With all the new attention being paid to China-based electronics manufacturing, CNN manages to realize that Foxconn has a plant in Chengdu, and it blew up recently. Then they show up and make a story, which I will now summarize:
Here are some fun thoughts: they managed to interview a worker who left college to take the job, and her worst complaint is it’s boring. She plans to return to college, and hopes to get a great job and buy an iPad. She hasn’t eaten at a restaurant since joining. *GASP*
There are real complaints to be made about the various manufacturing industries that operate in China. There’s plenty of reasons to pick on Foxconn or Apple, but most stories focus on the most superficial problems, the things that might shock an uninformed stay at home dad but are de rigour for most people living in Asia (it’s crowded here). To paraphrase Nick Kristof — it’s hard to side with ‘sweatshops’, but China is not short of people who will trade rural poverty for a foxconn dorm, long hours and tons of overtime.
Then again, this may be shifting; I’ve heard more than a few anecdotes from people in the manufacturing business that these pools of rural poor are drying up, and low cost manufacturing (apparel, widgets) have been moving to other south Asian countries for a few years now. One thing is for certain, however: Obama’s re-shoring plan faces a lot of challenges. There are three parts (2, 3) to that story, and here is a favorite bit:
A decade ago I met with then-UAW President Steve Yokich to urge him to partner with environmentalists and automakers to develop fuel-efficient vehicles that could compete with those from Japan and Germany. Yokich took me to the window of his office in Solidarity House. Pointing outside, he said, “What do you notice about the parking lot?”
“They’re all American vehicles?” I answered.
“Look again. Almost no SUVs. My guys know crap when they make it.”
Yokich understood Detroit’s ruthlessly short-term business model — put lots of cheap sheet metal on an outmoded truck chassis and layer on a gargantuan markup.