Recently I've had the good sense to purchase a shiny new Apple computer, with all of the bells and whistles Steve Jobs so lauds. Its impending arrival has been the source of some tiny excitement for yours truly, and I have consulted the "tracking status" of my bundle of joy online several times thus far. Clever product placement, savvy marketing campaigns, and the impassioned testimony of several friends and colleagues have, no doubt, made my decision to support this company inevitable. My long-suffering PC will be resigned to the closet, lest my new Mac fails me. (Sincere apologies to John Hodgman.)
In between alternating bouts of self-satisfaction and anticipation in my cozy, air-conditioned office, I decided to inquire as to the true origins of my package. I had long believed in Apple's relative benevolence when it came to workplace rights in developing countries, however what I discovered was quite the opposite, and thus, a source of ineradicable unease.
You may recall Apple in China making headlines recently, as a string of employees in factories in the far east of the country have committed suicide as a direct result of various job-related pressure and profound anxiety, instigated by supervisors facing (likely) similar pressure from the top down. Apple houses a host of employees in China earning less than $130 per month, and for manufacturing products routinely sought out by relatively affluent consumers such as myself for thousands of dollars. Many of these employees and their families live in abject poverty, their destiny stagnant.
"...It's the same old story of workers having to put in excessively long hours to make a living wage...there is also a quasi-military style of management that seeks to isolate individual workers. They actively discourage social interaction."
During his 28 days of investigation, Liu Zhi Yi was shocked to discover how the factory workers live in a sort of indentured servitude. They work all day long, stopping only to quickly eat or to sleep. They repeat the same routine again and again except on public holidays. Liu surmised that for many workers, the only escape from this cycle was to end their life.
Of course, none of this was really news to me. I like to think of myself as a conscientious consumer insofar as possible, and I was aware of the conditions of much of Chinese labor. However I still placed my order; I still followed it online as it departed Suzhou, and though I wondered for a few moments what life was like there for the souls who produced it, evidently it wasn't enough for me to cease my consumption. This fleeting consideration was swiftly superseded by the tiny excitement of a new toy, in what is surely vanity on a scale most grotesque.
However, I shall use this new toy, and I will enjoy it. It will provide me with the services to accomplish much of my work and study, as well as a great deal of entertainment. But still I wonder about the fingers that put it together, the hands that packed it away for me, and the eyes that witnessed its very creation, long before my own. This excuses nothing.