Ghastly working conditions in a Chinese keyboard factory

The National Labor Council's investigation into the working conditions at the Meitai keyboard factory in Dongguan City is just ghastly, a stinging indictment of the South China economic miracle. The workers are underpaid, cheated out of their wages, forced into overtime, subjected to brainwashing, and subjected to unsafe working conditions and denied medical assistance when they're injured. Meitai makes keyboards for Lenovo, Microsoft, HP and others.

Big Brother Is Watching

“Employees should actively monitor each other.” (Meitai factory’s Factory Regulations and Discipline, Chapter VII)

* “Infractions” punished with the loss of over two hours’ wages (fine of 10 RMB--$1.44), including for–
--“Being 1 to 5 minutes late to start a shift…”
--“Not periodically trimming fingernails, which will affect product quality.”
--“Not lining up correctly while punching time cards or at the cafeteria.”
--“Wearing work shoes outside the work room after work.”
--“Putting hands in pant pockets while inside the factory or workroom.”

* “Infractions” punished with the loss of 4 ½ hours wages (20 RMB fine, $2.88)
--“…answering a personal telephone call in the workroom.”
--“Not diligently working or raising ones head to look around when guests or cadres come to visit.”
--“Putting personal objects on the work desk.”
--“…listening to the radio while on the job.”
--“Not parking bicycles according to company regulations; riding bicycles in and out of the company in a way not in accordance with company regulations.”
--“Returning to the dorm after regulated hours [curfew].”

* “Infractions” punished with the loss of nearly seven hours’ wages (30 RMB fine--$4.32)
--“Switching beds without authorization.” (Dorm beds are assigned by management.)

* “Infractions” punished with the loss of nearly 1 ½ days’ wages (50 RMB fine--$7.20)
--“Workers who arrive over one hour late…”
--“Riding the elevator without permission.”
--“Plugging in electronics [using electricity] in the dorm room for personal use.”
--“Using the company phone to make personal calls.”
--“Producing products of low quality…”
--“Workers who…go to visit other workers during working hours.”
--“Chatting at the workstation during work hours…”
--“Entering or leaving the factory area without allowing door personnel [security guards] to inspect [search workers].”
--“Treating supervisors with an arrogant attitude…”

* “Infractions” punished with the loss of nearly three days’ wages (100 RMB fine--$14.40):
--“Leaving one’s workstation without permission…”
--“Putting up personal notices…or handing out flyers.”
--“Revealing confidential company or production-related information.”

* “Infractions” punished with firing:
--“Violating labor discipline…and not obeying the company’s work arrangements.”
--“…Taking part in illegal organizations.” [In China, this means independent unions; human, women’s and children’s rights organizations and non-state-sanctioned religious organizations.]
--“Not following the procedures spelled out by government regulations on stopping work, slowing work down, encouraging others to stop or slow down work.”
--“Missing three days of work.”
--“Disobeying China’s one-child policy.”
--“Not obeying company arrangements or directions or…collectively causing trouble as a group…”
--“Any behavior similar to that listed above or helping or colluding in such behavior.”

The Dehumanization of Young Workers Producing Our Computer Keyboard (via IZ Reloaded)


  1. Hey, they missed the “Breath air or digest food inside workroom without supervisor clearance” point.

  2. As presented yesterday in Liam Casey, “Mr. China,” and electronics manufacturing, the Chinese labor market is highly competitive and workers often quit jobs at one factory for better pay at other factories. Many factories have trouble holding on to workers, especially as they develop new skills. In a place like Shenzen where there are literally tens of thousands of factories very close together, the free market system also works to improve labor conditions. Admittedly conditions are horrible in many factories, but over time things are actually improving. The best way to change things is to publicize factories with bad working conditions *in China* so that Chinese workers can avoid these factories (this actually happens sometimes).

  3. I’m looking forward to former white male Wired writers working there for a couple days, thus debunking these claims.

  4. Yeah, I have a close friend, Chinese Singaporean, first language Chines, who worked as an English instructor in the south of the PRC for 2 years. He said he came in knowing only these horror stories, but after hanging around the area for that time, he came to understand that the labor market is fierce and that people change jobs for better deals all the time.

    Oh, and those horrible Nike plants we lefties like to vilify? Those are the factories people try to get into. They have the best working conditions, pay, and perks.

    Seriously, folks, China is doing their best. Look at the US in the 1920s. We had our share of horrific labor abuses and public health problems, but at least in the Chinese case, they execute the bastards who poison the people. You can’t grow an economy from nothing, and the working conditions we enjoy now were paid for with our great-grandparents’ misery.

    Cut them some slack.

