Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

This article, IMHO, is written by someone who has no idea how things work just about anywhere that's not the industrialized West, and is shocked and appalled that things aren't as awesome as they are in the US of A.

It's a also a reminder for those of us who live in such ridiculous comfort and freedom that it can get much, much worse.

That being said, I think this article is sensationalist tripe:

> "The idea that ‘without sweatshops workers would starve to death' is a lie that corporate bosses use to cover their guilt."

Okay, my mother worked as a child sweatshop laborer in Taiwan in the 60s, before the country bootstrapped itself out of abject, agrarian poverty, and I take issue with this. It's a straw man; her family was extremely poor, but not in danger of starvation. Without sweatshop labor she wouldn't have starved to death, but she also wouldn't have been able to go to school, get educated, get employed in a white collar job, and eventually move abroad.

Anecdotes do not data make, but knee-jerk emotional reactions and weasel words don't help anyone.

> "To "shower," workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath."

I hope the author realizes this is common in Asia. Hell, that's how I grew up - showers were somewhat foreign and scary when I first encountered them. Surely there are more convincing indictments about the evils of this workplace.

> "We (who?) would respect us? We are ordered around and told what to do and what not to do. No one in management has ever asked us about anything. There is no discussion. You feel no respect."

This is why I can't take this article seriously - this is also how factories work in the West, where labor laws are followed and abuses minimal. Do we seriously expect factories to be a creative, communal endeavor where management talks everything over with line workers? This isn't office work.

Privileged white collars shocked and dismayed that blue collar work can really, really suck. News at 11.

Looking at the pictures in the article, this place looks no different than a million other factories in any other developing country. In fact, the conditions look downright sanitary, which isn't always the case. To me this isn't much more than another comfortable Westerner shocked and appalled that conditions are so much worse everywhere else in the world. Hi, welcome to reality.

> "While working, the young people cannot talk, use their cell phones or listen to music."

... and this is different than other factories how? Even in the West this is basically the case. What, do you think a production line is happy happy fun times where workers chat on a bluetooth headset with their friends while assembling electronics?

> "Workers need permission to use the bathroom or drink water."

It's an assembly line! How privileged do you have to be to consider walking away to the bathroom randomly at work to be anything but a luxury? Hell, it's a luxury that even in this country many people do not have.

> "Security guards search workers' bags and pockets as they leave the factory."

Same in the USA, especially in warehousing/supply chain jobs.

The only thing really convincingly bad about this particular workplace that the author has exposed are the long hours, but this is also typical of the country it operates in. Workers are paid for their overtime, and many in fact prefer it - many are doing this only as a means to something else - education, rescuing family from poverty, etc, and overtime means they get there more quickly. I really don't see anything egregiously or especially bad this place compared to any other factory one might come across - and it reads like a hit piece against Microsoft.




My mother-in-law worked in a factory in Taiwan in the 1960s. They didn't believe in providing ear protection to their workers and the loud machinery caused her permanent hearing loss in both ears that she still suffers from to this day. She can only hear out of one ear with a hearing aid, and her family has to shout at her just to barely communicate.

Apparently you have no idea how bad it really is there. Here in the US we went through the industrial revolution in the 1800s, when they used to have child labor in factories, letting thousands of children get harmed or injured by unsafe machinery, sending children on suicide missions into mine shafts, chimneys, etc.

We learned over a hundred years ago that those labor practices are barbaric and unnecessary to provide a healthy economic condition for our country.

Why shouldn't we expect the countries we purchase products from to treat their workers with a modicum of respect and humanity?


> " They didn't believe in providing ear protection to their workers and the loud machinery caused her permanent hearing loss in both ears that she still suffers from to this day."

My mother lost a segment of her right middle finger, and my grandfather eventually died of hazardous substances breathed in during his work. My father survived a chlorine tank breach by a hair - a low wall was the only thing between him and certain death.

None have regretted working there despite this. This isn't an argument against workplace safety - this is an argument against enforcing non-safety-related labor policies in developing countries where that is their chief advantage, and removal of it will harm economic development. Industrial jobs, shitty and brutal as they may be by our living and working standards, is a crucial part of the economic development of these countries.

Note that the author of the article's chief points are all based on how "bad" life is for these workers, and only one point is even remotely related to safety hazards in the workplace. His complaints range for anything from not being allowed cell phones in the factory to terrible food to hot-bunking in the employee dormitories. These are not at all safety issues, and thus IMHO something we must allow economic development and time to fix.

If the author has some real meat about flagrant safety violations in a factory, I would like to hear it, otherwise I stand by my assessment that this is nothing more than sensationalist reporting.


This sounds like the old "walking uphill bothways" tripe to me:

My father/mother/uncle lost a limb/eyeball/lung and were happy about it too, so they shouldn't even complain.

Sweatshop trinkets are not a requirement for industrialization or lucrative economies.


"My father/mother/uncle lost a limb/eyeball/lung and were happy about it too, so they shouldn't even complain."

That's not what I said, please to be not putting words in my mouth? kthx.

"Sweatshop trinkets are not a requirement for industrialization or lucrative economies."

Straw man - "sweatshop" labor produces a whole lot more than mere trinkets and souvenirs - they are, in this case, producing valuable electronics in great demand elsewhere.

