Learn Chinese: Toy Story 3 – Disney Language Learning for iPad

 

Toy Story

Spotted on the iTunes store:

Learn Chinese: Toy Story 3 – Disney Language Learning for iPad

• Start Learning Chinese with this Engaging, Story-driven App!

• Disney’s Proven Language Program, now on the iPad!

• Interactive features, Endless Replay and Classic Toy Story 3 Characters!

Well I’m sold!

A Pre-conceived Idea of China and its Products

Many people have very set views of China and its products. China is renowned worldwide for its well made, and very well designed electronics.  However, it is also well known for mass-production, ‘well-made fakes’, and often poor factory conditions. A lot of people do not care where their product has come from, as long as it is good quality and value for money. And many people simply are not aware of how and where their product was made.

I interviewed around 7 friends, friends of friends, and self confessed shopping fanatics to find out their opinion on Chinese products, how they think they are made, and the quality of products which were ‘Made in China’. Each participant was given the same list of questions, but I asked a few different questions too, depending on their answer. Below is an example of one of the more interesting interviews:

Are you concerned with where your clothes come from? 

‘No, it makes no difference whether its from China, the UK or anywhere. I mostly care about the quality of the clothes.’

Would you be put off buying clothes from a certain company if you found out their factory staff were working in bad conditions?

‘I suppose so, but it wouldn’t stop me buying/using the products if they were good quality.’

When you see the words ‘Made in China’, what immediately comes to mind?

‘I just imagine huge, industrial and clean looking factories full of Chinese people making stuff. If something says ‘Made in Taiwan’ however, for some reason I picture kids working in poor conditions for a small wage. (that might be a bit judgemental!)’

Do you think the Chinese produce better quality products than Western countries?

‘If you’re referring to electronics then yes. They are the best at making electronics as far as I am concerned. But in regards to clothes, obviously there is a huge market for fakes in China and that makes me slightly suspicious that their clothing isn’t of as good quality as something you might find in a Western factory.’

If you were given a gift of a piece of clothing – not from a recognisable brand – with only a label that said ‘Made in China’ on it, would you be reluctant to wear it. Would you assume it was poor quality?

I might be a bit suspicious that it came from a market where you might find a lot of fakes, but if the item of clothing looked good and seemed like good quality, I would still wear it.

Coming up with interview questions with a friend in my group…

Each of the participants had very similar opinions on Chinese produce, which were all interesting to hear. However, naturally none of the participants actually KNOW what goes on in the making of products in China. These were all their pre-conceived ideas. I want to know what ACTUALLY happens in Chinese factories, during the making of clothing, electronics and other products, to see if these opinions and allegations are correct.

I recently read an article on Mark Shields, a communications consultant from Washington DC, who describes himself as an ‘Apple super-user’. After finding out about the poor working conditions in Apple Mac factories in China he decided to start a petition which gathered over 162,000 signatures in the space of a week. The petition was to try and attain a ‘worker protection strategy’ to try to reduce the number of injuries and suicides which typically peak when the workers are under extreme pressure to meet quotas. Shields said ‘Here’s the thing: You’re Apple. You’re supposed to think different. I want to continue to use and love the products you make, because they’re changing the world and have already changed my life. But I also want to know that when I buy products from you, its not at the expense of horrible human suffering.’

Female workers resting their heads in exhaustion during their short break at an Apple factory in China

In reading this it was evident that many people DO care about where their product has come from, and how/where it was made. It was also interesting to find out about working conditions in Chinese Apple factories. I can safely say now, as I look at my Apple Mac desktop, that I feel slightly guilty using it. I decided to ask some of my participants a few more questions. But this time, I gave them some facts:

Workers at some Chinese Apple factories are paid as little as £1.12 an hour. In one particular branch, 18 people committed suicide on the premises due to extreme pressure. Many factories are now covered with suicide nets to stop people jumping to their deaths in the facility.

How does this make you feel about using Apple products?

‘I love my Apple Macbook too much to stop using it, but this makes me feel sick and guilty to use it, bearing in mind that it could have been made in these awful conditions.’

Did you think Chinese factories had such bad conditions until now?

‘No. I always thought it was the poorer countries that suffered from poor working conditions. I never knew that such a rich and successful country would treat their workers this way.’

It was interesting to see that, in general, people here, in Dundee, either believe that their stuff is just mass-produced in big, shiny Chinese factories, or, they simply do not care. There is such an element of shock when they find out about the awful working conditions in many Chinese factories, however I found from my survey that this still wouldn’t stop people from buying something made in poor working conditions, providing it was good quality. Ultimately, we tend to want to keep our pre-conceived ideas and stay ignorant to what really goes on during the making of our products, so that we can go on using them without feeling guilty.

The Products From China

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.

From East to West

When I look around at the contents of my room, I’ve come to realize that I’ve never wondered where they were made.  I have not been conscious of the fact that most of what I own comes from a different country other then the one I’m residing in. My laptop, my phone, the sweater in my closet, all say they were made in the East. While living in Dundee, the two stores I frequent most are H&M, a Swedish owned company and Primark, a British company. I considered the fact that even though these companies are owned by Western brands it is likely that their products are manufactured in the East. Indeed, H&M and Primark’s goods are produced in Asia.

