Sunday, March 18, 2012

Exploitation: A Matter of Perspective

Matt Yglesias asked what was perhaps a rhetorical question at Slate on Friday, in his column The Real Story Is Everywhere In China Where They're Not Making Apple Stuff.

He first notes that "Public radio's popular This American Life episode about abuses in the Foxconn factories that make Apple products has been retracted on the grounds of the "significant fabrications" it apparently contained."

Matt then suggests that perhaps Apple's real sin was in "exposing our delicate western sensibilities to the misery [of Chinese workers]."

As he points out, "You don't read articles about working conditions in factories making socks destined for export to Kazakhstan, and you don't read articles about working conditions on the rice farms that people eagerly leave to go toil in the sock factory."

And then it's time for the rhetorical sucker punch. I use that term as a compliment, not a pejorative; it's an important question to ask.
When you read something bad about a Foxconn factory and then see that thousands of people line up for the chance of a job at one of them, that really ought to make you wonder. What were those guys doing the day before they decided to stand in line? How did that look?
Well, Matt, thanks to the New York Times, this Tireless Agorist can answer that question for you, through the eyes of a young man born in China and now attending an American university. He sent the following note to David Pogue, who included it in his column What Cameras Inside Foxconn Found.
My aunt worked several years in what Americans call “sweat shops.” It was hard work. Long hours, “small” wage, “poor” working conditions. Do you know what my aunt did before she worked in one of these factories? She was a prostitute.

Circumstances of birth are unfortunately random, and she was born in a very rural region. Most jobs were agricultural and family owned, and most of the jobs were held by men. Women and young girls, because of lack of educational and economic opportunities, had to find other “employment.”

The idea of working in a “sweat shop” compared to that old lifestyle is an improvement, in my opinion. I know that my aunt would rather be “exploited” by an evil capitalist boss for a couple of dollars than have her body be exploited by several men for pennies.

That is why I am upset by many Americans’ thinking. We do not have the same opportunities as the West. Our governmental infrastructure is different. The country is different.

Yes, factory is hard labor. Could it be better? Yes, but only when you compare such to American jobs.

If Americans truly care about Asian welfare, they would know that shutting down “sweat shops” would force many of us to return to rural regions and return to truly despicable “jobs.” And I fear that forcing factories to pay higher wages would mean they hire FEWER workers, not more.

Anyway, now my aunt has been living in New York for one year after saving up money for a plane ticket and visa, and she is wonderfully happy to have escaped Asia and reunited with our family. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for that “sweat shop.”
I think that answers your question, Matt. And I think it delivers a lesson for all of us. Exploitation is often a matter of perspective.

...and that's all I have to say about that.

No comments:

Post a Comment