Industry: Let Them Eat Croissants

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, 
Workers in China’s export heartland of Guangdong make $200 a month assembling the consumer goods Americans hold so dear. In Jiangsu, they make $175. It seems that isn’t cheap enough.


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.


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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One Response to Industry: Let Them Eat Croissants

  1. parttime says:

    super website carry on.

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