Like I said in my previous post - safety should be utmost, even in developing countries, but what this article brought up is not safety, it's quality of life standards.

You can work people like dogs, make them hot-bunk, and serve them watery gruel, and maintain effective safety measures at the same time. This isn't to say that you should, but rather that we are talking about two distinct and separate issues. This article pecks halfheartedly at one, but fails to address the other (IMHO more important) one.


That's not what I said, please to be not putting words in my mouth? kthx.

You are trying to one-up illumin8 to support your argument that sweatshop labor was good. This is the gist of your argument: Your parents suffered even more and said it was great, so illumin8's argument is invalid.

Straw man - "sweatshop" labor produces a whole lot more than mere trinkets and souvenirs - they are, in this case, producing valuable electronics in great demand elsewhere.

I think we can live without the 4th or 5th shoddily crafted electronic mouse or hand-held gaming device so someone can profit by a couple of cents.


We can live without many things, but that's irrelevant if we still choose to consume them. Perhaps ethically they have no value but they sure have financial value, that's why they're being produced and sold, then bought by us. We give them their income.


I don't choose to consume them.

Many people choose to consume them because they are manipulated by advertisement and unreasonable societal norms. If the wage of these workers were doubled, no one in the US would notice. Do you really scrutinize $0.20 on a $30.00 mouse?


And if you double everyone's wages, that will result in inflation which isn't going to seriously help their purchasing power.


My mother lost a segment of her right middle finger

So she couldn't even properly flip-off her manager when she quit? That sucks.


> We learned over a hundred years ago that those labor practices are barbaric and unnecessary to provide a healthy economic condition for our country.

I really don't think that's the way it worked. I think that a sufficient amount of hard work and suffering in unendurably harsh conditions built up productive capital much faster than humane treatment and safe working conditions could have. Then, this massive advantage we'd built allowed us to expend more resources making work more tolerable, and export the less pleasant parts of building modern civilization abroad.


  >> "Security guards search workers' bags and pockets
  >> as they leave the factory."
  >
  > Same in the USA, especially in warehousing/supply
  > chain jobs.
You're also forgetting casino workers. The people in casinos that handle money are all required for to have whatever purses/bags they bring to work be transparent (usually plastic). I've seen the same thing for workers at airports too. [ I was sitting at Newark in the middle of the night once and a ton of workers came into the terminal from an employees-only door and all of them had clear plastic purses and backpacks. ]

{edit} I was sitting at the airport waiting to talk to an airline rep about getting on the next plane out. I was caught up in this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/6... and missed my connecting flight (since it was cancelled due to the terminal being locked down).


Gamestop stores have a policy of making their employees turn out their pockets and show their socks to a supervisor every time they leave the store.

What shocked me more about this was the worker who was fined for losing his finger.


I used to work at an amusement park that did that as well.


Nice comment.

I also started reading this, expecting something Upton Sinclairesque, until I read

While working, the young people cannot talk, use their cell phones or listen to music.

Duh. I know quite a few places here in the U.S. that would double their output with a rule like that.


I hear you on the cell phones and even talking part.

But music, man... nothing makes it easier to slog through repetitive tasks like being able to toss on the headphones and block out everything outside my little bubble.

Luckily my work life has progressed past that stage, but in crappy college jobs, yeah...


not being allowed your own little bubble is potentially a safety issue in factories. your fellows on the line need to be able to shout warnings like "hey, don't dance into that machine press!"


"Privileged white collars shocked and dismayed that blue collar work can really, really suck. News at 11."

Your comment made me think: Privileged white collar shows complete disregard for those that have it worse. News at 11.


Despite what you might think, I'm no Ayn Rand-quoting objectivist ;)

What I do think is that this article makes much ado about nothing - sweatshop labor permitted my parents' generation to pull themselves out of poverty, get educated, and get white collar jobs - in fact my mother and all of her siblings eventually all got white collar, comfortable desk jobs.

What we're looking at is a country in a natural evolutionary state towards wealth - much like the US's tendency to impose democracy on nations with no foundation necessary for its success, it would IMHO be disastrous to attempt to enforce Western standards of work (or hell, enforcing white collar definitions of what is reasonable and fair).

Taiwan has evolved from a cheap-labor, sweatshop labor model to an educated, R&D-centric model. The island has gone from an agrarian backwater to one of the urban jewels of the Pacific. I am glad that this has happened - and yet I'm not convinced it would have gone down that well if well-meaning Western labor activists had their way.

I do think that fundamental worker safety must be ensured - companies certainly have proven that they can't be trusted to do that on their own, but enforcing someone's "right" to use a cell phone while working? Really?


Taiwan is not the counterexample to this article to prove that China needs the sweatshops and they are excusable because the ends justify the means.

First you overestimating the extent to which the sweatshops in Taiwan are the cause of its progress and ignoring what other factors were involved. There are plenty of countries in the world teaming with sweatshops, few are growing into Taiwan 2.0

What are those other factors?

1) It is a smaller country.

2) Taiwan's opposition to China was/is very valuable to and respected by western nations. Is it a coincidence that the country that most antagonizes China is supported by the US and gets a lot of business/help from the US? I know companies that refuse to outsource to China but will to Taiwan in a heartbeat.

