×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

High Tech Misery In China

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the dawn-of-the-industrial-age dept.

The Almighty Buck 876

theodp writes "Think you've got a bad job? Think again. You could be making keyboards for IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Lenovo and HP at Meitai Plastic and Electronics, a Chinese hardware factory. Prompted by the release of High Tech Misery in China by a human-rights group, a self-regulating body set up by tech companies will conduct an audit of working conditions at the factory. In return for take-home pay of 41 cents per hour, workers reportedly sit on hard wooden stools for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Overtime is mandatory, with workers being given on average two days off per month. While on the production line, workers are not allowed to raise their hands or heads, are given 1.1 seconds to snap each key into place, and are encouraged to 'actively monitor each other' to see if any company rules are being transgressed. They are also monitored by guards. Workers are fined if they break the rules, locked in the factory for four days per week, and sleep in crowded dormitories. Okay, it's not all bad news — they're hiring."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

876 comments

Well at MY place, (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865663)

we have to pay for coffee!

Re:Well at MY place, (3, Interesting)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865735)

The horror!

However, in China I'm sure the benefits are great!

I have to wonder if this story is accurate, though. Maybe it is, but snapping keys into place on keyboards seems like a perfect job for high speed robots. Maybe 41 cents per hour is too cheap to justify robots?

Re:Well at MY place, (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865907)

The robot costs what it does, getting it delivered costs extra, electricity costs extra, having someone who can fix the machine if needed costs extra... And even automated robots need someone to give it parts, etc...

All compared to a few dollars per day per human. I know I wouldn't buy robots there.

Film at 11... (5, Insightful)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865665)

Horrible working conditions in China, film at 11.
Sad that this stuff is so common; let's see if it changes over time as the country develops

Re:Film at 11... (5, Funny)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865739)

It's one of the jobs offered to you if you're one of the many people laid off in the US by IBM...

Re:Film at 11... (5, Insightful)

dintlu (1171159) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865743)

In the meantime, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

There are plenty of good used electronics peripherals on craigslist and ebay.

Re:Film at 11... (5, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865863)

let's see if it changes over time as the country develops

It did in the USA, the UK, and every other country that went through a transition from a mostly agricultural to an industrial economy.

-jcr

Re:Film at 11... (5, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865945)

It did in the USA, the UK, and every other country that went through a transition from a mostly agricultural to an industrial economy.

Unfortunately, better working conditions aren't retroactive, and the possibility that things will be better in China in a century or so is of no help to the human beings being fucked over right now.

Re:Film at 11... (1)

Thinboy00 (1190815) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865977)

let's see if it changes over time as the country develops

It did in the USA, the UK, and every other country that went through a transition from a mostly agricultural to an industrial economy.

-jcr

Yeah, but the USA had the 1st amendment from the start...

Re:Film at 11... (4, Funny)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865983)

Yeah, but the USA had the 1st amendment from the start...

Well, we did start out by overthrowing our king.

-jcr

Fines... (5, Insightful)

Daemonax (1204296) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865675)

Foreign companies that utilize this type of thing should be hit with heavy penalties. This would also encourage them to check working conditions before signing a contract with a manufacturer.

Re:Fines... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865713)

Yeah, because if it were a Chinese firm doing this, that would make it okay.

Re:Fines... (1, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865755)

Do you want to pay prices for electronics higher by an order of magnitude? You would if you insisted they be made with the same wages and working conditions you're used to in the West.

Re:Fines... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865789)

Do you want pointless tech gadgets so much you don't care about the consequences of purchasing it?

Re:Fines... (5, Interesting)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865829)

Do you really want the average consumer to answer honestly? And what would you honestly buy? The $10 from china or the $90 one from "honest labor".

Re:Fines... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865889)

How do I distinguish the $90 one from a humane factory from the $10 one that will be marked up to $90 simply to hide its sweatshop origin?

Re:Fines... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26866007)

Fungible.

Re:Fines... (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865807)

Do you want to pay prices for electronics higher by an order of magnitude?

