The ugly side
Of course, the ugly side of this retail mania and hunger for tech devices shows itself in the suffering of the Chinese workers at Apple's manufacturing partner, Foxconn's factories, which are now reportedly forcing workers to sign 'no suicide' pacts before they employ them.
There are reports of factory workers falling ill due to unsfare work practices, having to stand for 14 hours a day, and being forced to work up to 100 hours overtime for less than an adequate salary. Such medieval work conditions simply would not be tolerated in most advanced countries that house the consumers clamouring for iPads.
Amazingly Foxconn reportedly told the UK Daily Mail that the conditions described were "not something we endorse or encourage" but the company "would not exclude that this might happen, given the diverse and large population of our workforce". That certainly sounds like bureaucratic double-speak and doesn't give any indication that the powers that be are planning to take any action to resolve the issues.
Of course there is the bigger global picture of China traditionally being the world's manufacturing centre, due to its very low wages and masses of young people seeking work. Enterprises in the richer western countries capitalise on this earning inequality to cater for the demands of their relatively wealthy consumers.
The US wants China to focus more on consuming goods than exporting them to the first world. The White House would be happy also if the US could export more itself.
Whatever you think about globalisation, it is likely to be many years until salaries across different countries achieve some sort of balance, and it's unlikely that major corporations will be the ones driving higher pay for workers in poorer regions.
And it doesn't seem likely that too many people will think about suffering factory workers when they seek to purchase an iPad, but this could be an increasingly damaging PR issue for Apple unless they do something more to address it.
What do you think?
Ross O. Storey - firstname.lastname@example.org - is the managing editor of all FBM Asia publications and the Editor of CIO Asia and MIS Asia magazines.
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