Good day, Lusi-sprites.
As some of you are likely aware, the Foxconn Technology Group has been in the news again this past week after the death of one of their employees after a 36-hour shift. Foxconn, for those who may not know, is the reason behind the “made in China” label on many of the products that we as gamers love and rely upon. The company assembles the iPhone OS products, the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. They are also responsible for many of the motherboards used by Dell and HP. The company has other contracts, too, but they are less relevant to this discussion.
Foxconn has had a negative reputation and poor public image for several years now, with allegations of employee abuse first surfacing in 2006. Employees were found to routinely work hours that far exceeded the guidelines of the Chinese government and Foxconn’s business partners. Employees also indicated to visiting journalists that they are not permitted to speak on the production floor, and are punished by being made to stand at attention for extended periods of time. The general public remained mostly oblivious to the situation at the company, until a rash of suicides among workers earlier this year brought the company and its shaky history of employee treatment to the foreground. All of this, again, has been compounded by the accidental death of an employee due to exhaustion a few days ago.
Although the facilities at Foxconn are certainly brighter, cleaner and more comfortable than the stereotypical images we conjure up when thinking about sweatshops, there are marked and important similarities. This has all caused me to wonder how the gaming community feels, now that we have been forcefully reminded about how some of our favourite products are created, and under what conditions. Will we feel the same anger and contempt that many people felt for the likes of Nike and Wal-Mart in the 1990s, when their sweatshop scandals broke? I seem to recall some vehement media campaigns and public boycotts. Will we spam Nintendo, Apple, Sony and Microsoft with letters and emails, asking them to contract the production of their goods to other, more humane factories? Will we gather at big, noisy media-attention-grabbing rallies to burn our consoles and cell phones? Or, will we shrug, remind each other that these employees chose this life and often complain that there is not enough overtime available at times?
Personally, I really do not know what, if anything, I intend to do. It is not like I can buy a more human rights-friendly Playstation. I also do not know if complaining to the corporations will help. Apple and Sony in particular have taken a great deal of heat over the years, much of it greatly unfounded, written by well-meaning consumers who were ill-educated in how much control the companies actually have over Foxconn. I have read so many nasty comments over the past few days, lambasting Apple for running a sweatshop, calling Sony out for supporting labor law violations, etc. The pleas of informed consumers imploring these mega-corporations to re-evaluate their partnerships and contracts can become lost amid the cesspool of ignorant bleating from the masses who cannot see past headlines like “Employee Dies at Apple Factory”.
All I really know is that I feel rather guilty having fun with my toys, knowing that someone worked insane hours in a lousy environment to put it together for me.