If that what it takes to have human rights respected? Yes. We can do without cheap flat-screen TVs.

(Though I don't think an order of magnitude price increase would be necessary.)

Re:Fines... (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865865)

What's more important, someone's working conditions, or access to cheap electronics?

Re:Fines... (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865929)

if we didn't have cheap electronics, they wouldn't have a job and would be working the fields. why do you think they all flock to these jobs? because working the fields is a hell of a lot worse.

you all forget WE had to go through the same process less thean 100 years ago.

MOD PARENT UP!! (1)

ZosX (517789) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865895)

This is the price we pay for $10 keyboards and $20 Nikes....oh wait. I never thought that we should have let China join the WTO, but at the same time, trade has been one thing that has kept tensions between the US and China at minimal levels. Unplug them from the global grid at this point and we would have North Korea on a much more massive level. Last I checked the US has about 300 million people and China is what 1.6 billion now? The best we can hope to do is extend our influence as much as possible at this point or who knows, we may all be speaking chinese in the next 100 years....

Re:Fines... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865947)

I saw an analysis of the cost to build an iPhone. Actual assembly labor was insignificant, and would have cost less than $10 at USA rates.

Re:Fines... (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865989)

Nobody wants to pay higher prices, least of all me, but I value human rights enough (and computer hardware so little) that I'd make the trade.

Re:Fines... (1)

RodgerDodger (575834) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866009)

This is a common belief. It's also wrong.

There are workshops in China that provide good working conditions for their staff, and provide a living wage. They rely a lot more on automation, and need to keep staff turnover low to provide a return-on-investment on training. They also manage to provide product at the same price - or better - than the sweatshops. These workshops do require more capital investment, though.

Cheap labour, and customers who don't care about how their goods are made, allow sweatshops to flourish. They can be eliminated without causing a price surge.

Re:Fines... (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865971)

China did bad, so let's make consumers pay more for Chinese products! Yeah, that will work!

Economic populism is just as silly as any other form of populism. If we want to punish a nation we embargo them, but if we want to protect our own industries we enact protectionist restrictions. They're both the same act, just in different directions. They both can't be correct.

The best solution is education. As long as consumers know about stuff like this, they can make their own decisions. Getting bureaucrats and politicians involved just messes everything up.

Complications was: Fines... (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866013)

Foreign companies that utilize this type of thing should be hit with heavy penalties.

I would like to see that, too. Though I think it would be quite difficult to enforce, for more than one reason:

Foreign companies. If we take Lenovo for an example; how do you levy fines on them? They are a Chinese company, after all. You could try to levy against their US division, but the effectiveness of that is probably doubtful.

utilize. How do you define that? From the article:

"The factory named in the report is not one of HP's direct suppliers, but is a supplier to two of our suppliers," the company said in a statement.

So it would appear that HP is not directly utilizing the sweatshops. Would you want to levy a fine against them anyways for a decision that may have been made by one of their partners and not them? Or would you go after the HP supplier who was contracting with the sweatshop (and then what would you do if that supplier was foreign?)

Compared to doing what? (5, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865683)

In return for take-home pay of 41 cents per hour, workers reportedly sit on hard wooden stools for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Overtime is mandatory, with workers being given on average two days off per month.

The alternatives being what?
Substinence farming or starving?

Re:Compared to doing what? (5, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865725)

The alternatives being what?

Make it easier to consume locally. Stop rigging the currency to be export-pushing.
     

Re:Compared to doing what? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865753)

And how much does 41 cents an hour buy over there? In the US, of course, 41 cents an hour would never be enough to support you, but Sally Struthers is always telling us that 41 cents will feed a starving kid in Africa for a whole month. Just getting the pay in dollars doesn't tell us much.

Re:Compared to doing what? (5, Informative)

sith (15384) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866005)

Dunno about where this factory is, but everywhere I've been in China, 41 cents (3 yuan) doesn't buy you much...

Re:Compared to doing what? (3, Informative)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865777)

I would say subsistence farming is much better than 41 cents/hour in a factory.