3) etc

Second, it doesn't _have to be this way_. There are manufacturers in China in less competitive industries that follow more western practices. The really competitive industries have these sorts of problems (and yes, slave wages and total control of a workers life are problems even if they aren't living in a toxic waste dump). The only way to solve that problem is systematic change because fixing any single factory just puts it out of business. Since systematic change from within China the way it happened in Western countries is not happening due to the lack of free speech and political forces, activists put pressure on western companies to stop outsourcing to these places.

And where would they go instead? Probably Taiwan.


> 1) It is a smaller country.

So if you carved up China into smaller countries, that might help?


It probably would, decentralizing control and allowing competitive economic regimes to emerge, rather than the counterproductive nepotism rampant there now.


That might be true. As long as they can preserve a free trade area / customs union, pushing authority down to the lowest level possible is probably a good idea.


I think the big question is if sweatshop labour still does do this.

AFAIK most of this work is now done via sub-sub-subcontractors and goes on in special economic zones. Workers are usually employed for the short term and the work may randomly migrate to a SEZ in a different country to take advantage of "tax holidays", periods of no tax for when a company first sets up in a SEZ. There are no permanent factories or permanent jobs. Wages don't rise because it's easy to just go to some other place where people are desperate for work, literally shipping the workshop to the new location.

So what ends up happening is that the workers never work at the same thing for long enough to acquire skills or wage rises and that they don't make enough money for a proper education. And the assembly lines are so ephemeral and set apart from normal society that no infrastructure or know-how ever accumulates in the country.

So this ain't your parents' kind of sweatshop. Literally.

(Note that I'm talking about the kind of sweatshops that assemble consumer goods in general here, not specifically the one in the article. I have no specific insight about that one, but this is the general trend - this is where the west gets its clothes and gadgets from.)


At a certain point the host country has to start taking responsibility for whoring its people out. You can be disgruntled with Apple because Chinese workers got hurt making ipods, but the honest truth is that as long as there are people selling cheap labor there will be people buying.


> At a certain point the host country has to start taking responsibility for whoring its people out.

Yes, but this in no way absolves us. You don't have to buy just because someone's offering.

> Apple should under no circumstances be held accountable for China's inability (or unwillingness) to regulate its economy.

In your example, Apple should absolutely be held accountable. If I buy goods I know are stolen, I'm committing a crime. So why shouldn't a company be accountable for buying goods that it knows were made through exploitation?


You don't have to buy, but if you want what they are freely offering quite frankly I don't see where Apple (I'm using Apple as example, I mean Apple et al) is wrong.

Apple should under no circumstances be held accountable for China's inability (or unwillingness) to regulate its economy.

And yes, you absolutely have to regulate both the supply and the demand, it's just WHO has to be doing the regulating. China is no fool: if they regulated their GDP would plummet and their ridiculous 9% year on year growth would finally stop.


So,for example, if a family need money and they sell their young little girl as a prostitute, just to make money, you know, but in a country where the State is not so hard in fighting that behavior, the "buyer" should under no circumstances be held accountable for that Country's inability (or unwillingness) to regulate its economy?

I think your point of view it's too simplistic and auto-absolving.


I think you are missing entirely the value of a cultural and societal system. The alternative to what is currently going on in China isn't a workers' paradise where everyone is happy with a middle class, 40 hour a week job. The alternative is a nation starving (Mao?). I think your view discounts the rubble that China has come out of and the place it is today entirely. I doubt many Chinese feel their parents were better of than they are.

As for prostitution, if the family doesn't need the money to eat and survive that is one thing, and actually based on the economic specifics going on there I don't actually think it's relevant. If they are selling their daughter for hunger/survival, well it really sucks but we with cushy lives forget that survival is actually the most important thing. In that case, sadly, the buyer is supporting the local economy. (hello downvotes...)


No, the alternative is that we stop making excuses for what we're doing and demand that the people who make our junk are paid a living wage. Yes, really.


Talk about too simplistic.


Apple is one of the ones that takes that accountability seriously, monitors and requires compliance from its vendors:

http://www.chinacsr.com/en/2009/07/17/5713-apple-admits-its-...

Year after year stories like this appear, headlined, "OMG, Apple's bad labor practices", ignoring that unlike Martha Stewart et al., this labor news comes from Apple's own audits and public reports.


It goes both ways, you have to regulate the supply and the demand, ignore either and nothing changes.


Just like money flows to the least taxed location, labor flows to the least regulated one.


"sweatshop labor permitted my parents' generation to pull themselves out of poverty, get educated, and get white collar jobs "

That may have been possible in the 1960s, but it's certainly not going to happen for 99% of these workers now. There is way more menial, blue-collar labour to be done than white-collar work, and there are less jobs than there are people already.


Anything to support your argument?


sweatshop labor permitted my parents' generation to pull themselves out of poverty, get educated, and get white collar jobs

I think what irritates people is that you say this as though non-sweatshop labor cannot offer this sort of improvement. Lots of countries have the possibility for upward mobility without sweatshop labor.


That is a complete false choice. People work in sweatshops (or any crappy job) because better jobs aren't available.

The relevant question is: 'Will removing the sweatshop be better for the employee?' If you can say why removing the sweatshop will cause a better place of work to appear in it's stead, go ahead.


The relevant question is: 'Will removing the sweatshop be better for the employee?'

Yes, this is the question we are losing track of.