Primark Ad
H&M Ad

I asked other Dundee residents if they were aware of where most of what they own comes from. Some were very aware of where their products came from while others were hesitant in answering. Becca Clow was well aware that most of what she owns is exported from Asia. She stated how she has always had an interest in technology and a curiosity regarding where it originated. Catherine Sutherland said that she simply looks at the labels on her clothing; she generally likes to know where the things she owns come from.  However, like me, Katelyn Burns had never really put much thought in to the labels on her clothing and electronics. She’d had basic knowledge that the East played a role in product distribution. She went on to say, “I know many labels do say ‘Made in China’ but I thought a high-end American product such as Apple would be manufactured in the States. I assumed if I was buying these products in America they should be made in America. I had no idea so much is made in the East.” The “Made in China” label has become the most identifiable brands in the world today. “Made in Taiwan” and “Made in Indonesia” are close seconds. These labels signify a booming manufacturing industry in Asia where the exportation of goods has become their primary form of profit.

Products made in China have the reputation of being poor in quality. An explanation for the affordability of brands such as H&M and Primark is due to the fact that these products are produced at little cost at a rapid pace. When goods are produced at lows costs, low quality in what i is to be expected. Consumers can tell when a product is made strictly for profit with no consideration for those who will be buying the merchandise. Becca Clow went on to say, “things made in Scotland are of good quality because they are made for those who live in Scotland. There is no reason to expend money on products that are not for you. “ When products are made domestically with domestic materials the quality increases but so does the price. People are willing to sacrifice quality for lower prices yet we still blame China for producing goods not up to par.

Though China has this bad reputation, I do not think that the products coming out of China are exclusively poor in quality. I believe there is bad as well as good.  When we buy cheaply, we loose the right to comment on the poor quality. I think if we were willing to pay more, China could offer us improved merchandise. I think the companies employing these factories in China are to blame. They play a major role in the output of poor quality goods. There needs to be a level of responsibility on the part of the Western companies utilizing the Chinese factories.

We all seem to be generally aware of the fact that what we own does not originate where we have bought it. Most of what we own has been fabricated in Asia. Even though we claim to be aware, we ignore these facts because we live in a society in which affordability outweighs lack of quality.  Being aware doesn’t always mean being accountable for what we purchase.

Products made in China? Or not.

Products made in China? Or not.

For some time now, products have been produced in China for a fraction of what the west could produce them for. Taking this in to consideration, how are the workers affected by this and do the public of the UK even care? Personally, I know where most of my clothes come from, but sometimes it is harder to pinpoint this accurately. A few of my own clothes have been designed in the West, but physically made in the East. The reason for this? Cost?

The cost of clothing, electrical products and other ‘necessities’ are super cheap to produce in the East, due to workers staying in the factories, working stupidly long hours and the actual costs of living in China and similar countries. The book, Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang highlights the stories of many Chinese girls, often young, coming into the cities to work and earn a way of life. They are interviewed, but rarely get to see inside the factory or their living quarters before hand. Living quarters are usually horrendous, compared to Western standards, and as many as 12 girls can share a ‘dorm’. Is this acceptable?

Quite frankly it’s not acceptable, but the West still exploit this scenario and China allows its workers to live this way, often on very poor wages. Make no mistake, the cost of living is very cheap in China, but when the West come calling, the workers suffer. In contrast to that statement, the factory owners will see this as a great opportunity to get business from the West, possibly open up a new factory etc, thus lining their pockets, and making the divide between the rich and poor greater.

As a friend of mine once said:

‘We’re born, we try, succeed, then die.’

This is certainly true of the Chinese factory workers way of life. Sometimes though, workers don’t succeed. What happens to them? They can disappear in the streets of hundreds of thousands, and never be seen again, or they can move on to another factory if they find their original employers ‘not suitable’. This means starting all over again, and with little qualifications, this can be difficult.

This brings me to the West. Are we over qualified and over expectant on pay, to produce such items? The answer is no. It all comes down to money, and if a company in the West can ‘acquire’ a factory to work for them, produce more units per hour and pay workers a tenth of what the West equivalent would be, then why should they have it in the West? Would you be happy paying more for the same product if it was produced in the West?

I adventured into Dundee with my assignment group and decided to ask the general public some questions about China and production of goods over there. The three questions were:

Do you have any idea where the majority of your products are produced?

-Are you willing to pay a bit more money for clothes if you knew they were made in better conditions?
Do you own any Apple products and/or know where they were manufactured?

Elizabeth and I decided to team up and ask some questions to passers by in the Overgate shopping centre. We first approached a 17 year old female. We first asked if she owned any Apple products, and er response to this was that she owned an iPhone. Even though owning an iPhone, and with all the recent news concerning Apple production in China, the girl didn’t have a clue where any of the parts were produced. I think it’s this kind of ignorance by the young in society today, that really pisses me off.