Re:Compared to doing what? (5, Insightful)

gibson_81 (135261) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865821)

I would say subsistence farming is much better than 41 cents/hour in a factory.

Well, either the subsistence-farmers-turned-factory-workers disagree with you or they are unable to get any arable land for subsistence farming ...

Re:Compared to doing what? (1)

etymxris (121288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865839)

Well obviously the workers at this factory don't think so, unless they were impressed into work against their will.

Re:Compared to doing what? (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865897)

I would say subsistence farming is much better than 41 cents/hour in a factory.

Say it all you want, but the people who actually have to make that decision seem to have come to a different conclusion.

-jcr

Re:Compared to doing what? (3, Insightful)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865937)

Not everyone makes the decision, take for instance whole communities relocated by lake created by the three-gorges dam. Many of them were moved to areas so they could be factory workers. They did just fine (and were happier) living off the land.

Re:Compared to doing what? (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866019)

Say it all you want, but the people who actually have to make that decision seem to have come to a different conclusion.

Yes, the people who decided to incarcerate people and force them to labor as slaves for the profit of the government definitely came to a different conclusion. Slave Labor is good for the government, so it must be good for the people!

A lot of the consumer goods that you can buy at the dollar store or the Wal-Mart are made with straight up slave labor, not even the feel-good two-days-off-a-month forty-four cents a day kind of slavery either. The prison camp for your beliefs or just being inconvenient to society kind of slavery. But honestly, isn't it all slavery?

Re:Compared to doing what? (5, Insightful)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865991)

I would say subsistence farming is much better than 41 cents/hour in a factory.

Let them decide, they prefer to work apparently.

Also keep in mind every country has gone through an industrial revolution.

Western Industrial Revolution had the same horrors: Children working in factories 12 hours a day? Check. Children getting so tired they fall into machinery and die? Check. Grownups working 12 hours/day, 7 days/week? Check.

The thing about China is theirs is going to be over and done with in about 25 years for a total of 35; as opposed to hanging around for 75-100 and morphing into a second industrial revolution.

You forget to realize that even these conditions are far better than any Chinese would otherwise see. Running, clean water? Dependable food? Shelter to sleep in? They don't get that when they're farming 12 hours a day making barely enough food to survive on.

The other thing-- in the last 20 years, "extreme poverty" has shrunk from 40% globally to 20%*. That's not your humanitarian aid at work, that's American consumption fueling fewer deaths due to water poisoning, hunger, etc. in third world countries/regions. Why would you take that away from them? Until just recently (with the onset of this recession) Chinese were STILL taking trains to the cities to find a new life, new work, and new pay. That's in spite of all these "horrible work conditions" (by our standards, that we erroneously think nobody would want to work under) all over the place. They're welcome to quit their job and return to farming, but I think you miss how bad they have it farming.

This knowledge should cause us to stop and consider what we'd be doing before we start taxing trade with the Chinese.

*Go check out "The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What It Means for Us All" by Robyn Meredith. She covers all sorts of things like this and provides sound sources to back them up-- IIRC, there were about 30 pages at the back of this book with nothing but footnotes/sources for statistics like this one.

You forgot... (3, Interesting)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865813)

...street begging, prostitution, et cetera.

Sadly, it's true that these sweatship jobs are often a good option compared to what else is available in those countries.
It is most definitely a high violation by Western standards, true. But, do we really need to psuh to Westenr standards? And can we?

TFA did point out that these people are being paid even less than what *Chinese* labor law requires. That at least needs tob e fixed

Trouble is, these placed would probably clean house tem[porarily when inspectors show up.

Re:You forgot... (1)

etymxris (121288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865899)

Clean house, or threaten workers as the article suggested. Or maybe they'll just shut down and set up shop again when the heat is off. Without systemic reform this type of thing will be impossible to prevent or correct.

