Made in China, a very familiar trademark we all know that brings thoughts of cheap toys, easily breakable, but do we all hate it? Are standards really that bad in China? As we move further into the digital age electronics have seen a huge decrease in price. Granted this drop in price is affected by new technologies coming out but outsourcing the construction of these electrical goods cuts the price of manufacture. For this investigation research into electronic products was undertaken. China has a lot of labour to offer the world and the electronic market place is making the most out of dedicated workers to supply the western world with inexpensive luxuries.
Electronics populate a person’s home, they are what wake us up in the morning, allow us to catch up on world news and aids humanity in academic progress. In the factory city EUPA in china thousands of electrical household goods are made per day from iron’s to grills, all components are also made on site which is testament to china’s ability to manufacture on a grand scale.
With progress and education the electronic marketplace also aims at relaxation and gaming devices. The question then is how many people know where their electronics are made, and if they care at all about the ‘made in china’ tag.
Narrowing down electronic produce I decided to look into the gaming industry, as a computer gamer myself it had never occurred to me the benefits china’s manufacturing power has bought to the industry which in turn benefits me. To begin I decided to look at the three big companies in the gaming industry, these being Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft; turns out that all three of these companies manufacture their consoles in china. Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360 are completely manufactured in china but Sony only 60% of their consoles are made there (the other 40% made in Japan).
Asking other gamers about their views towards this information it seemed like there was not much worry about the circumstances the consoles are made under but more of a celebrated side where the companies are able to create more of the products therefore creating cheaper consoles and expanding a fan base. “As long as I have a warranty where it is created doesn’t bother me” this quote sums up the attitude most of the gamers that I interviewed on the subject. It seems that nowadays the Chinese manufacturing process is more reliable than it once was, so preconceptions about the quality are generally all wrong. Another preconception about items being ‘made in china’ is that the company is making a lot more money from the business, but a little research into the gaming industry shows this is not always true. Example being the Xbox 360, a little research into how much this console cost on release was $399 but the cost to actually create the unit was $470. The same can be seen for the PlayStation 3, the companies are not even scraping a profit even though they have china build the produce for them.
When talking to the gamers about this information it was clear they thanked the gaming companies for outsourcing, I was surprised as this was the opposite of what was to be expected but getting cheap luxuries, and for gamers this being a hobby item. “Who knows what the price would be without china” This quote made me think, it’s not only the price of labour, but it is also the amount of workers, so without china not only would the components and creation cost more but less would be made forcing the companies to up the price more due to supply and demand, even with china creating the Wii we saw 2 years of people struggling to buy 1 new unit off of the shelves, Could this industry even survive without china?
Another popular topic when it comes to electronics and china is Foxconn, being in the news lately about how Apple outsource there, but it is not only Apple that use Foxconn, Intel use them, Nintendo use them, Acer, Dell and a lot of other computing companies, parts are made here, the Sony PSP is created in the same factory complex as the iPhone.
The concept of Foxconn did not faze the people I was interviewing, they saw it no different as people who were dedicated to their job enough to live nearby. “At least someone somewhere is getting out of poverty and working for their money”. Personally I think the public opinion, or at least that of the gaming community does not think less of china because it manufactures everything, more so that people are able to get a job and the country were able to get out of poverty.
A lot of misconceptions about china exist in the world, ‘bad quality’ ‘falls apart’ ‘not worth it’ ‘cheap’. After interviews it seems these old conceptions are fading out, people are seeing how china are growing into a super power and accept to get to that stage money will need to flow into the country as it once did with our own country.
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.
When you look at a piece of clothing, an electronic device or even a child’s toy, where is it most likely to have come from? China. In fact you would probably guess China without even looking. Everyone I asked guessed that their things like laptops, mp3 players and so forth were from China, or “somewhere in Asia”. When I was younger I used to imagine China was just a country where everything was made, that it was just factory after factory, and nothing else – of course I know now that this is certainly not the case. Still, a large majority of products are made in China, but what do we know about these factory’s?
There has been talk of China’s factory’s in the news as of late, in particular the factory Foxconn, which is the manufacturer for the likes of Apple’s iPad’s & iPod’s, Microsofts Xbox, and Amazon’s Kindle among other companies and products. The recent controversial topics surrounding Foxconn are with Apple following a record high in earnings in 2011, which were up over 100% compared to their previous years earnings, causing people to start asking questions. On one particular article I read about the massive success of Apple in 2011, the first comment was “Thank god for cheap Chinese labor”.
In China there are currently 13 Foxconn factories in 9 different cities – the most in any other country in the world. The largest is situated in Longhua, Shenzhen, with 430,000 workers, it is often refered to as “Foxconn city” or “iPod City”, and with that amount of people and things like worker dormitories, a grocery store, swimming pool, it’s own tv network, a downtown area with restaurants, bookstores, a hospital and bank, it certainly is like a city! Some of the workers, as guessed by the dormitories, live within the factory, while others live in nearby towns and villages. Without knowing what goes on behind the scenes it seems not too shabby, but is that really the case?
It was recently revealed after some investigation following such record high earnings from Apple about the conditions at Foxconn, the long hours the hundreds of thousands of staff worked (6 or 7 days a week for up to 14 hours a day), and the suicides of 17 of their workers (which prompted Foxconn to put up a barrier on the top of their buildings, and for workers to sign a form promising not to commit suicide). Apple promptly raised the workers average wage by 25% following the sudden epidemic of suicides. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook said they are taking their working conditions very seriously for their workers.
American monologist Mike Daisey, who is an Apple enthusiast recently spoke about his trip to Foxconn after he saw a forum thread about someone who had photo’s on their newly bought iPhone of the inside of a Chinese factory. For me this was the first thing I had ever really heard or taken particular notice in, and it shocked me. He speaks with a joke thrown in here and there, but he tells the listener about how he meets workers from the factory, one girl who cleans the screens of iPhones all day long, every week, and she is as young as 13. This kind of work is not acceptable in the likes of the UK or America, so why is it in China? Another worker he meets is an older man (at another factory, not Foxconn), his hand is all twisted up and his hands are very leathery, and the man tells him how he’s moved to this factory because the hours and pay are better (70 hours a week), and the people are nicer. He also meets other people from Foxconn whose joints have disintegrated from the total wear and tear from doing the same repeated movements every single day for hours on end, and when they get to this stage, they are thrown off their line, and moved to another or fired. Really, this is horrific, without even doing research I know in the west, if this sort of thins happened, it would be headline news and not acceptable at all.
Following onto this, it’s very different to factory work you would find in the west. There aren’t factories like this in the west, why is that? Apple commented that they use Chinese labour because they work better than American labour. You’ll find people in the west also won’t apply (or certainly not enough) for the types of jobs like factory labour, they think they are above it, and they certainly wouldn’t apply for the amount of pay it gives, even in the current recession.
Is Foxconn and other factories like it so bad though? Well, yes, given some of the current conditions it’s certainly not great, so why do millions Chinese people apply to work at these factories? Well the simple and obvious answer is that it’s easy to get a job, and so an easy way to earn, albeit not a lot of money. But they have helped raise the economy in China, it’s helped move people from the absolute lowest form of poverty, to something not that much better, but to something better at least. Women in particular were given sudden job opportunities that they never had.
I think it’s a hard thing to comment on, of course these kind of factories aren’t good, not in their current state, but they are getting better, and I think if they keep continuing to improve, giving better conditions to it’s workers, not such intense hours, a higher pay and so on, they could really be not such an issue, in fact they could be a great(er) asset than they currently are to China.
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.