contacts, music, whatever) on your device that has always on wireless networking… you have failed.
I’m glad that Apple opened up this market for more vendors to play in, but I’m seriously glad that Google is relentlessly pushing it forward. The post PC era is really about whether or not you need a PC to use your other devices. As far as I’m concerned, the answer should be no.
Android has finally arrived. The comparisons to the iPhone are everywhere, and rightly so, as this is going to be a very interesting show down between Google + Open and Apple + one of the best design teams in the world. I tend to place my best on Open, but if anyone can compete against it, it’s the people that convinced the world that devices with non replaceable batteries are good investments.
It’s also interesting that the dramatic challenge in getting everyone excited by mobile wasn’t really a bump up in technology. 90% of what the iPhone can do today would be doable on your random flip phone from verizon, except the carriers block you from doing it. Carriers:
- block your access to the gps on the phone. Every phone has had a gps for the last few years due to e911 requirements.
- make it difficult to deploy apps to the phone, as they want a cut of every one.
- make it impossible to really provide free apps on phones (by the previous point)
A good instance of this is the fact that I’ve got google maps on my Sprint flip phone. Google wrote the app, and it does all the close searching for things like the iPhone does. It can’t tell me where I am, because sprint blocked the gps. But, when it comes to finding a restraunt in a strange city, it works quite well.
What Apple and Google have really been working on is getting the carriers out of the way so that mobile devices can really become a more primary platform for consumers. They basically forced AT&T, T-Mobile, and hopefully soon Sprint, to break down their walls against letting consumers really do things on the mobile networks. This is exciting. I’m eagerly hoping that Sprint (who is part of the Android alliance) puts an Android phone out by the end of the year, because I’m going to snap it up immediately. I’ve already got the Android SDK installed, and am going to start puttering around with applications that I’d love to be on my phone.