You can keep shaming US companies that do business with such Chinese firms, but most firms will not allow any inspection by media, especially Western media. And when something like this does get exposed, IBM and others will do as they just did "We're looking into it." They'll either find nothing wrong or switch to another firm that does the exact same thing. Heck it can be the same firm but "different" because they changed their name. Or maybe there will be "corrective action" which translates into "no change, business as usual". This problem has no easy solutions.

Be the first Westerner to work there (1)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865689)

It'll be brutal for a while, but think of how much you'll get when you sell the movie rights!

Re:Be the first Westerner to work there (0, Troll)

Anthony_Cargile (1336739) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865881)

It'll be brutal for a while, but think of how much you'll get when you sell the movie rights!

Tell that to the independent film people that make low-budget films about this every year, only for the people at the film festivals to feel sorry long enough for the next film to start and redirect their attention to something else, like (say) gay cowboys eating pudding, as South Park would say.

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, into the past (2, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865691)

And "free traders" say we should just "buck up and compete with" slaves. We are slipping backward into the early 1900's. Factory jobs used to pay better than the sales-clerk jobs that are replacing them, but they won't if your competitor is allowed slave labor.
   

Regulation (3, Insightful)

perlhacker14 (1056902) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865695)

What we are seeing here, my friends, is capitalism gone wild.

No, totalitarianism gone wild (5, Insightful)

swb (14022) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865769)

No, you're seeing totalitarianism gone wild. All of the shitty labor in China is backstopped by the government and its willingness to create political prisoners.

What really sucked about the Olympics wasn't the smog or anything else, it was the media broadcasting the fake news that China is just another free country. And the west sucked it down.

Wrong, it is the capitalism (4, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866021)

Who the hell is supporting this? Dell, IBM, Microsoft... and by extension their customers (you and me).

Blaming this on the Chinese while still exploiting things is bullshit.

Re:Regulation (2, Insightful)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865785)

But in China, Joe Francis wouldn't just go to jail. They'd put a bullet in his head and charge his family for the bullet.

Then he and Larry Flynt couldn't lobby the Chinese government that their keyboard companies were just too big to fail...

Re:Regulation (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865815)

They wouldn't be treating people so bad if it didn't benefit them financially... If they find that foreigners stop buying their products out of protest things will change... Don't like how China treats its workers? Don't buy their stuff. Do some research about where your stuff comes from and act accordingly.

Damn it.. (-1, Troll)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865699)

Damn it... my keyboard was made in China... and it cost me $2.99 + S&H. :/

It's a BTC keyboard. I wonder if it was made with slave labour?

Re:Damn it.. (5, Insightful)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865737)

It cost you $2.99. What the heck do you think?

Re:Damn it.. (4, Interesting)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865827)

To be honest, I thought they had machines that pop keys on and assemble these things - but I suppose over there people are cheaper than machines.

Re:Damn it.. (1)

ipsharck (21964) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865995)

I long for the days of a Solid IBM mechanically switched (none of the membrane shyt) keyboard

Re:Damn it.. (4, Funny)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865761)

I think I'm safe, the IBM keyboard I'm typing this on was made in Thailand.

Re:Damn it.. (1)

Oswald (235719) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865885)

The IBM keyboard I'm typing this on was made in the USA. In 1984.

I loved my Model M until someone reminded me how much better the IBM Selectric typewriters felt. Now I'm kind of pissed of that I can't get one of those for my computer.

I know, I know: -1 Offtopic.

Re:Damn it.. (1)

hack slash (1064002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865969)

I had a couple of IBM model M's till I sold em last year (got a pretty penny on eBay), would have kept them except they don't have Windows keys which I use fairly extensively.

Anyway I really like the keyboards on my Eee's as you don't have to move your fingers very far or have to press them down as hard as fullsize keyboards, even with my large hands I can touchtype on the Eee's.

Exactly two ways to avoid this stuff (5, Insightful)

rbrander (73222) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865707)

1) Government regulation (and enforcement) setting minimum working conditions.

2) Enthusiastic uptake of some kind of "no humans were exploited in the making of this product" sticker, in the free market.