Hear hear


When I was studying for my first degree (in mechanical engineering) I had to do a one month long internship as a factory worker after my first year (in an EU country). It was truly an eye opener experience, both in terms of understanding how industrial production looks like from below, experiencing the life of a blue collar worker and as a motivation to take my studies seriously (to avoid having to have a job like that) as well.

I think short "slave work" internships for first year students should be more common.


Exactly, but more like News at never. Our ratings votes dictate we rarely see a piece on slave labour and sweatshops.

I did find the article pretty sensationalist. The sexual harassment issues are believable though and weren't picked up on in these comments.


Did you even read his entire comment?


Yes. Some other parts did not give this impression, that's true, but the flippant, sarcastic expression that I quoted didn't help him appear "fair and balanced" in the same sense that someone saying "people get murdered all the time, what's the big deal" wouldn't.


God it seems like all we do is debate analogies on HN, but hey I'll bite!

Actually, his comment is more analogous to "people get killed in war all the time, what's the big deal."


Yes. The article was full of this.

> All workers must trim their fingernails so as not to impede production.

> Workers are strictly prohibited from entering any work area other than their own.

> Workers describe factory food as awful.

Teenagers complaining about cafeteria food? Really? I'm sure conditions are bad, but the article is trying too hard.

As bad as things are, the boy interviewed comes back each night for four hours of voluntary overtime.


According to the rules:

> When the manager arranges overtime, employees are not allowed secretly or openly to avoid overtime if they do not have permission.

Not exactly "voluntary" overtime.


> I know that I can choose not to work overtime, but if I don't work overtime, then I am stuck with only 770 RMB [$112.67 per month] in base wages.

I'm not sure which to believe.


Perhaps the parent quote refers to people not being allowed to shirk overtime which they have already agreed to be there for. In other words, signing up to work four hours overtime, leaving after two and getting your friend to clock you out two hours later.


> Privileged white collars shocked and dismayed that blue collar work can really, really suck. News at 11.

I know you have the entire article in mind when you say this, but your associated excerpt is a direct quotation from one of the factory workers.

> "We (who?) would respect us? We are ordered around and told what to do and what not to do. No one in management has ever asked us about anything. There is no discussion. You feel no respect."

So unless you question the authenticity of that quotation, i think you're being extremely dismissivie of not just the white-collar western observers who wrote and read this article.

Factory work may have given you a life beyond poverty. It may even have worked out for your mother, in the end. That says nothing of how much she suffered while working in those conditions.


> "So unless you question the authenticity of that quotation"

I do not, and I sympathize with the frustration. That being said, this article is alleging some kind of gross, inhuman, deplorable condition in the plant, and attempting to pin this on Microsoft in the process. This quote does nothing to justify this conclusion, and the fact that someone can perceive this kind of dissatisfaction as some sort of harsh indictment on the working conditions shows a complete disconnect between them and the realities of production line work.

Note that I mentioned that blue collar industries in our country are the same - if the author himself had any notion of how factory work goes, he would know that his quote from a frustrated Chinese factory worker proves exactly nothing. If he wants to allege unacceptable conditions by virtue of the fact that managements acts without consultation with line workers, he should rightly level this claim at just about every factory in existence, everywhere.


I have relatives in Taiwan and you are grossly exaggerating the situation to support your argument.

> Okay, my mother worked as a child sweatshop laborer in Taiwan in the 60s, before the country bootstrapped itself out of abject, agrarian poverty, and I take issue with this.

Much of Taiwan was poor because of Japanese occupation. Some were rich because of it. That divide is the sole reason Taiwan seemed poor to you.

My relatives prior to that, had enough land to farm and have a comfortable living. They were able to hire people to help. And from what I heard, that was the middle-class at the time. It is annoying that people look at the poorest farmers who probably had barely-arable land and tilled by hand as proof that all farmers are better off being in a sweat-shop.

When WWII came around, the Japanese began to militarize. They seized some of the best land, and they demanded ALL the rice and other staple crops from every farmer. One of my relatives hid some rice to eat, and was beaten to death when the Japanese found out.

Meanwhile, the Japanese were trying to assimilate Taiwan quickly, so they artificially consolidated economic power into the Taiwanese who hated China: the rich and nobles who fled from the Communist uprising. This redistribution of wealth impacted my relatives for generations, even today.

The outcome? The new upper-class were able to own the natural resources, the capital, and the businesses, while my relatives and many others were left with less land and a decade of lost wealth. Those people lived the life of luxury throughout the 1960's. Tales rebounded of bosses that sat around playing mahjong, harassing female workers, or flying all over the world, while exploited workers worked for their enrichment from 6AM-10PM. However, even this did not last very long.

Many companies already started to relocate their sweatshops to China by the late 60's.

Taiwan did not need sweatshop labor to pull itself out of poverty. That is highly insulting. It was not because of laziness or stupidity that much of Taiwan was so poor. Like you, my parents' brothers and sisters all graduated from college with graduate degrees. They were forced to to waste 4+ years of their life and money, just so they could be of service to the ruling-class.

Meanwhile even today, my college graduated uncle with 15 years of experience is being outranked at a bank by one of the privileged who is fresh from high school. Because businesses pay out workers far less the owners, the gap created by Japan will never be closed.

This is why I am not a gung-ho free-capitalist, but I realize that if I were in their shoes, I would definitely be one.


