It is difficult to really thing what life in the industrial revolution must have been like. Seventy hour work weeks, terrible pollution, laughable safety standards and the expectation that you should just be happy to be working and provide for your family. We laugh and thank god for our labour laws and the unions who fought long and hard to give people basic things such as the forty hour work week, suitable wages and the expectation of a safe work place.
Except that the industrial revolution only ended for west. China is right in the middle of one right now and the ones who reap the rewards are us.
It is very easy to forget about the human element in the production of what is essentially the great majority of our consumer goods. We kid ourselves that its all done through machines and robots and that the human element is small, but this is not the case. Such images are products of the idea of Japanese automation and advanced western practises. But with a basically inexhaustible labour force, China does not need such things to produce.
Foxconn is the worlds largest producer of consumer electronics, including brands such as Apple, Sony, Intel, and Microsoft, and quite probably the majority producer as well considering its own workforce exceeds a million people now. But bear in mind that this isn’t a million people by western standards. These are people who work sixty to seventy hour work weeks and take home a wage not befitting of their time and suffer chronic injuries and mental anguish to the point of suicide. Unconfirmed reports of child labour being utilised are not unheard of either which in my opinion is probably something simply swept under the rug.
But then there is no easy answer on our side of the fence. What if we all boycotted these products? Would that help the million people who rely on these wages to live? What about the millions of others who provide the materials and the shipping and the numerous other related industries?
Would the companies, who so far ignore the plight of the workers, change anything if it meant a decrease in profit? Most likely not.
So am I calling for a boycott of electronics and consumerism? No, of course not. When half of my own computer probably came from one of these factories I cannot say anything without being, in part, a hypocrite. Perhaps just awareness of the origins of our everyday items is helpful. It certainly can’t hurt.