I've found it heartwarming at work that the younger staff are all hugely in favour of "fair trade" products that purportedly don't exploit poor farmers and farm labourers, mostly as applied to coffee and sugar products. The aggressively seek them out and we have people coming from floors around to our "fair trade only" coffee station. We older folks are "for" this stuff as long as you stick it under our noses, shame us a bit, and it doesn't cost *much* more.

Which it doesn't, of course - that's the pathetic thing about these stories - the conditions in that factory, as opposed to conditions that might not pass muster here but at least wouldn't *disgust* you, are probably scraping $2 off the cost of the $60 "MS Egronomic 4000" keyboard that you could only pry from my cold, dead (non-RSI'd) fingers. I'd be happy to pay $65 if it came with such a sticker...the other $3 paying for the checking and enforcement of the rules from the sticker-issuing NGO.

Re:Exactly two ways to avoid this stuff (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865809)

1) Government regulation (and enforcement) setting minimum working conditions.
2) Enthusiastic uptake of some kind of "no humans were exploited in the making of this product" sticker, in the free marke

I've found it heartwarming at work that the younger staff are all hugely in favour of "fair trade" products that purportedly don't exploit poor farmers and farm labourers, mostly as applied to coffee and sugar products.

Agricultural products cannot be considered in the same way that manufacturing or assembling jobs can.

Agricultural products are not nearly as mobile as manufacturing, which can easily be moved to a cheaper country at the drop of a hat. Companies are already leaving Asia and taking their manufacturing to Eastern Europe because labor costs and regulation are at even lower levels.

And despite what you say, consumer study after consumer study unwaveringly shows that consumers are incredibly price conscious. Though there is a market for products that give you the warm fuzzies (fair trade, etc), the vast majority of consumers will buy the cheapest product available, even if the price difference is only a few pennies.

Re:Exactly two ways to avoid this stuff (2, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865837)

Companies are already leaving Asia and taking their manufacturing to Eastern Europe because labor costs and regulation are at even lower levels.

Cite? The only major manufacturing moves to Eastern Europe have been Dell and Nokia, moving from Western Europe. Eastern Europe might be comparatively poor, but the cost of living there is much higher than in rural Asia, and it's unlikely to pull manufacturing out of the very Third World.

Re:Exactly two ways to avoid this stuff (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865833)

Unfortunately, high-quality, fair trade ergonomic keyboards cost an arm, a leg, and a few other body parts...

(High-quality fair trade NON-ergonomic keyboards, OTOH, don't. Try $69 for a brand new Unicomp Customizer 104 or SpaceSaver, assembled in Louisville, Kentucky, by some of the same staff that built the Model Ms back in the day. Or, I want to say it's around $100 for a Cherry G80-3000, I believe made in Germany?)

Re:Exactly two ways to avoid this stuff (1)

deragon (112986) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865931)

$100 for a keyboard that could last 10 years is not that expensive. I paid heavily for some keyboards. I wash the under water once in a while and they come out brand new. This kind of stuff last.

It's worse than that... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865849)

105 keys at 1.1s per key is about two minutes per keyboard, that's 1.36 cents in labor costs.

You could pay a massive $0.02 more for your keyboard and give these people shorter working hours *and* the weekends off.

Imagine what a difference it would make if we all paid $1 extra for our computers, or $0.50 more for a pair of sneakers.

Something to ponder next time you're enjoying a $5 Starbucks coffee.

Re:Exactly two ways to avoid this stuff (1)

glittalogik (837604) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865993)

Ditto, my Ergo 4000s (one at home, one for the office) are the only thing standing between my wrists and a world of hurt. Here's hoping that they last long enough for things to have improved by the time their replacements are put together.

we need a trade embargo (3, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865719)

Okay, so here's the thing.. The rest of the world needs to refuse to do any sort of business with China until business practices are brought in line with at least a minimal respect for human life. It would help Chinese workers because they wouldn't have to endure this kind of shit, and it would help the developed world because our factories wouldn't have to try to compete with stuff produced in this way.

