Chinese Factories

TJIC writes:

Chinese factory conditions may not be the exact cup of tea for a San Francisco graphic designer or a Connecticut non-profit ecologist grant writer "¦ but they're, by definition, better than all the other alternatives available to the Chinese workers (or the factories would find it impossible to staff up).

I wrote previously:

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.  He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.  He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.

Update: In an interesting question of incentives, Foxconn, the manufacturer much in the news for a rash of suicides at its plant in China, apparently pays about 10-years salary to the families of workers who kill themselves.  They have ended the practice, worried that they are incentivizing some of the suicides.

  • Mark

    And they can choose to commit suicide at the Apple iPod factory.

    Just ribbing I am in general agreement with what you wrote. I wonder though how well it applies to Communist and totalitarian states, where frequently your career choice is decided by someone else.

    Cuba for instance does have many people wanting to get off the farm and move to Havana, but the Cuban government restricts internal immigration, so those in farming areas are not allowed into the city.

  • Ron H.

    "He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings. He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease."

    "Or, he can go to the , work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life. And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the city."

    Very slightly modified to apply to 19th century US.

  • Max

    Actually, the conditions are not that bad, depending whether you are in a chinese-only owned factory, or in an international factory run by a pairing of chinese and international companies. In the latter case, work conditions are vastly improved, because otherwise complex products like cars wouldn't be possible. To have effecient factories means to a certain degree to have clean and safe factories. Modern management of production plants builds on the idea to minimize worker movement times, meaning that all parts should be in arm's length when mounted f.e. in car assembly lines.

    There might still be some black sheep, but they will most likely be in less complex products like textile fabrication.

  • Patriot Henry

    I might be wrong but would Chinese workers have to work so long and hard were it not for the expensive Chinese state and it's "loans" to America?

  • Pat Moffitt

    We often envision farm life as idyllic-yet how bad must farm life been in 19th century New Jersey for workers to flee the fields for a factory job in Newark?

    Chinese peasants under Mao had the worst of both worlds. Peasants were required to perform the backbreaking work in the fields during planting season- then were shipped off to the factories and then returned for the harvest. Many of these Stalin type architecture industrial facilities and workers dormitories still exist and used by the State. China continues to prevent rural peasants relocating to the cities. It does not prevent city dwellers relocating to the rural areas.

    People do not consciously flee from bad to worse. Agriculture was a brutal existence prior to the western advances and is still a brutal existence in a "worker's paradise".

  • D-man

    This whole Chinese factory thing is nothing but gorilla dust to unionize Chinese labor. Foxconn's complex houses 420,000 people. They have had 10 suicides. If we extrapolate that to year's end, they will have 20 (+/-) suicides in a year. That translates into a suicide rate of 5 per 100,000 people. California's (where Apple is based) suicide rate is about 10 per 100,000. About 9-10 Californians kill themselves every friggin' DAY!

    Foxconn's suicide rate is far lower than the USA's suicide rate!

    I personally know Apple engineers who routinely travel to Foxconn factories. They are all astonished by these charges. They confirm that the facilities (working and housing) over there are just this side of fabulous.

    This is all bullcrap.