This podcast about the issues of factory working conditions in China proved to be incredibly eye-opening. The severity of the situation in Shen Zhen goes largely overlooked, not only by the companies requiring the services of these manufacturers, but even more by the consumers that use these products. I found it very interesting when Mike Daisey spoke about the fact that all products are essentially hand made, taking hours of labor and detail work by these workers. When we purchase a new iphone, the thought of who cleaned its screen in the factory never crosses our mind. The way that these workers are treated is unacceptable, and the small measures that companies, such as apple, are taking to improve these conditions are clearly not sufficient.
Imagine a world in which each consumer takes into account such matters when deciding which product to purchase. While this seems largely unrealistic for today’s consumerist society, that is an ideal that we should desire here in the US, a country that values workers’ rights to fair pay and working conditions. If we developed a type of rating system that ranked companies in different levels of responsibility for issues such as working conditions and made this available at the time of purchase, a consumer may be more inclined to make the moral choice rather than the cheapest or most “trendy”. This shift in consumer preferences and patterns would ideally lead the companies that were not taking responsibility to take action on their suppliers and make ethical business choices. This process and rating system would require companies to have full transparency in their business processes, therefore keeping them from hiding the truth from their consumers as companies like Apple and Foxcon have been inclined to do.
It was very thought provoking to hear the perspectives on whether or not consumers should “feel guilty” buying products that were made by workers living with such unjust conditions. From the economic point of view, the consumer should not feel guilty as it is also raising the economy of the poorer regions of these countries and although the conditions are bad, they are better than the alternative of extreme poverty. I do not agree with this perspective, however, because by taking that point of view, no change will ever be made. When it comes to business ethics, I think that the consumer populations have much more power than they are willing to use. If we change consumer norms, we would be able to hold these companies accountable for their impact.