Re:we need a trade embargo (4, Insightful)

Shajenko42 (627901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865795)

The US could do this, if China didn't have us under its collective thumb. We can't embargo anybody until we're no longer so deeply in debt to them.

Re:we need a trade embargo (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865921)

The US could do this, if China didn't have us under its collective thumb. We can't embargo anybody until we're no longer so deeply in debt to them.

The US could do this if only consumers stopped buying stuff made in China. Problem solved.

(P.S. My new TV was assembled in Mexico, but who knows where the various parts were made. China probably. It wasn't a selling point, anyway. I am as guilty as the next guy, except I try to buy more stuff used. I couldn't actually find a used TV in my spec range, and it was not exorbitant. besides, there are lots of top-end TVs on craigslist.)

Re:we need a trade embargo (1)

Shajenko42 (627901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865979)

The US could do this if only consumers stopped buying stuff made in China. Problem solved.

And we could get rid of crime if only everybody followed the law. Problem solved.

Re:we need a trade embargo (1, Insightful)

woodburner (1478327) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865803)

How would it help Chinese workers is they are out of jobs??? How would it help the developed world if everything costs more??? When people/companies/countries trade, then both of the trading partners are better off. Otherwise they wouldn't trade...

Re:we need a trade embargo (1)

Falstius (963333) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865869)

How would it help Chinese workers is they are out of jobs???

It wouldn't. But slave labor and unemployment are not the only options.

How would it help the developed world if everything costs more???

You might see a resurgence of a local service industry repairing these more expensive components. So the chinese could get paid more to build higher quality parts, and we wouldn't need to buy a new keyboard every year, and there would be some moderately skilled service jobs in the developed world.

When people/companies/countries trade, then both of the trading partners are better off. Otherwise they wouldn't trade...

Trade is generally, though not always, good for society as a whole. It is always good for the traders. It is often not good for the labors, especially when one partner in the trade uses unethical labor practices to reduce prices.

Re:we need a trade embargo (1)

Shajenko42 (627901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865943)

You might see a resurgence of a local service industry repairing these more expensive components. So the chinese could get paid more to build higher quality parts, and we wouldn't need to buy a new keyboard every year, and there would be some moderately skilled service jobs in the developed world.

Not to mention the reduction in waste you'd see if we didn't simply throw out all the electronics that are malfunctioning.

Re:we need a trade embargo (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865843)

Thing is, shit rolls downhill, and the "little guy" may end up even worse off.

Also, we've become so entwined with Chinese manufacturing that we can't really get out right away.

Kind of like how we've been so thoroughly entwined in the Iraq & Afghanistan quagmires, even though part of this was our own causing.

Automate (1)

ironicsky (569792) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865723)

In this day an age why not automate? They could have an automatic press which pushes all the keys in at once. 1.1s per key @ 104 keys per keyboard as opposed to 2-5 seconds for a machine to do the whole thing. I'll all for creating jobs and keeping people employed, but I'd rather not have to worry about buying products from companies that support these kind of environments. In all likely hood all these big companies already knew the conditions in these factories and are only acting on it now since it was made public.

Re:Automate (2, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865747)

They don't automate because it's cheaper to pay someone 41 cents an hour than it is to buy the machine.

Re:Automate (2, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865817)

They don't automate because it's cheaper to pay someone 41 cents an hour than it is to buy the machine.

I read a story that quoted a farm automation expert who said it's probably possible to automate many more fruit-picking activities. However, there's no incentive to invest in such technology if the labor rates are low enough.

This is one of the reasons why the Roman empire didn't spark the industrial revolution: slaves were readily available from conquered lands.

Re:Automate (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865975)

However, there's no incentive to invest in such technology if the labor rates are low enough.

IMHO, that's one of the key reasons in favor of a minimum wage - not because minimum wage helps workers directly (some workers do get paid more but others are out of a job) but because it forces technology to be developed that makes the work more efficient. A worker can be paid a lot more in an economy where pushing a couple buttons makes an entire cell phone than in an economy where a day of banging rocks together results in a few sharp pieces of rock to cut the skin off dead animals.

