Do we care about working conditions abroad?


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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.

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Working Conditions, Indifference, and Causes of Change in Organizations


jul-24-2013-china-has-banned-the-release-of-despicable-me-2-chineseMike Daisy’s monologue about globalization, industrial production and Apple is a great application of theatre to confront social issues. While I think that Mike Daisy knew the story he wanted to tell prior to the interviews he did, I loved the theme of the piece. He looks at industrial facilities, the source products we use everyday, through a perspective that values humans. He blatantly takes a stakeholder viewpoint of how businesses should be run.

One of Daisy’s thoughts that stuck with me is the question of how change is created in organizations. Mike Daisy said that “change requires caring” and that stakeholders at all levels (Apple, consumers) have turned a blind eye to the working conditions in places like the one Mike visited in China. Mike Daisy makes this clear that we should feel concerned about the working conditions. Hearing about the working conditions makes me wonder how economists can argue that the free market is the solution for the ills of our society. If anything, Shen jen, an area that has had recent economic growth, is now making large profits for some while ruining the quality of life for many (sometimes to the point of suicide).

I thoroughly appreciated the issue that Mike Daisy’s monologue brings to light. He adds value and humanity into the story of the “stuff” that we use.