  5. HP have the campaigner Bonnie Nixon-Gardiner in there team, so I’m surprised.

    from way back in 2006:

    she still works for them:

    I heard her on Peter Day’s BBC Radio 4 program (june2008?).
    Given that I worked in Shanghai and went to many of factories, I thought her method
    and views to be impressive.

    Regarding rule books, this one on the face of it looks harsh, but there is a cultural
    difference to be taken in to account; tricking the workers out of pay is wrong altogether though.

  6. But how else will WalMart get the best price point if they have to include fair working conditions in their contracts?

  7. ” … The workers are underpaid, cheated out of their wages, forced into overtime, subjected to brainwashing, and subjected to unsafe working conditions and denied medical assistance when they’re injured.”

    Not much different from my job at a large electronics/computer retailer.

    OK, well, they will let you get mecial attention if you are spouting blood or your face turns blue from not breathing, but o/w the same.

  8. From September 1851:

    Any Person coming too late shall be fined as follows : – for 5 minutes 2d, 10 minutes 4d. and 15 minutes 6d, &c.

    For any Oil wasted or spilled on the floor 2d each offence, besides paying for the value of the Oil.

    Any person leaving their Work and found Talking with any of the other workpeople shall be fined 2d for each offence.

    For every Oath or insolent language, 3d for the first offence, and if repeated they shall be dismissed.

    The Machinery shall be swept and cleaned down every meal time.

    The Masters would recommend that all their workpeople Wash themselves every morning, but they shall Wash themselves at least twice every week, Monday Morning and Thursday morning; and any found not washed will be fined 3d for each offence.

    Any persons found Smoking on the premises will be instantly dismissed.

    Any person found away from their usual place of work, except for necessary purposes, or Talking with any one out of their own Alley, will be fined 2d for each offence.

    Any person wilfully damaging this Notice will be dismissed.

    Source: Rules To Be Observed, Water-Foot Mill, near Haslingden, 1851, from the collection of J.N.Hare Helmshore Mills Textile Museum (UK)

  9. Yup, that’s pretty ghastly, alright. And probably the best thing we (which is to say, Anglophones with enough spare time and interest to browse blogs) can do about it is help publicize it, both in the West and in China. Markets work better for everyone but the unscrupulous and the exploiters when the public is well-informed.

    On a side note, I’m surprised giving out confidential information is *only* a fine. If I did that at my job, not only would I be fired on the spot, but I could literally go to prison.

  10. ~ Insert “The factories have raised their standard of living/They can go work elsewhere” rationalizations for poor treatment, here. ~

  11. While this is interesting, and there do appear to be legitimate and very concerning points, many of the claims seem absurd, which detracts from the legitimate claims, and the writing is quite unprofessional. Insisting on repeatedly using “toil” in every instance where a normal writer would use “work”, for example, seems childish.

    More importantly, many of the company policies described seem like things often seen in US company policies, and quite reasonable, yet the author describes them as being outright villainous. I’m not sure, for example, how “Employees shall dress in clean and appropriate clothes” and “should not walk on green areas or plants” constitute “brainwashing”. While it might be abused in this case, most companies have confidentiality agreements and forbid videotaping of manufacturing processes, and not without reason. “Tidiness and cleanliness of the work area must be maintained” seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    Also, how is it at all appropriate to compare US tariffs for Chinese imports to US tariffs for imports from Cuba, and use that comparison to argue that the US unfairly promotes trade with China? The US does, after all, have significant sanctions against Cuba, doesn’t it? Whether there should be sanctions against China might be a legitimate question, but considering US foreign relations, this is akin to saying that the US is overly friendly with a nation because it is far less friendly in its dealings with North Korea.

    Oh, and as an amusing aside: apparently posting flyers is worse of an offence than producing low quality products…

  12. “Ghastly”?

    Are the fines relatively large? Sure. Pretty sizable. But there isn’t one single thing on that list that approaches ‘ghastly’.

    No personal phone calls during work or on company lines? Don’t be insubordinate to supervisors?
    Don’t listen to the radio?

    Sounds like pretty much every job I’ve ever had.

    Even stuff that seems out of step with what we take as a right (no unions, one child) is a cultural difference and hardly a human rights violation.

    It’s not like you’re getting docked half a days pay for blinking too many times. Adjust the fine scale, welcome to America.

  13. Blaine, your job fines you for talking to your coworkers? You are not allowed to speak or put your hands in your pockets?

    It sounds like these workers are expected to behave like robots. Yeah, it’s better than starving to death. But it’s not as good as being treated like a human being.

  14. Good thing this got posted. I was this -><- close to switching careers - computer programmer to china keyboard maker.