Uhhh What about Apple? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865733)

Why pick on just PC manufacturers, but leave Apple out of it? Remember Apple's keyboards and almost everything else bar XServes are also made in China. Subtle bias against Windows by the Apple crowd?

Seems they can do no wrong for doing wrong.
 

it's all good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865745)

they'll soon be running linux by edict of the state. that makes everything else fine. it's the sign of an enlightened society.

boycott (1)

mikey177 (1426171) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865751)

i guess i will just have to stop buying products from these company's but that won't do anything. I wounder if bill gates foundation would help these people?

Re:boycott (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865949)

i guess i will just have to stop buying products from these company's but that won't do anything. I wounder if bill gates foundation would help these people?

If computers cost more, you sell less, and so there's less sales of windows. Survey says: XX

Keyboard design and market forces colliding? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865757)

When looking at the list of companies mentioned I wonder if the type of keyboard that is being produced is a cause or effect of the demand for cheap keyboards (and cheap labor to produce them). While I do not actively condone sweatshop labor, I am guilty of using more than one dome-switch keyboard [wikipedia.org] (though I do have one IBM Model M that drives my coworkers nuts).

However, if there suddenly was a spike in demand for Buckling Spring Keyboards [wikipedia.org] would that change the situation? I'm not sure if workers - under pressure or not - could assemble buckling spring keys in 1.1 seconds.

In other words, are the markets flooded with lousy keyboards because that is what sweatshops produce for us at the demand price, or are we using sweatshop labor to produce the maximum supply of disposable keyboards without concern for what consumers actually want?

Re:Keyboard design and market forces colliding? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865961)

Still got my 1994 IBM M. It still works great. TCO of $30 for 14 years!
http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=100076874&m=100073953

No surprises here (4, Insightful)

Dupple (1016592) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865771)

Capitalism can only work because it thrives on and creates the poor.

We wouldn't be in the mess we're in without it.

Call me a troll or flame me, but there has to be a better way than chasing the profit...

Sustainability perhaps?

Re:No surprises here (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865841)

Whats a better alternative, being forced by the government to sustain everyone via taxes? Capitalism the best system we've got, even with all it's problems.

There is nothing immoral than the forced re-distribution of wealth

Re:No surprises here (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865859)

I'm crossing my fingers for a post scarcity society. We'll need fusion or something, and I ain't holding my breath. But theoretically ....

Re:No surprises here (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865867)

Riddle me this, why did the life expectancy of the average American INCREASE after the industrial revolution?

Why did the life expectancy of the average Russian DECREASE after the Bolshevik revolution?

The answer to both questions is the same.

Re:No surprises here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865959)

Riddle me this. Why is Russian lifespan decreasing after the Soviet Union collapse and the uptake of capitalism?

Re:No surprises here (2, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865871)

Rubbish ... you could easily double these people's wages and it would add less then $1 to the total cost of your PC. Would you really stop buying if they did that?

Re:No surprises here (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865905)

Capitalism can only exist effectively when companies (and moreover, consumers) exercise responsibility. There is a financial incentive to not doing business with manufacturers that have these kinds of labor conditions when there is an expectation of public outcry as a result.

"Chasing the profit" only means ignoring morals when consumers stop caring about how their purchases came to exist. rbrander's suggestion of a non-exploitation certification program is great.

If Microsoft buys labor from a company that mistreats its workers, and you give money to Microsoft knowing this is the case, you are supporting the practice and you have nobody to blame but yourself -- not capitalism. If paying someone a reasonable wage to make keyboards makes keyboards prohibitively expensive, an incentive for the automation of keyboard assembly is created. That's how capitalism works. You do what's most profitable.

Re:No surprises here (2, Insightful)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865909)

China is capitalist? Since when? They have factories and capital, but control over the means of productions is still largely in the hands of the government.

