Today, most of us own a smartphone. In fact one in five of us do, according to Business Insider intelligence. The functionality of having what’s essentially a shrunken computer in your pocket has many virtues; it’s hard to argue against that. We scroll, we slide, and we touch – we’re so busy fulfilling our digital wants and needs.
Facebook’s at our fingertips, internet browsers are with us everywhere we go, and suddenly we’ve all become quasi-photographers all because of an application called Instagram. Smartphones offer the consumer everything they asked for then added a little more for good measure.
What we neglect to think about when we purchase our modern devices is the production behind them: who made this for us; what’s their working conditions like; and what’s the organisation all about? We’re far too concerned with serving merely our interests, and if it works for us (which it evidently does) we give no thought to the hands that put it together.
Heard of Foxconn? They’re the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, and of course the maker of the iPhone, among other notable products like BlackBerry, Kindle, Xbox console, Playstation console, and so on. Headquartered in Taiwan with factories disseminated throughout various countries, Foxconn are quite the multinational, which have been involved in several controversies as devastating as employee suicides. With a labor force of 1.2 million people, you’d think there’d be a robust HR apparatus in place ensuring tragedies like suicide (or death on the site) are a non-thing. Wrong.
In an article with Colorlines, executive director of China Labor Watch Li Qiang says “Foxconn’s labor conditions are very poor, buts its root causes are low prices from multinational companies and tight delivery schedules.” These mammoth organisations care only for the bottom line, and it shouldn’t strike us with surprise. So, it poses the following question: would it be silly to expect more human concern from the oligarchs sitting at the top of the hierarchy? Li Qiang went on to say that “Workers are only seen as fitting production needs rather than as individual human beings”. Of course it would be silly to expect such natural emotions to surface from Foxconn’s managerial hotshots – the bottom line is paramount.
In 2009 Foxconn engineer Sun Danyong was accused by management of stealing an iPhone prototype – this had very sad repercussions. Sun Danyong commited suicide in the early hours of July 16th, all because of alleged harassment from managerial staff. The pressures of accusation coupled with very poor working conditions forced a hard worker to take his own life, and Foxconn walk away with a slap on the wrist while they pile up on controversies.
This is a representation of China’s bitter industrial age, as well as an unsavoury reminder that in the West we’re okay with this exploitation. The next time you pick up your smartphone, have a deeper think about how it got to you, because it's more than just a mere gadget.