Saturday, February 11, 2012

There's an App for That?

Recently, Apple has come under criticism for contracting with Chinese electronics manufacturer Foxconn to produce iPhones, because Foxconn allegedly provides its workers with poor working conditions. This claim is disputed: for instance, critics point to several incidents of Foxconn employees committing suicide, but the overall suicide rate among Foxconn workers is less than the national average. Many consumers are demanding that Apple stop using Foxconn as a supplier until Foxconn improves its employees' working conditions.

However, the thing I want to talk about here is slightly different - imagine if the roles were reversed. For instance, let's say that it was a large European company with an American supplier, and the European company's customers thought it was horrific that not all Americans have health insurance, so they demanded that they cut ties with all American suppliers that don't offer their employees full health insurance. What do you think our reaction would be? Probably something along the lines of "What right do those people overseas have to dictate to us what our health policy should be?" (I mean, that's a significant part of the response to the U.S. government's attempts to mandate health insurance; just imagine if it were foreigners trying to pressure us in this way.) It seems like a similar argument could be applied to the actual situation: "We in the United States have no right to dictate to the Chinese what their employment policies should look like. If the Chinese don't like their current employment laws, they can change them. True, it might be the case that their political system doesn't give employees enough power to organize and change the laws, but it's not our place to make that judgement." (Again, imagine the reaction in the U.S. if foreigners said that U.S. companies should be boycotted because the U.S. political system has problems.)

1 comment:

Dan Mont said...

I am glad to hear that Foxcon employees have a lower suicide rate than the national average....but, still, that doesn't necessarily mean that we want to support them. Maybe there are MORE chinese employers we'd like to boycott.

I think the question you pose is a good one. Something we should always think about --that is not just being critical of others but examining ourselves. It all comes down to what you think the minimum level of worker well-being you feel comfortable supporting.

But a boycott is different from a law.