It might not make sense to us Americans, with our cushy office jobs filled with ergonomic keyboards and yoga-ball chairs, but getting a job at Foxconn is something a lot of Chinese people want. As commentators and activists defend the rights of the Chinese workers at the Foxconn plants, thousands of hopeful workers are lining up outside a labor agency, hoping Foxconn hires them, as M.I.C Gadget's Chris Chang spotted. This doesn't make it okay to ignore the harsh working environments that produce our electronics, but, for many Chinese, these factories are better than the alternatives.
Going ahead with plans to double the size of its Zhengzhou campus, Foxconn is hiring. And, as you can see from photos via M.I.C Gadget's Chris Chang, these jobs are competitive. Below we have what Chang described as a "Huge crowd of job seekers was seen outside the labor agency throughout the day." And, above we have a similar sentiment from Reuters photographer Donald Chan taken at an August 2010 job fair.
All the media coverage of Foxconn, with its harsh working conditions, long hours, child labor, and lack of workers' rights, might make it hard to believe the demand for these jobs. But, as Paul Krugman noted way back in the '90s, these factories "are a big improvement over the previous, less visible rural poverty," he wrote in an early Slate piece. Industrialization, hardships included, is a necessary step toward modernity, the argument goes.
And, it's not just Nobel Prize-winning academics making the case for cheap industrial labor, some actual people living in China agree. "If people saw what kind of life workers lived before they found a job at Foxconn, they would come to an opposite conclusion of this story: that Apple is such a philanthropist," wrote commenter Zhengchu1982 in response to the recent New York Times article on the iEconomy. And of the many reactions to its Foxconn expose The Times compiled many expressed similar sentiments. A handful of examples:
Without Apple, Chinese workers will be worse off. I hope China can some day soon have dozens of its own companies like Apple, who (only) work on high-end research and development and send manufacturing lines to Africa.
Working conditions in smaller factories are even worse (than Foxconn). They have even longer work hours. The major reason is that suppliers are not at the top of the value chain and major brands can easily replace them. Also, workers in China do not have labor unions, and the Chinese government always protects the large companies.
And, from anonymous:
If not to buy Apple, what’s the substitute – Samsung? Don’t you know that Samsung’s products are from its OEM factory in Tianjin? Samsung workers’ income and benefits are even worse than those at Foxconn. If not to buy iPad – (do you think) I will buy Android Pad? Have you ever been to the OEM factories for Lenovo and ASUS? Quanta, Compaq … factories of other companies are all worse than those for Apple. Not to buy iPod – (do you think) I will buy Aigo, Meizu? Do you know that Aigo’s Shenzhen factory will not pay their workers until the 19th of the second month? If you were to quit, fine, I’m sorry, your salary will be withdrawn. Foxconn never dares to do such things. First, their profit margin is higher than peers as they manufacture for Apple. Second, at least those foreign devils will regularly audit factories. Domestic brands will never care if workers live or die. I am not speaking for Foxconn. I am just speaking as an insider of this industry, and telling you some disturbing truth
This doesn't excuse Apple or any of the other companies working with Foxconn, but it suggests that there are many sides of this issue, and many voices yet to be heard on it.