Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finding Meaning Within Chinese Factories


We, the beneficiaries of globalization, seem to exploit these victims with every purchase we make, and the injustice feels embedded in the products themselves. After all, what's wrong with a world in which a worker on an iPhone assembly line can't even afford to buy one? It's taken for granted that Chinese factories are oppressive, and that it's our desire for cheap goods that makes them so.


So, this simple narrative equating Western demand and Chinese suffering is appealing, especially at a time when many of us already feel guilty about our impact on the world, but it's also inaccurate and disrespectful. We must be peculiarly self-obsessed to imagine that we have the power to drive tens of millions of people on the other side of the world to migrate and suffer in such terrible ways. In fact, China makes goods for markets all over the world, including its own, thanks to a combination of factors: its low costs, its large and educated workforce, and a flexible manufacturing system that responds quickly to market demands. By focusing so much on ourselves and our gadgets, we have rendered the individuals on the other end into invisibility, as tiny and interchangeable as the parts of a mobile phone.

Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods. They choose to leave their homes in order to earn money, to learn new skills, and to see the world. In the ongoing debate about globalization, what's been missing is the voices of the workers themselves.

This is how journalist Leslie T. Chang begins her enlightening TED talk (based on her book Factory Girls) on Chinese factory workers. The talk as a whole looks at how these workers construct meaning in their employment. See the whole talk below.



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