Can a corporation be considered a person if it has no conscience? One million people to be made redundant by Foxconn by 2013. It is time for a metaphorical Ned Ludd to step up to make the argument that there have to be ethical constraints on corporations. They must acknowledge the social consequences of maximizing profits at the cost of human welfare.
One of these consequences is population growth. The world population is increasing at a dizzying rate and resources increasingly scarce. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that if the people have no bread, perhaps they will eat capital.
Cheap Robots vs. Cheap Labor
Published: August 14, 2011, http://tinyurl.com/3uev2n6
Times Topics: China’s Labor Tests Its Muscle | Foxconn Technology
Terry Gou, the founder and chairman of Foxconn, which employs one million workers in China making Apple iPads, H.P. computers and other electronic devices, announced at a company party in Shenzen last month that he would deploy a million robots at his plants by 2013 to do much of the labor currently performed by human hands.
It’s not only Foxconn complaining about expensive labor. Many companies have moved away from export hubs in coastal areas to regions like Chongqing, where workers are paid $135 a month. Others are going farther. Yue Yuen, the world’s biggest shoe maker, is setting up shop in Cambodia and Bangladesh.
Foxconn said it wants employees to move “higher up the value chain.” Certainly, moving up the technology ladder drives economic development. The tractor and other farming inventions pushed millions of Americans off the farms. Computers displaced clerical workers. These breakthroughs created better-paid jobs for educated workers. But it’s unsettling to see cutting-edge labor-saving technologies deployed in a country where jobs must be found for some 300 million Chinese who live off the land.
Wages are rising, with salaries of many factory workers in China going up 20 percent to 30 percent annually. But that’s mainly because the new manufacturing jobs are far from where the underemployed farmers live. And the Chinese government doesn’t make it easy for workers to move from where they live to where they are wanted.
Even with this kind of wage pressure, pay is still very low. A Department of Labor study estimated that manufacturing workers in China earned $1.36 an hour in 2008 — about 4 percent of what an American worker made and less than wages in Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines and even India.
It’s hard to believe that hundreds of millions of Chinese can move quickly up the economy’s “value chain” to become tomorrow’s nurses and engineers. In the meantime, as robots take over more work, the millions trapped in the countryside will have even fewer opportunities.