  15. It would be interesting to know how these rules are applied– How much of the enforcement is left up to individual managers, and how selectively are they applied? How corrupt is the system?
    Also, the issues of sleeping and eating arrangements in the factory make a big difference. Do they eat in a cafeteria, or from vendors within or outside of factory grounds? This story needs a lot more context.

  16. Wow! How can I get great working conditions like this here in the US?

    I have to sit in a gray cube all day typing on the keyboards these folks make. I can’t browse the Internet for non-work use, I can’t send personal emails or forward jokes, and I can’t use my phone for personal calls. Even my desktop wallpaper is dictated by the company.

    I’m not allowed to disagree with management, and the HR department has a maze of incomprehensible rules governing sick time, vacation, and other issues that is so complex that they explain it differently every time they’re asked. Since I’m an exempt employee, I have to work as many hours as my boss says I must without being paid for them.

    On top of that, about 50% of my wages go the government to pay for pork projects and bank bailouts. The rest is barely enough to pay for my rent, car, utilities, and other payments. These guys get to live in company dorms for free!

    Plus they get free government-supplied medical care and prescriptions. Though I’ve got what we consider excellent health insurance for the USA, I still have to pay 25% of my health costs out of my own pocket.

    All I have to look forward to is retirement at the age of 70, when I will starve on Social Security (if it lasts that long) and try in vain to find a doctor who still accepts Medicare.

  17. This is why manufacturning is dead in the US. Look for these kinds of labor conditions to re-emerge here in the US on the other side of the Depression. Where, like in China, teens and early twenties will work in conditions like this or serve in the military. Maybe you’ll get your first home by the time you’re in your mid 30’s or early 40’s with grandma raising your kids while you slave for pennies. Welcome to the Global Plantation. The police state of Communism with all the exploitation of Capitalism. Nice. Remember the middle class so you can tell your kids what you pissed away.

  18. Are you domiciled 20 to a room in a dormitory where the summer heat goes above 90 degrees, and where, in the winter, you are required to fetch hot water in buckets from several stories away for a public sponge-bath?

    Does 19 percent of your pay get confiscated in illegal paycheck-docking?

    Are you subject to overtime lockins that run your hours to 85+ hours/week?

    Does your employer charge you for “meals” consisting of thin gruel with one chicken foot per week?

  19. Yeah, and Airship, you are at least theoretically entitled to sick leave, paid vacations, and overtime. Plus you get to retire instead of just working until you die of exhaustion.

  20. From the FA:


    The young workers sit on hard wooden stools twelve hours a day, seven days a week as 500 computer keyboards an hour move down the assembly line or one every 7.2 seconds. Workers are allowed just 1.1 seconds to snap each key into place, repeating the same operation 3,250 times an hour, 35,750 times a day, 250,250 times a week and over one million times a month.
    The workers are paid 1/50th of a cent for each operation.
    The assembly line never stops, and workers needing to use the bathroom must learn to hold it until there is a break.
    All overtime is mandatory, with 12-hour shifts seven days a week and an average of two days off a month. A worker daring to take a Sunday off—which is supposedly their weekly holiday—will be docked 2 ½ days’ wages. Including unpaid overtime, workers are at the factory up to 87 hours a week. On average, they are at the factory 81 hours a week, while toiling 74 hours, including 34 hours of overtime, which exceeds China’s legal limit by 318 percent!
    The workers are paid a base wage of 64 cents an hour, which does not even come close to meeting subsistence level needs. After deductions for primitive room and board, the workers’ take-home wage drops to just 41 cents an hour. A worker toiling 75 hours a week will earn a take-home wage of $57.19, or 76 cents an hour including overtime and bonuses. The workers are routinely cheated of 14 to 19 percent of the wages legally due them.
    Ten to twelve workers share each crowded dorm room, sleeping on narrow metal bunk beds that line the walls. They drape old sheets over their cubicle openings for privacy. In the winter, workers have to walk down several flights of stairs to fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket, which they carry back to their rooms to take a sponge bath. In the summer, dorm temperatures reach into the high 90s.
    Workers are locked in the factory compound four days a week and are prohibited from even taking a walk.
    To symbolize their “improving lives” the workers are served a special treat on Fridays—a small chicken leg and foot. For breakfast, they are given watery rice gruel. The workers say the food has a bad taste and is “hard to swallow.”
    Illegally, workers are not inscribed in the mandatory work injury and health insurance and Social Security maternity leave program. In the Molding department, due to the excessive heat, the workers suffer skin rashes on their faces and arms.
    One worker summed up the general feeling in the factory: “I feel like I am serving a prison sentence.”

  21. That’s a little thing I like to call ‘sarcasm’. It always amazes me how much we can complain here in the West while forgetting how really bad other people in the world have it.