> "Tales rebounded of bosses that sat around playing mahjong, harassing female workers, or flying all over the world, while exploited workers worked for their enrichment from 6AM-10PM."

It sounds like your beef is with the KMT, not the Japanese - it is true that the Japanese occupation enriched (justly or otherwise) a lot of Taiwanese families, but the ones doing the "sitting around" after the occupation ended were primarily KMT bureaucrats.

As a matter of fact, this is something the older generation complains about endlessly. Despite being second-class citizens under Japanese rule, the government ran like clockwork; contrast with post-KMT-takeover Taiwan where the government became unfathomably inept and corrupt. This trend did not even begin to reverse itself until legitimate, sizable political opposition began to form against the KMT.

Side note: Said opposition (the DPP) turned out to be just as corrupt, if not moreso, than the ones they formed to replace. Thankfully years of pressure from a significant opposition party, and several more of even-more-inept DPP rule has created some saner political choices in Taiwan.

> "Taiwan did not need sweatshop labor to pull itself out of poverty."

Then what did it need? Imaginary capital investments in our many fine local delicacies? Become a tourism-driven banana republic? Grow fruit for American mega-conglomerate fruit companies? The industrialization of Taiwan generated the necessary economic lift that, to be fair to the KMT, under sound governmental oversight, resulted in the country we see today.

I think it's incredibly disingenuous to pin the blame for everything on the Japanese - the KMT fucked up just as much as they got right. If you want to talk about government corruption, nepotism, and downright incompetence, the KMT is a far better example than the Japanese.

> "That is highly insulting. It was not because of laziness or stupidity that much of Taiwan was so poor."

I'm not sure what I've said that insinuates this... but that's certainly not what I meant. I'm also not sure how this point relates at all to the necessity of industrial economies for developing nations.


> It sounds like your beef is with the KMT, not the Japanese

The Japanese were the ones who empowered the KMT, and they were the ones who took away the crops. They were so empowered by the Japanese, it took several decades before political opposition could be built against them.

> Then what did it need? Imaginary capital investments in our many fine local delicacies?

It didn't need sweatshops. Taiwan would have recovered by itself with the millions in US aid. Taiwan already had a deluge of capital that was being concentrated and wasted by the Japanese entrenched upper-class.

Sweatshop work was the short term solution for a long term problem. Like I mentioned before, sweatshops quickly disappeared to China as early as the 1960's. How many man-years do you think were wasted in low value trinkets instead of going straight through education and more lucrative industries?

> I'm not sure what I've said that insinuates this.

Most of what you said insinuates this. You claim that sweatshops were necessary to bootstrap Taiwan out of abject agrarian poverty and that all people who were farmers were better off as sweatshop workers.


How did the Japanese empower the KMT? When the Japanese left Taiwan after WW2 the incumbent Chinese government (KMT) took over. How did they actively help the KMT in any way?

> "that was being concentrated and wasted by the Japanese entrenched upper-class."

You mean KMT-entrenched upper-class... I'm still not sure what socioeconomic imbalances in post-war Taiwan have much at all to do with the Japanese. A large portion of the extremely-wealthy Taiwanese are "mainlanders" - people who retreated to the island with the KMT during the final days of the Civil War.

"How many man-years do you think were wasted in low value trinkets instead of going straight through education and more lucrative industries?"

Um, in my parents' case, without sweatshop industries they would never have gone to school. Keep in mind also, we did invest in extremely lucrative industries, including the at-the-time burgeoning electronics manufacturing industry. The expertise in semiconductors developed via production industries helped drive a large portion of the semiconductor explosion later, and was instrumental in transforming Taiwan from a industrial to a knowledge economy. I disagree fundamentally with the claim that mere millions in US aid would have given us a self-sufficient knowledge economy, without any industrial development.

No offense, but I think you've really got a hate-on for the Japanese, because a huge portion of what you seem to have against the Japanese make much more sense when pinned (IMHO rightly) against the KMT. Government corruption and nepotism was limited during Japanese rule, but reached a fever pitch once the KMT arrived on the island in force. The minted upper classes are mostly old-guard KMT families and politically affiliated as such. It seems like you're taking a large portion of Taiwan's socioeconomic ills, rewinding the clock, and trying to insist that the KMT's gross mismanagement thereof is but a symptom of Japanese evil.


How did the Japanese empower the KMT? When the Japanese left Taiwan after WW2 the incumbent Chinese government (KMT) took over. How did they actively help the KMT in any way?

I already explained this. They appropriated land, crops, and positions of power from people like my relatives. When the bulk of the KMT took over shortly after Japan left, they didn't return the land to previous owners. The wealth was never redistributed back.

When you have $1, it is much easier to be taken advantage of than when you have $1000.

Keep in mind also, we did invest in extremely lucrative industries, including the at-the-time burgeoning electronics manufacturing industry. The expertise in semiconductors developed via production industries

Many of those industries were "bootstrapped" by families who had money and never worked in a sweatshop.

No offense, but I think you've really got a hate-on for the Japanese, because a huge portion of what you seem to have against the Japanese make much more sense when pinned (IMHO rightly) against the KMT.

How you manage to completely overlook the Japanese role in this is completely baffling. I give up trying to explain to you the connection which really isn't very difficult to understand.


I recall reading one Brit's assessment of a Nike "sweatshop" in Vietnam. One of the main concerns of the employees was that overtime opportunities be provided.

