How Much Will We Pay for Our Electronic Toys?

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-01-30 Print this article Print


But when we demand lower and lower prices for our toys, that price is paid by someone. If we won't pay it because we can't bring ourselves to spend more than $200 for a shiny new iPhone, then that Chinese child pays it. If we were willing to spend more, then perhaps that job would go to an adult so that the child could live more as child. Or perhaps that work would go to a former textile worker in the U.S. Appalachia region, whose labor might cost a little more.

But the needs of the developed world are such that they must be filled by a massive labor force, and China is one of the few places that has huge numbers people willing to work for low wages with the skills to precisely manufacture electronic devices. Should we pay more for our toys so that these people can live and work in conditions that don't make them wish they could end their own lives? Yes, we should.

But blaming Apple isn't the answer. The problem isn't just Apple or any other U.S. company that has to resort to low-wage manufacturers overseas to squeeze every penny out of the manufacturing cycle so it can make big profits in an industry with cutthroat competition.

The problem is you. The problem is everyone with an iPhone or nearly any other kind of cell phone or tablet computer or laptop or other consumer electronics device. You, by insisting on ever lower prices and ever newer stuff with ever faster delivery times, are responsible for the conditions in that Shenzhen factory.

If it were possible to buy these electronics from companies that provide more humane working conditions, then I'd suggest that you should do that. Sadly, I don't know that it's possible. I will tell you that if I could know for certain that my devices were built in a factory that treated workers with respect and gave them reasonable working conditions, I would, even if it cost more. But the fact of today's globalization is such that you simply can't find out. If you want an iPhone or something like it, then you have no choice but to buy that device the way comes, with all the dirty secrets about low wages, exhausting work shifts and rotten working conditions built in.

In a way, when you buy that hamburger you do have a choice-you can choose meat from an animal that was raised humanely, treated with respect and allowed to live a pleasant life. When I buy meat like that, it costs a lot more, and I pay it. But I can't buy a phone that way. They don't exist. But if they did, I'd pay a lot more to get one.

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Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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