Re:No surprises here (5, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865919)

Capitalism can only work because it thrives on and creates the poor.

Thank you for that marxist flashback, you ignorant twat.

Capitalism is the way out of poverty. Those countries that reject it inflict starvation on their people.

-jcr

Re:No surprises here (1)

andy1307 (656570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865927)

Call me a troll or flame me, but there has to be a better way than chasing the profit...

As long as American consumers chase lower prices, companies will chase lower manufacturing costs.

Re:No surprises here (5, Insightful)

StormReaver (59959) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866011)

"Capitalism can only work because it thrives on and creates the poor."

Capitalism works great most of the time, but can easily be abused to bring about situations like this. We hear about the fraction of a percent of abusive companies because it's news that sells. We don't hear so much about the greater than 99% of capitalist companies and individuals that provide good, sustainable products and services (for whatever reason).

Seriously, do you think that anybody gives even a tiny little rat's ass that I created a small company's data entry and reporting infrastructure for a reasonable price and included full source code so they wouldn't be locked into me as a sole service provider? Does that sound like news that people will care to spend time or money knowing?

The various news media have long since relied on sensationalism to make money. If you base your world view on what you hear/read from media outlets, it's almost impossible to view the world as anything other than corrupt and beyond redemption. There's a whole other world that doesn't get reported.

A different side of the story (5, Informative)

adam1101 (805240) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865877)

From the perspective of a journalist who spend some time with some of these workers: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/book-qa-chinese-workers/ [nytimes.com]

I think Americans - and many urban Chinese, too - tend to see the factory workers as passive victims, motivated by poverty and desperation. Spending time with these young women taught me the opposite: They are resourceful and ambitious, full of plans to improve their lot and change their fates, willing to challenge their bosses and quit their jobs for better ones, and willing to take night classes to improve themselves. When you ask these migrant workers why they came to the city, they will tell you that their families are poor, but they also talk about the opportunity and adventure of urban life. They may have very little power in our eyes, but in their own they are the leading actors in their own dramas and not victims of circumstance.

What's the problem? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865903)

This actually isn't such a bad job in China. Just remember that everything is relative. Most of these people will be glad just to have a job and money.

My company has several factories in China, and while the conditions aren't as 'bad' as the article describes, they're still quite spartan with long hours. But that's normal.

China is going through its Industial Revolution right now. It would be more appropriate to compare it to the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain - where working conditions were initially far worse than most modern factories in China.

This is terrible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865965)

I demand action at once. Action, cheap goods... and a pony!

  1. $450 part manufactured in the US
  2. $100 part manufactured in China

Cheap Keyboards? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26866003)

And the greatest thing is, as soon as minimum conditions and pays are introduced your $10 keyboard all of a sudden becomes a $60 keyboard for the exact same product. Products are cheap because of the conditions in which they are manufactured.

We will see more "ask slashdot" for where to buy a cheap keyboard.

even worse.... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26866015)

1. Workers who have found favor with their superiors (often attractive young women) are notoriously assigned the plum task of fitting the heavy-duty "Control", "Alt", and "Delete" keys, at premium pay of 43 rather than 41 cts/hr.

2. 1.1 seconds per key may seem long enough, but occasionally the "Caps Lock" key gets stuck and workers have to scramble to redo their last dozen or so key sets.

3. That guy in Silicon Valley who keeps ordering Dvorak keyboards.

4. Each keyboard must be manually inspected for fitting errors, such as mis-slotted keys. When a mistake is found, the entire assembly line stops and the factory PA system drones "Abort? Retry? Ignore? Fail?" over and over until the problem has been corrected.

$.02 per keyboard (4, Interesting)

mainguym (611910) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866017)

OK, so we've accounted for not more that .2 percent of the cost of a keyboard. Realistically this is much less because I've seen very few $10 keyboards. Maybe we should also ask, where does the rest of the money go? I can't think of the last time I paid less than $1 for a keyboard. Even retail apparel margins aren't that good, perhaps some tech executives need to take a look at their cost structures...
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...