Since I’ve started to research how Western media represents Chinese workers and their rights, I’ve come across a subtle trend. That is, that we seem to have a lot of sympathy, a lot of outrage, a lot of…emotion, really, about the plight of Chinese workers and the abuse of their rights, but not much of a grip on what’s really going on over there. There’s a huge emphasis on personal stories, the difference between Western work standards and those in China, and official comments from the current centre of the issue; Apple. Here’s an example on the New York Times website.
If there’s anything that the KONY 2012 campaign has taught me, it’s that nothing in the media can be taken at face value.
Recently the issue of Chinese workers rights was taken up by media sources such as the aforementioned New York Times, and the activist petition platforms change.org and sumofus.org. They were campaigning to stop ill treatment of workers working on Apple products, in large part due to the release of theatrical actor Mike Daisey’s play ‘Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory’, which was aired on 06/01/2012 on the American radio show This American Life, and which raised issues about Foxconn workers working on Apple products and the shocking conditions in which they worked. As of today (22/03/12), the change.org petition has 254, 129 names on it, and the sumofus.org petition has 45, 699. But along came a problem a lot like Kony; not so long ago This American Life has had to retract their story after learning that much of what Mike Daisey claimed to have happened on a trip to China, and within the Apple manufacturing factory, was in reality fabricated. Not only has this become a problem for the radio show, but it now casts a pretty shady light on the New York Times, the petitions websites, newspaper articles, online articles; just about anything that has taken its inspiration from Daisey. Here is an article on The Next Web explaining what was fabricated.
If we can’t get Westerners views right in the media, how can we find out what’s really going on in China? Well there’s no doubt that there have been some horrific incidents at the Foxconn factories, and that when it comes to working conditions, the workers are pushed to their full capability. Here’s a look at life inside the factory:
The fact is though, despite the fact that Chinese industry is clearly abusing our understanding of human rights, we have to take a step back and put this all into perspective. It’s all very well for us to get outraged about this because of the Apple scandal, but literally almost all our modern technology is produced in China, and as Jason Perlow at ZDNet insists, if we’re going to get upset about workers rights in these factories, we’ll have to get much more outraged; Foxconn alone makes products for Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Acer, Intel, Sharp, Sony and Motorola, to name a few.
Let’s take one step past our Westerner techno-activism and have a look at what’s really going on.