It seems in the world today most electrical products are made (or assembled) in China. With the cost of labor in China at only $2.05, a huge number of companies are using Chinese workers to produce their wares.
Despite the ridiculously low cost in comparison to the minimum wage here in the UK (which is currently £6.08 if you are over 21) the average pay of employees across China has risen by 22% in the last year. The country as a whole, doesn’t have a set minimum wage for all of it’s employees across all of the provinces. This pay is decided by each province, and because of the rise in pay in each of these provinces, China now has the third highest average pay in developing asia.
Because of the rise in the pay for Chinese workers, many companies have been forced to find workers in South American countries. Brazilian employees are only a few cents more than the Chinese, and are payed just $2.11 an hour.
As an experiment, I had a look at each of the electrical products I have in my room, and out of the 16 electrical items I own (one of which being a kitchen appliance), 10 of these were made or assembled in China.
I also had a look at a few of my flatmates belongings, and found that 6 out of 10 of one were Chinese made and 4 of 8 from another were Chinese made. Out of my 10 Chinese made electrical products, 6 of these were big name brand. These big companies include Microsoft, Apple and Kenwood amongst them.
Through my travels around my flatmates electrical devices, I came across hair straighteners, hair dryers, hand held electrical whisks, irons, headphones, games consoles (both hand held and table top consoles), music devices, phones, cameras (a mixture of digital, film, poleroid, and video cameras) and speakers. These, along with the absurd number of Apple products around my house, the place felt like a home for techies and gamers, not really a place for a house full of Interaction Designers. That being said, out of the 8 Interaction Designers in our house all 43 Apple products are split. The only non Interaction Design student owns no Apple products, which must say something about our discipline as a consumer market.
As I had a look through my flatmates electrical products, I figured out that in my house of 9 people there are 43 Apple products. Many of which (as we know) are made at Foxconn factories in China. As of late, Apple has had it’s ‘Nike moment’ where the quality of working conditions and the low pay of the employees has been brought to light. Another set of incidents at Foxconn factories that has been brought to light by the world is a recent spate of suicides in 2011 that forced Foxconn to put up anti-jump netting around their towers to try and stop it. With 4 deaths in 2011, 14 out of 18 attempts being unfortunately successful in 2010 and 4 deaths between 2007 and the end of 2009.
As I’m sure will be the case with numerous other companies in the future, Apple have been dealing with the issue admirably. From a companies perspective, this ‘Nike Moment’ is a terrible thing to happen, but Apple are not the worst by far, it just so happens that attention has been brought to the treatment of employees by the media.
When I asked my flatmates whether they knew the working conditions in which the factory workers are forced to labour, (with Apple as the exception due to the recent leak of media from Foxconn factories) they had no idea. Most of them didn’t even know that some of their products were in fact made in China, until I asked them to look. I found myself often surprised by the products that told me of their origin, and also the sheer number of Chinese made products I own.
The most surprising for me would most likely be my headphones, which come from a little known Canadian company, despite the size of the company of it’s popularity, their products are in actual fact, made in Chine. On the other hand though, there were things that did not surprise me at all. The Apple products, obviously being some of them, but also my X-Box 360, and Nintendo Dsi.
There were a few products I own that surprised me with the fact that they were not made in China. One of my external hard drives – which comes from a very large, particularly well known computer technology company – that was actually made in Belgium was a real shocker, as generally computer components are known for being mass produced easily and cheaply in China. This hard drive and my mobile phone both surprised me. My phone, which is made by Nokia (a Finnish company who are known for the phones we all loved from growing up) was in fact made in Finland. The fact that the company is owned and run and produce their products all in the same relatively small country (in comparison to a place as large as China), is hugely respectable.
Almost all of the people I spoke to about their technological products wouldn’t have thought twice about where they are coming from and the conditions the workers are in on a daily basis. They wouldn’t make any effort to look for products that were specifically made or not made in china. And perhaps more influentially, many of them said that despite them receiving news and information about Foxconn’s conditions, they would still by Apple products.
Sometimes in the world, fashion and brand is worth more than the comfort of a human being.