Do we care about working conditions abroad?


4e5662cf538f1fadb0eeb028b85fe529-orig childmillworker

At the end of the segment, Ira Glass asked New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg how consumers of Apple products should feel about their Apple purchases. Duhigg’s initial response was that his job as a reporter is to present facts to aid the reader in developing his or her own opinion, but when pressed he revealed that he doesn’t believe that consumers should be satisfied about working conditions abroad. Duhigg explains there have been times in United States’ history when we had poor working conditions. Change was created when we decided, as a nation, that those conditions were unacceptable. In the globalized world we live in, why haven’t we exported our standard of care to stakeholders in other countries?

This is a complex question that is guaranteed to elicit a wide range of answers. America’s highly individualized culture encourages individuals to make decisions based on short term personal benefit. I think the fundamental problem in this age of consumerism is that many people in our globalized world lack concern and care for people who they do not know and the environment that they do not see get destroyed.

Mike Daisy’s monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, humanizes our consumer driven culture through analyzing Apple through the perspective of vulnerable stakeholders, the Chinese workers. While he shouldn’t have categorized his work as journalism, I think his work still deserves attention. I just googled images of working conditions during the American industrial revolution and the result was faces, sad faces. For comparison, I googled images of Chinese industrial working conditions and the result was zoomed out shots of uniformly arranged people, who all looked the same. The fundamental issue is the same in both of these searches (working conditions), and yet we are characterizing those who are affected in very different ways. I can think back to high school history textbooks that explain the industrial revolution working conditions as an awful short term trend that we learned from and have overcome. For one reason or another, we justify Chinese industrial working conditions.

While it is interesting to think about how we developed this disconnected mentality, it’s also important to think about where the information comes from that informs our opinions. Mike Daisy’s semi- fabricated account was based on news articles and second hand stories he had heard about working conditions. He believes these sources to be accurate and based in truth, while others may contest that belief. At this age, so much of what we know comes from other people telling us what they believe to be the truth, rather than the truth that we experience for ourselves. My personal reaction to the issue of working conditions is based on what I perceive working conditions to be like in Asia. I picture the inside of factories through news reports that focus on negative aspects of the impersonal industrial production system, therefore, I think very negatively of them. The media has incentive to exaggerate or fabricate claims (For example, today I heard of a case where a celebrity pulled his car over to help a homeless man, whose belongings who had been scattered across the street. The reporters published stories claiming this celebrity had hit the homeless man with his car.) but companies have incentive to minimize publicity of negative aspects of their business. Unfortunately, businesses are likely to be the ones with the most accurate information, but have incentive to keep information from the public.

Advertisements

One comment on “Do we care about working conditions abroad?

  1. I think you point out a critical argument made in Retraction – whether or not we should feel bad about how our products are made, while keeping a relative view of our culture and one totally removed from our lives. If it takes sensationalist media, which can range from celebrities helping the homeless to Mike Daisey, to evoke a hivemind response, a lot of people will form their opinions without rational insight and proper information. While this is easy to do with the mindset that corporations have the incentive to keep information private, it is even more important, then, to double check facts and stories and for a valid, independent opinion. If the stories we hear are indeed so impactful that they change our views, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we are making the decision based on how we really feel about the situation with all the information available, and one (made-up) story should not directly outrage consumers who have the ability to learn about almost all of his claims through other, appropriate channels. Whether or not China is undergoing development as has been asserted, if there is not a constant outpouring of public scrutiny about the issue, people seem to not care about the working conditions, and one story should not change that view on its merits alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s