This question has been going around the Web for months, with it seems a recent uptick in alarm.
“Your iPhone Was Built By 13 Year-Olds Working 16 Hours A Day For 70 Cents An Hour, Do You Care?!”
This issue is both complex and simple.
[ UPDATE 01.31.2012: Tim Worstall explains these points better than I do, a good read. ]
[ UPDATE 02 .02.2012: Thousands Aim to Land Job at Foxconn Despite Harsh Conditions] These folks know what’s best for them better than Western busybodies.
1. In a vacuum, a perfect world, would I prefer that 13 year-olds didn’t work 16 hours a day for 70 cents an hour, and instead went to top-tier schools and played with their friends? Absolutely. But that’s a straw man, we don’t live in that world.
2. If these kids, young adults, and adults are working under duress, the threat (explicit or implicit) of violence, or any kind of slavery, then I am unquestionably against it.
3. If these kids, young adults, and adults have chosen these jobs voluntarily (I can’t emphasize that word enough) as they believe them to be the best options available to them, as an alternative to a lower standard of living (potentially even hunger, malnutrition, or starvation), then I am fine with it.
As an aside, note this item:
“Importantly, Shenzhen’s factories, as hellish as they are, have been a boon to the people of China. Liberal economist Paul Krugman says so.”
I don’t believe there are liberal economists or conservatives economists. Right-wing economists or left-wing economists. There are in my opinion, only good ones and poor ones.
4. Yes, the U.S. and Europe have much-improved workplace standards, but that’s because we can afford them. If China made a law that said that all of the factories had to look like the inside of an Apple store and offered a minimum-wage of $24/hour it would be a beautiful. But it would have made all of those jobs disappear. And I think most of the people would prefer poor voluntary jobs to hunger. We can not legislate prosperity.
5. Could Apple pay more for the labor and take a smaller profit? Sure. Could everyone reading this blog take a %20 pay cut and donate the difference to charity? Sure? And 20% after that, and 20% after that …
Could Business Insider and NYT reporters all take a 50% pay cut and donate the difference to the hungry and poor? Certainly. Have they? Should we think less of them?