Workers at Foxconn

Many of you probably heard last week’s This American Life about the Foxconn factory (where most of our Apple products are made, inlcuding iphones, ipads, etc.).  For those who haven’t, please listen; it’s a chilling story.

The factory is in Shenzhen, a city accurately described in the podcast as a place that looks as if Blade Runner had vomited on itself.  Actually, “factory” is a strange word for the main Foxconn facility, a series of structures in which 450,000 people work, live, eat, and die.

An update to the story:  last week, workers at the factory climbed to the roof and went on strike.  There’s also a great new documentary about factory work in Shenzhen.

Foxconn fascinates and repels because it brings us right to the heart of globalization.  It’s a nasty place; tens of thousands of worksers quit each month; hours are long; children are likely employed; people are maimed and they are worked like machines; suicide is common.

Yet there are some compelling arguments that sweat shops are not, on the whole, an evil thing.  Nick Kristoff, for one, writes thoughtfully about the “dream” of working at places like Foxconn.  As Kristoff writes, “I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty.”

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