I'm now considering an out-of-town consulting engagement, and I'd much prefer to work 10+ hours four days a week and have a long weekend with my family. Perhaps these workers are taking this to the extreme -- six months on and six months off?


These workers are taking it to the extreme: 12 months on, their kids have a shot at going to college rather than working in a factory.


Doesn't the article state that many workers are quite young? Perhaps younger siblings will receive schooling using some of their earnings?


Or the other extreme - 65 years on, infinite sleep off.


Your comments are pretty fair and your feelings on what your family went through in '60s Taiwan I take as genuine.

However, it was not only hard work that bootstrapped Taiwan out of poverty. Some part of Taiwan's current comfort is due to moving its most extreme labor and environmental problems to other Asian countries, namely China. So now China and a few others are at the bottom of the supply chain...who do they pass the buck to to lift themselves out of these conditions?


who do they pass the buck to to lift themselves out of these conditions?

To whoever has the best comparative advantage, as economics has always worked.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage


So, pardon me, what you're saying is that someone's got to be exploited in the end for the system to work? Don't sign me up.


No, I am not saying that. That was an assumption built into the question to which I was replying. Economic growth results in everyone being less exploited over time, and free trade results in people making the trade-offs to gain utility most meaningful in their own local circumstances.


I'm not picking on Taiwan when I say that some aspects of their fortunes are based on passing the buck to the next developing nation. As you point out, this is the well worn path of economic development. I don't ascribe moral value to this or any economic model. This path assumes an inexhaustible supply of developing nations. In the economic models you refer, which nation(s) absorb China's workload? If there is no society left to offload to, the demand side must be reconciled (this now includes China domestic consumption). I don't see the U.S. or China taking this reconciliation well.


Actually, no, that's not how economics has always worked. Mercantilism was very popular before free market capitalism came along.


Mercantilism was popular as a normative system. But that doesn't make it a good description.


Wikipedia is a fine source of information. I don't set my moral compass to it.


What is your source of moral advice for China?


"So now China and a few others are at the bottom of the supply chain...who do they pass the buck to to lift themselves out of these conditions?"

Probably Vietnam, and then robots.


Industrial robots are extensively used in the Western world in industrial production. However they are rather expensive and are only worth installing for tasks that don't require any human brain activity, can be done 24/7 (as robots don't require sleep it's more economical to run them 24/7) and not change too often so regular reprogramming is not required.

Also, they're not exactly popular amongst manual labourers as a robot takes away the job of at least 2-3 people and never goes on strike.


1) "they are rather expensive" - They are getting cheaper 2) "for tasks that don't require any human brain activity" - Does taking a rubber gel cap from one place and sticking into the bottom of a mouse assembly really require brain activity? That is what the star factory worker in this article was doing. 3) "they're not exactly popular amongst manual labourers" - If the point of robots is to get rid of manual laborers, then does it really matter when they are upset? Also, remember, there are no unions in China (so this article claims), so the likelihood of a strike is very minor.


>Does taking a rubber gel cap from one place and sticking into the bottom of a mouse assembly really require brain activity?

Yes, a ton. Picking something up and putting it in the right location is actually a pretty tough AI problem, in the more difficult cases.


you guys are thinking of multi-jointed arms. Simplify! Just make it so that all the things line up within some tolerance as they roll down the line and you're golden.

Also, removing manual labor jobs means that there is an available labor pool for something more productive that the robots CAN'T do. Broken glass fallacy anyone?


They are getting cheaper relative to American workers, not 3rd world workers. I did an automation project last fall, the reason was the risk of the current workers sueing over carpal tunnel syndrome. That was more of a driving factor than the cost of salaries (the robot will be paid off in about 5 years, but still, defending 1 suit is more expensive than a robot). The workers in the US cost about 40k, the workers in the article cost 1.5k. The workers in the article have no hope to sue for anything related to repetitive strain injuries. I doubt robots will be taking over chinese factories for a LONG time except where precision beyond human skill is required.


Does taking a rubber gel cap from one place and sticking into the bottom of a mouse assembly really require brain activity?

No it's more like things such as disassembling a batch of defective hairdriers, typically low volume things.


Right - the point being that in the West (and even more so, Japan), eventually the population gets rich enough that it's cheaper to run robots than to just hire bottom-level wage earners.


I include Vietnam in the current status of China. Robots would be cool. Although I have a high degree of respect for people that can make things in factories...it would be a shame to lose this skill set to robots.

Keep in mind that China is already in competition with places like Vietnam. China puts its own provinces in competition with each other in much the same way that states and municipalities in the U.S. compete for a new car factory, data, or distribution center. If China seriously ratchets up its labor protections, buyers will move elsewhere...to an extent...China still outguns everyone on population.


"Although I have a high degree of respect for people that can make things in factories...it would be a shame to lose this skill set to robots."

Broadly speaking, "making things in factories" is not a skill. "Being able to set up efficient factory lines" is, but having robots instead of humans is just another variable in a long list of variables.

I say "broadly speaking" because I'm sure there are exceptions, but I am also sure they are exceptions.


Broadly speaking, your probably correct. I was referring to the ingenuity and skills that seem to come from much practice of using your hands.