In comparison to this, we spoke to an elderly lady who seemed to be fairly switched on about a few things. She came to the conclusion that a lot of goods were built in China, then sold for profit to customers in the West. The lady didn’t own any Apple products, and I’m pretty sure she thought we may have been speaking about the fruit…I digress. When asked if she would pay more for a product if it was produced more fairly and with the workers having better living conditions, she answered ‘yes’. She stated that, most people, young and old, need access to a computer at some point in their lives and if the cost were to go up, she would still pay.

After speaking to the public, we decided to ask some shop workers if they knew where their products were from. We ventured into StormFront (Licensed Apple Retailer) and also paid a visit to the SuperDry Clothing store.

Upon venturing into the Apple shop we were greeted by a young man of 22. We cut to the chase as we didn’t want to take up too much of his time. For the first question he stated that it wasn’t a well known fact, or a fact that Apple were happy to divulge, that their products were made in China, and more than likely in poor conditions. When asked if he would still buy the same product, but at a higher cost due to fairer working conditions. He stated that his love for the products came first, but would like to see factory workers being treated fairer. He also owns pretty mcuh every Apple peripheral known to man, so it’s safe to say we have found someone who actually knows what is going when coming to electrical goods.


On our way back to our afternoon class, we decided to pop in to the SuperDry store and have a look at some of the labels. We noticed that some of the more expensive options in the store were made in China, whereas some of the middle of the range items were made in Turkey and India. So it was clear to see that exploitation goes on throughout the whole world, and not just China. Before we left, we asked a 23 year old female member of staff if she knew where SuperDry’s products were made. She stated that she wasn’t sure if she could answer that due to store policy. We then stated that the labels on the clothes say where they are made. I’m not sure if she was all there in the head. She also stated that she would buy the same clothing if it cost more, due to her love for the brand.

In conclusion to what we have found, I think the general public don’t really care about where things are made, as long as the can keep up with their neighbour, so to speak. It’s a sad state of affairs that I find society to be like this. If only more people would take a small amount of time to read a book about exploitation, not just in China, but all around the world, then we could maybe combat the injustice that goes on.

New on iTunes U: Introduction to China

iTunes U, available via the iTunes store, offers many podcasts and lectures on aspects of China. It’s well worth checking out. Recently Apple launched a new app for iPhone and iPad that allows you to subscribe to courses offered via the service. One of the first to be launched is an introduction to China from the Open University.

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The iTunes U interface (shown here on the iPhone) looks like a dark bookshelf and you can add courses from the “Catalog” button (yes, they spelt it wrong…)

 

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The “Introduction to China” course consists of snippets from other courses such as the OU’s “Beginner’s Mandarin” module. The whole thing covers topics such as doing business in China, the Chinese economy and a basic introduction to the language and culture.

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The interface is easy to use. The “Materials” button lists all the different components: PDFs, videos, audio, even apps. You can download the different materials when you need them and they’ll be stored on your phone or iPad, or in your computer’s iTunes library.

The “Posts” button is the one you’ll use the most. It lists everything in order and tells you what to do, the questions to bear in mind as you watch or listen to the materials.

At the end of the course (which is quite short, being just a taster) there’s a quiz book with questions that test your understanding of the topic.

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This isn’t the only course that’s available on iTunes U – there’s stuff on programming, history, design, textiles in Africa and more so it’s well worth checking out. If you have an iPhone or iPad, I recommend getting the free iTunes U app, and downloading the Introduction to China course – it fits in really well with this module so give it a go.

Why your phone is made in China

People trying to hand CVs to a Foxconn rep at a jobs fair in Henan Province

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times about why so many things are made in China. It focuses on Apple, for some reason (as if they’re the only company that has stuff manufactured there) but raises lots of interesting points. In particular, it’s not simply about low wages, but about capability. If you need 3,000 people to make a new device, what country will have the people with the skills? Not the USA, not the UK…

It is hard to estimate how much more it would cost to build iPhones in the United States. However, various academics and manufacturing analysts estimate that because labor is such a small part of technology manufacturing, paying American wages would add up to $65 to each iPhone’s expense. Since Apple’s profits are often hundreds of dollars per phone, building domestically, in theory, would still give the company a healthy reward.

But such calculations are, in many respects, meaningless because building the iPhone in the United States would demand much more than hiring Americans — it would require transforming the national and global economies. Apple executives believe there simply aren’t enough American workers with the skills the company needs or factories with sufficient speed and flexibility. Other companies that work with Apple, like Corning, also say they must go abroad.

Manufacturing glass for the iPhone revived a Corning factory in Kentucky, and today, much of the glass in iPhones is still made there. After the iPhone became a success, Corning received a flood of orders from other companies hoping to imitate Apple’s designs. Its strengthened glass sales have grown to more than $700 million a year, and it has hired or continued employing about 1,000 Americans to support the emerging market.

But as that market has expanded, the bulk of Corning’s strengthened glass manufacturing has occurred at plants in Japan and Taiwan.

via Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class – NYTimes.com.