Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"humans are cheaper"

I have already cited Robert Greenwald’s 2005 documentary The High Cost of Low Price as a source for viewing the “new dark side” of manufacturing as a sign of the impact of the “Wal-Mart economy” on manufacturing in this brave new world of globalized supply chain management.  Apparently, Chi-Chi Zhang from CNN managed to interview a Foxconn employee to put a human face on just how dark that side is.  The employee is known only as “Miss Chen” for purposes of anonymity.  I suppose she was willing to speak because she knew she would not have a future at Foxconn.  She went there for the month of Spring Festival because she needed the money (making me wonder on the side just what Chinese students must think of spring break in the United States).

She quickly learned the motto adopted by Foxconn line workers, which is that “they use women as men and men as machines.”  This provided Zhang’s motive for the conclusion of the interview:

When asked why humans do machine-like work at Foxconn, she responds, "Well, humans are cheaper."

To some extent this reflects the outlook of the South vis-à-vis the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War.  However, in the wake of the North’s victory, it also reflects the slave-like conditions endured by those who then had to work with machines, a theme that dominated Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Sinclair’s book probably led to the rise of that joke about eating sausage without knowing how it is made.  Now, however, the joke is about pretty much every piece of technology we face;  and it is getting harder and harder to laugh at it (unless you are in that comfortable 1% whose only concern is return-on-investment).

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