Recently, I read an article about how soccer balls, most of which are made in a certain town in Pakistan, were no longer sewn by children, thanks to pressure from Adidas and other international firms. The children now work making bricks. There was a quote in the article from a local decrying this as a mistake, saying that the children were learning a trade to support them for life, by making soccer balls.

But, last I checked, China, Pakistan, et. al. have a massive unemployment problem. Now, there's two ways to solve this -- the first is to make more jobs, the approach we see here. The other would be to reduce the size of the labor pool through enforcement of child labor laws, limitations on number of hours worked per week, mandatory and free schooling through age 18, social security programs to encourage the elderly to retire, etc.

These reforms happened in the US and Europe a century ago, when most people were objectively poorer than the people in these articles -- no television, electricity, cell phones, etc. Depressingly, I have to speculate that there is a fundamental break in expectations in the national zeitgeist of these countries that allows things to get this bad.


> The other would be to reduce the size of the labor pool through enforcement of child labor laws, limitations on number of hours worked per week, mandatory and free schooling through age 18, social security programs to encourage the elderly to retire, etc.

Lump of labour fallacy? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy)


>Okay, my mother worked as a child sweatshop laborer in Taiwan in the 60s, before the country bootstrapped itself out of abject, agrarian poverty, and I take issue with this. It's a straw man; her family was extremely poor, but not in danger of starvation. Without sweatshop labor she wouldn't have starved to death, but she also wouldn't have been able to go to school, get educated, get employed in a white collar job, and eventually move abroad. Anecdotes do not data make, but knee-jerk emotional reactions and weasel words don't help anyone.

Well thats leaps and bounds from what the article is portraying, in China university costs are around 15000 RMB / year minimum, a person working in such a factory would have to work for a whole year and save everything just to be able to afford one year in university. Furthermore, you would have to pass the national university entrance exam, which is very competitive. Finding jobs a white collar job as a university grad is now hard, as grads are a dime a dozen. And to go abroad you will have to be a top notch student, or have substantial capital - an even more preposterous proposition.


The point we keep coming back to is:

This sounds a lot like America: NYU is $40k w/o dorming + the cost of living in NYC. When you graduate you'll be lucky to make over $36k.


many are doing this only as a means to something else - education, rescuing family from poverty, etc

Well this is the crux right here, we can't put something like this is context without good data. Do these workers actually make a living wage? What is the cost of living in this part of the world, and most importantly, do any workers actually escape poverty over time? Things like these can be measured, and we should demand more from any news source.

I happen to disagree with your point of view, but it's meaningless if all we have is conjecture based on personal experience.

Edit: If your personal experience is actually from that level of poverty in that particular part of the world, then please, by all means, tell us what it's like.


     all we have is conjecture based on personal experience
I like it! Can I use it? I can refute anything with that. What a tremendously useful sentence.

"No baby, you can't know that this will hurt. All you have is conjecture based on personal experience. Now come over here."


Well we are talking about a pretty complex situation in another part of the world with different culture, government and social values. My point is equating it with the labor in the US(or other first world countries) isn't justified without proof, is that really too much to ask for?


Your analogy is incorrect. For every point of view there is a personal anecdote, and while personal anecdotes can be revealing, they hardly count as a substitute for rigorous data.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_by_example

A better analogy might be, "Baby, I know X told you this would hurt, but that's based on his subjective experience. Now come over here."

Personally, I think this sweatshop sounds pretty tame in comparison to others.


It's not that much different from many high schools it sounds. Or a minimum wager job. No talking, cellphones or listening to music while in class unless your on your break. Many schools confiscate cell phones on sight. Bag searches, body searches, locker searches, drug tests and metal detectors are typical in many schools. And you got to follow teachers orders or your marks (wages) are docked. They'll tolerate you being a bit of an ass if your productive though. Hell when I was a gas station attendant & hot dog cart worker working alone, I had to avoid washroom breaks altogether/as much as possible, and make them quick!

Also, you live in shared rooms / dorms at boarding schools too.


My mother (1941 born), went to work 15 years old to sustain her mother and two siblings. She worked 16 hour workdays, 10 hour factory job and the rest working on a farm for shelter and food. She worked hard up to her 60's, never complaining about anything being too hard. She raised three kids and still accomplished a lot.

Her generation had it even harder than these kids (many of their peers do!), while enduring hunger and scarcity.

Looking on today's spoiled western civilization - I really can't help but to feel that we have it too well. I mean - leisure really ain't something humanity has been built for.

I predict that this Chinese generation will, ultimately prove as more satisfied and fulfilled than the one in 50 years.


And 1941 was vastly removed from 1841. People were writing these EXACT same articles in western countries in the mid 19th century. Other people argued against them with exactly the same argument you just made, along with many others just like the ones in these threads. Nobody in countries that have long since passed this part of their history would say we would have been better off if not for those damn sweatshop busting muckrackers.


Ah, the requisite "noble savage"-style claim. Life is better when suffered through.


>I mean - leisure really ain't something humanity has been built for.

Actually, it's thought that pre-agricultural humans had quite a bit of leisure time. It was agriculture and civilization that forced people to work longer hours.


"This article, IMHO, is written by someone who has no idea how things work just about anywhere that's not the industrialized West"

Seems to have a pretty good idea how things work in a factory in China.


One factory in China. It's quite a difference. I bet the article would be a lot quieter if the author visited more factories there.


