Where does the responsibility fall?


After listening/watching to Bucknell’s own adaptation of Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” there are a couple directions in which I would like to take this blog post. Firstly, I would like to comment on the style of the production and some of the key differences between this version and that of Mike Daisey. Overall, I felt that the way in which the show was put on was very effective in that the producers were able to weave in supplementary lessons throughout the show that were very informative. For example, one of the first lessons came from a Chinese professor who spoke about some of the cultural misunderstandings that Americans tend to have about China and its culture. Specifically, he makes an important point about how, although the working conditions are not great, there are thousands of Chinese that jump at the chance to work at a place like FoxConn. So, unlike some may believe, it is not a situation where these people are being forced into these conditions, but rather they are seeking out the chance to get jobs which offer real opportunity. In addition, these periodic pauses throughout the show not only allow us to get more information, but also offer a chance for us to question what Daisey is saying. For example, the show chooses to include an interview of Steve Jobs specifically about this issue so that we can hear the perspective of the accused and therefore have a better chance to form an objective opinion.

Of all of the information pauses/ mini lessons in the production, the one that really stands out in my mind is the one that featured the Civil Engineering Professor who had recently returned from a trip to China. In particular, there were two interesting points that I took away from her discussion with the first having to do with the proliferation of manual labor in China. During her visit, Professor Vigeant had the chance to visit a local printing company in which she learned that manual labor was a pivotal part to its operations. Specifically, the company had a binding machine for the paper, but required that each piece of paper be folded first. Rather than using a machine to do so, the company specifically employs workers to manually fold this paper all day. What’s particularly interesting about this is the fact that the company managers justify this choice because it is so much more cost effective that they are willing to sacrifice the increased efficiency that would come by using a machine. Ultimately, Vigeant then goes onto reveal that manual labor is extremely common in China which shocked me as it seems a little ‘primitive’ for a country that everyone raves about as such a booming industrial nation.

Though a very interesting point, the use of manual labor was not the most though-provoking idea that came from this discussion. For me, the most important point that professor Vigeant makes is her distinction between menial labor and abusive labor. In the case of the paper company, it is quite clear that the physical folding of the paper is extremely boring work, however it should not be considered horrible or abusive work. After hearing this, I felt that it was important to return to this point because so many of us now associate outsourced factory work with images of sweat shops. Clearly, there are way too many places in the world in which labor conditions are terrible, and I do not mean to make a defense for this type of behavior, but I think that it is important to remember that there are many companies in the world that do provide good, suitable conditions for their workers. Though not surprising given the massive media attention that is placed upon those companies that fuel abusive behavior, it is really not fair to group them all together.

Near the end of her speech, professor Vigeant makes another very important point about how we all have a responsibility to know where our products come from. In all honesty, this was the first time I had ever heard someone say this and it instantly got me thinking. Are we all, as consumers, responsible for knowing where every piece of clothing we buy comes from? It’s an interesting idea, but is it realistic for us to be held accountable for this information when all that a tag says is “made in China”? I definitely think that it is important for all of us to recognize that there is a chance that the shirts that we are currently wearing could have been made in a dangerous factory by someone younger than all of us were when we even started thinking about working. However, there is still so much uncertainty out there about which products are made under these conditions and which are not. Ultimately, I think that it is a great idea in theory, but I still believe that it first falls on the companies to raise their awareness of these practices.

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2 comments on “Where does the responsibility fall?

  1. I think the distinction you make between abusive and menial is very important. If anything, we should pay people who do menial work something to compensate for the meniality. Another concept I’ve seen in these kinds of issues is deskilling. The kinds of human labor China is building its industrial might on, just like they were in England, France, Germany, and here, deskill people. After 10 years of being a cog in an assembly line, when there are new upgrades, what can you do to produce value? What can you do to adapt and grow in the economy? To build a good and full life?

    THere is evidence that the era of menail, manual labor, whether it is abusive, or becomes less so, may end soon.

    Foxconn has started robotizing.

    In 2011, Foxconn said it planned on installing up to 1 million robots in its factories by 2014, which analysts suggested was in response to the international media scrutiny of the firm after a rash of suicides over the years.

  2. Jordi, I’m glad that you raised the point that Foxconn has started to robotize because I had no idea that this was true. With that it mind, it will be interesting to see how this effects the labor force in China where there does not seem to be enough factory jobs to keep up with the demand for them. If robotizing takes the place of manual labor, then where do all these workers go? Are there enough jobs elsewhere in China to support this transition?

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