The Tech Industry's Dirty Secret - InformationWeek
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5/27/2010
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Ed Hansberry
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The Tech Industry's Dirty Secret

While the US has a tremendous amount of intellectual capital housed in companies like Dell, Apple, Microsoft and Cisco, few of their hardware products are made here. The vast majority are made in Asia, usually China or Taiwan. Work conditions aren't close to what many in the west are used to and right now, a rash of suicides are plaguing the Foxconn plant where Apples iPhone, iPod and iPad are made.

While the US has a tremendous amount of intellectual capital housed in companies like Dell, Apple, Microsoft and Cisco, few of their hardware products are made here. The vast majority are made in Asia, usually China or Taiwan. Work conditions aren't close to what many in the west are used to and right now, a rash of suicides are plaguing the Foxconn plant where Apples iPhone, iPod and iPad are made.In the US, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which translates into nearly $1,300 per month for a full day's work. It could be more in some states that have a higher minimum wage. At the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, workers are often paid the minimum wage, which is $130 per month. Workdays are at least ten hours long and most workers live on the factory compound.

Yahoo! news reports that conditions are tough. There is pressure to work faster and crank out more devices, thus lowering the labor cost per device, increasing output and profits for Foxconn.

There have been twelve suicide attempts by Foxconn employees since the beginning of this year, ten of which were successful.

It is easy to think that Apple is just subcontracting the building of its devices out and has nothing to do with the conditions at Foxconn, but that would be a mistake. Apple, like any other company in the US that buys from Asian facilities, is constantly grinding the plants for more output, higher quality and lower costs. That pressure on plant management just rolls downhill to the production floor.

I am not picking on Apple in particular. It is just in the news right now as the Foxconn plant is under intense scrutiny due to the high number of suicides. This just serves to highlight that all of those tech gadgets we crave have a higher price than what we pay at the counter. There is a human being on the other end of the supply chain that is working in conditions we'd consider grueling and under pressures that most of us would quit under and find another job, even in this economy.

The truth is, we have a part to play in this too. After all, aren't consumers the ones ultimately demanding the faster, more powerful and cheaper device?

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