Who Makes Your iPhone: A discussion about sweatshops
What is the human cost of an iPad? The labor conditions at factories making Apple products have been in the public spotlight lately. While Apple is not unique in using low-wage Chinese labor to produce its electronic products, the popularity of the iPad and iPhone, along with publicity surrounding the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, have renewed debate about what labor conditions constitute modern-day sweatshops.
To the teacher:
Student Reading 1:
Who Makes Your iPhone?
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple's products, and the company's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors. More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers' disregard for workers' health.
At least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of horrendous working conditions.Many more are believed to have either survived attempts or been stopped before trying at the Apple supplier's plants in Chengdu or Shenzen.After a spate of suicides last year, managers at the factories ordered new staff to sign pledges that they would not attempt to kill themselves, according to researchers.And they were made to promise that if they did, their families would only seek the legal minimum in damages.
Student Reading 2:
The Debate Over Sweatshops
Foxconn [an Apple supplier] remains an employer of choice in Shenzhen, both in its engineering jobs and in its factory-floor work. It is not a model employer by American or Western European standards, but it would be accurate to call the company relatively decent. In every country where it operates - including the Czech Republic, India and Brazil - Foxconn ranks above the local average in pay and work conditions.To pick on the Apple-Foxconn partnership is to argue for perfection in an imperfect world. It also denies China a natural path to modernization. China's factories in 2012 might be roughly where America's factories were in 1922 in terms of worker rights. The debate isn't whether this is wonderful; the debate is whether this represents progress over where China was, say, under Mao Zedong.
[The] arguments [of economists defending sweatshops] distort the historical record and misrepresent how social improvement is brought about with economic development. First, the claim that developed economies passed through a sweatshop stage does not establish that sweatshops caused or contributed to the enhanced productivity that they say improved working conditions. Second, in the developed world, the sweatshop phase was not extinguished by market-led forces alone, but when economic growth combined with the very kind of social action, or enlightened collective choice, that defenders of sweatshops find objectionable.
The fact that many in the developing world are worse off than workers in the world export factories is a point that economists supportive of the anti-sweatshop movement do not deny…. [T]he Scholars Against Sweatshop Labor statement (2001) admits that "Even after allowing for the frequent low wages and poor working conditions in these jobs, they are still generally superior to 'informal' employment in, for example, much of agriculture or urban street vending."This is not meant to suggest that these exchanges between employers and poor workers with few alternatives are in reality voluntary or that world export factory jobs are not sweatshops or places of exploitation. Rather, as political philosopher Michael Waltzer argues, these exchanges should be seen as "trades of last resort" or "desperate" exchanges that need to be protected by labor legislation regulating such things as limits on hours, a wage floor, and guaranteed health and safety requirements.
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