At the risk of sounding trite and sliding into philosophy, how many people have to do something unacceptable before it becomes acceptable?


I'm actually rather disconcerted by this comment. The arguments presented use relativistic reasoning to justify the conditions in factories in China, i.e., "regardless of the dehumanizing conditions in the factory now, ultimately we are redeeming the lives of these people who would otherwise be trapped in poverty-stricken lives as farmers."

This argument fails on a number of grounds, the least of which is that we may or may not be improving there lives by hiring them to work 85 hour work weeks factories that lack any air conditioning. Perhaps some of these people were starving as farmers, perhaps many of them weren't. Do you have sources that point to the extent of the improvement that factory life is bringing?

Furthermore, do you know that this really is the road to improvement for this generation? You talk as if these factories really are gifts from generous westerners, as if these companies should feel justified, if not proud, that they are transforming and saving the lives of these workers. I recently heard a podcast on Radio West titled, "The Cost of a Two Dollar T-shirt." In it, the author took a non-sensationalist approach that the t-shirt factories in Cambodia really were humane, they were even air conditioned. However, he mentioned that these people still lived in shanty towns and barely made enough money after 60 hours of week to afford food. He also mentioned that their 33 cents an hour wages were lagging behind inflation, and, in fact, these workers were becoming, relatively speaking, poorer and poorer as the years went on. So, no, I disagree with your claim that any factory job + time = helping raise another country out of poverty.

(Link to the podcast I mentioned: http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news.newsmain/article...

Also, link to the original article by the guest on the podcast: http://harpers.org/archive/2010/01/0082784)

Lastly, you provide no justification for why the conditions need to be so bad. You seem to be saying that, since these workers were previously living in worse conditions and since we're improving that life, it's justified to either treat them inhumanely or exploit them. Their lives have been improved ergo they either have no right to complain or we have no responsibility or motive to do any better. There is no high road in your argument, only defensive argumentation and justification of labor practices that are well below what they should humanly be.

In the article I linked above, the author mentioned that the labor costs of making a t-shirt for a major corporation (Gap, Nike, Walmart, etc.) only made up 4% of the total cost of the product. If that's the case or even close to the case with the Microsoft factory mentioned in the original article, then going even so far as doubling the worker's wages would have a minimal impact on the bottom line of the product. At the very least, fat could be trimmed from the other 96-ish% of the cost of making the product to make room to improve the factory conditions.

Not only could most corporations afford to improve the wages of these workers, but what is lost by improving the conditions? Wouldn't workers who are sweating for an entire 16 hour shift be happier and more productive if the management spent more money on air conditioning? Even if find proof that happier workers aren't always more productive and perhaps sweatshop conditions really induce more productivity, there needs to be a line, a line of basic worker's rights, that prevents the downward price pressures from a competitive market from creating deplorable working conditions for anyone.

Your arguments seem to suggest that everyone goes through these deplorable factory conditions before they move onto a better life. Not only do they not NEED to go through these conditions, as ultimately someone has the power to change and improve the conditions of the factory, but these workers are not necessarily guaranteed that life will improve afterwards. Perhaps these working conditions become de facto and the workers don't make enough money to earn an education or gain the economic mobility to choose better working conditions. The system could just as easily become entrenched, leaving a class of workers trapped in poor working conditions for generations.

At the base of your arguments, I think it's frightening to ever use relativistic arguments to justify inhumane treatment. Take slavery in early American history: "Well, slaves used to live in malaria-ridden Africa in mud dwellings, and now at least they get a stable source of food and, most of the time, a wood shelter over their head." Deplorable conditions always need to be addressed and justified in present and absolute terms. Inhumane treatment is inhumane treatment, and active steps should always be taken to improve such conditions. The improvements should not be left up to the "benevolent" forces of time or ignored because the conditions are a (slight) improvement over previous conditions. If you're going to offer a poor farmer a job, you don't have the right to offer him a job with any such conditions that you choose.

Sure, I'll grant you that the article was sensationalist (maybe the photographs were taken without needing to be "smuggled out", etc), and I don't think any cause can be constructively advanced when such arguments are used. However, the majority of your arguments are morally objectionable and logically unsound.


"Lastly, you provide no justification for why the conditions need to be so bad."

I suppose that is the interesting question. I don't have an answer, and I don't want to defend the bad conditions. Just some thoughts for the sake of discussion:

- Maybe if money was invested in better work conditions, other factories with worse work conditions would be cheaper and get all the business. If that is the case, it might actually work to go for "green labels" on clothes, so that only factories with good working conditions get business (not sure if such labels exist yet or how feasible they would be).

- Still I think it has to be considered why people still work in these bad conditions. I don't think it is simply lack of unions. I am not in a union, yet working conditions for software developers seem fair. I assume that is because software developers are still in high demand. If workers were rare, I don't think companies could get away with treating them badly (unless they could enslave them, which the state should prevent).


1) If the farmers were so happy and not starving, why did they CHOOSE to work in the factories?

2) As a nation, actually, I think the argument that everyone must go through those conditions is quite right. Children worked in sweatshops in downtown Manhattan < 100 years ago (actually still do if you look hard enough). I don't think he's justifying the conditions, I think he's simply saying "the trend is up not down," and that's really important.


How the fuck did this comment get 145 upvotes?




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: