To the anonymous workers at Foxconn in China who assembled the iPad I wrote this on: Thanks.
I’ll never know who you are, of course. Your names, your faces, anything about you except for generalities such as that you’re human, likely Chinese by birth and probably overworked. That’s the word here in America, at any rate: overworked and prone to suicide.
I hope those are exaggerations, especially that last. Otherwise, the cost of this thing would be pretty high.
We hear you have to work long hours with little time off so Americans can have their nifty toys devices. Yes, the iPad is worth having, let’s make that clear. They do connect us to each other – except to the people who assembled them – and do other cool stuff.
I just wish you could enjoy the fruits of your labor. That, too, is a story we’ve heard here, that you don’t know what the devices that you make do. Henry Ford realized he could sell a lot more vehicles if he made them affordable to his own workers. Maybe one day someone will do the same for you.
Not that I’m all that wealthy. I could afford this only because Wal-mart – another giant American company Chinese workers no doubt are familiar with – started a holiday layaway program that included iPads. That’s how I eventually got to clutch one in my hot little hand.
I’ve seen photos of the long lines of white-clad Foxconn workers in the factories. I sometimes wonder about you, the people who actually touched the parts of my iPad. How many of you assembled mine? Which of you were male, which were female? How old were you? How long had you been working when this particular iPad came along? Where were you from, a rural area or a big city? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Do you have dreams, aspirations beyond the factory? You see, I don’t know a thing you who assembled my iPad.
Would I be pondering these things if I hadn’t seen the articles in American media about the supposed problems at the factory? After all, I’ve never really pondered who built my car. Americans, likely, it’s an American car. I can relate a bit to them because we have some values in common. The stories about Chinese tech workers, though, describe an experience few American workers have dealt in at least a generation or more.
Stories about how workers were woken in the middle of the night to re-do iPhone faces because Steve Jobs wanted glass, not plastic. Stories that workers have jumped off buildings (so the factory managers installed nets). Stories that workers can hardly make a living on their wages (though recent stories say everyone got a pay raise). Stories about consumer pressure that forced Apple to join a fair-labor organization to inspect the factories (though the reports are mixed on whether what the inspectors saw was real or whether they were being flimflammed).
So all of a sudden I’m a worker-right champion? If I were truly that, I wouldn’t have bought the thing. I did go into this purchase fully aware of these controversies because I felt it was necessary to understand costs other than money. Yes, I had to have it, but I see it as a tool. The automobile is a tool; eventually conditions improved for those workers. I hope that eventually conditions will improve the same way for the Chinese workers.
In a perfect world, Americans would be assembling the products designed by an American corporation. In a perfect world, workers everywhere would be paid a decent wage without making the cost of the products prohibitive. Perhaps one day this will happen, possibly when corporations run out of low-wage countries to move their factories to.
That’s a long way off, though. In the real world, Apple is about to unveil the iPad3. The workers who assembled my iPad, if they’re still at the factory, likely have been working hard to produce those new toys devices for a salivating American public. I hope the stories about pay raises are true. I hope public pressure has forced at least a little improvement in conditions.
So, thanks again Foxconn workers, for your labor. I will try to remember where my iPad came from each time I use it.
It’s the least I can do.