    I swear, when did boing boing readers become so dense? Or is it just me?

  22. Once more, with feeling:

    Be careful not to confuse symptoms of poverty and causes of poverty. Causality matters, folks.

    No, most of us will never work under such conditions, because we would quit and do something more pleasant. But our great-grandparents probably did, because the alternatives were worse. Those rice paddies which look so nice in the postcards aren’t great fun to work in, you know.

  23. What’s creepy is that I’m currently typing this post on the exact same lenovo keyboard shown on that page.

    In the long run, these sorts of labour abuses aren’t good for China; being the west’s factory floor can’t work indefinitely. They need to start improving the lives of their workers: people need to live in their own apartments, buy goods beyond food and clothing, and engage in recreation if the country is ever to have a self-sustaining economy. Here’s hoping they realize that eventually.

    What we’re seeing here is the combination of completely unregulated capitalism, but crucially, combined with a culture that has no inherent respect for the concept of individual rights or dignity. I think the abuses documented here differ in their fundamental character from anything seen during the western industrial revolution. Hours were long and conditions unsafe, but the employer never required you to love the company, live in the factory’s dorms, eat the factory’s food, and live by their rules during every waking moment. People tolerate this in China only because the culture is warped by a half-century of communist indoctrination.

  24. Inevitably, the question comes up: that’s over there and we’re over here…what can we possibly do about it?

    Since the owners of these sweatshops depend primarily by a western market for cheap consumer goods, probably the most effective way to secure basic human rights for these workers is to place an embargo on goods that are produced in sweatshop conditions.

    Unfortunately, the WTO doesn’t allow nations to have such embagoes, so in the mean time, we can:

    Boycott as many goods which aren’t known to be made under reasonable conditions as possible. Encourage others to do the same.

    Advocate for your country to withdraw from the WTO and other trade arrangements which prohibit setting trade policy based on concerns like whether overseas workers are quasi-enslaved or not.

  25. As scary as this is, imagine what the alternative must be like, that they choose to work in this environment instead.

    What do you do? When the item you’re considering purchasing says “Made in China”, you could not purchase it in protest of these conditions. But if enough people do that you’re just depriving these people of even this job…

  26. Meanwhile, China keeps manipulating its currency to keep its value low. And with it, wages. They’re enslaving their own people for our benefit. Not out of malice, but because they don’t have a better economic idea. But they’ve found one that keeps them in power.

    I wonder how much longer it will work.

  27. I think the abuses documented here differ in their fundamental character from anything seen during the western industrial revolution. Hours were long and conditions unsafe, but the employer never required you to love the company, live in the factory’s dorms, eat the factory’s food, and live by their rules during every waking moment. People tolerate this in China only because the culture is warped by a half-century of communist indoctrination.

  28. Kyle, if our grandparents had cut their employers slack then we wouldn’t have the improved conditions we have now. Gains are not made by “cutting them some slack.” They are made by holding their feet to the fire. Walk-outs, strikes, factories being burned to the ground.

  29. @ #23: Exactly. It’s really, really, awful, but if we stop buying from them, they’ll just lose their jobs and have even fiercer competition for even more awful employment. And some people actually want to put an *embargo* on Chinese goods. Talk about heinously misguided. The WTO is not your enemy, and it’s not theirs, either.

  30. I can already see I’m a villain on this topic.

    Cory probably could have picked a better list of bulletpoints to illustrate the article. The website wouldn’t load on my cellphone so reading the f’n a wasn’t an option.

    The ‘infractions’ are, honestly, laughable.

    Some of the other points, not as much.

    To answer some questions:

    Kay The Complainer- No hands in pockets is usually to deter theft. I’ve had jobs where you can not leave without a supervisor looking you over for loss prevention.

    As far as not talking to your co-workers… personally, no. My ex-fiance is an accountant at a health system. She is not allowed to talk to fellow employees during working hours. Even over the cubicle. It’s absurd but true. Again, granted she doesn’t get docked a days wages for it, but, yeah. Against the rules.

    Working in the software industry, I’ve logged 90 hour weeks with unpaid overtime. I know how bad it sucks. It’s not even “tired” after about 20 hours. It’s “sick”. You get physically ill as the exhaustion sets in. There have been days where I’ve not even gone home, just worked for 36 and 40 hour stretches to meet deadlines for investors.

    It’s not as bad as these factories by any stretch of the imagination.

    I stand firmly by my point though. The highlighted bullet points are very very similar to the rules in corporate America as well.

    Having to share a hovel with other people in an inhumane condition is ghastly.

    Not being allowed to ride your bike through the factory? Not as much.

  31. We should do these sorts of things here in the States. See how much time is wasted on Facebook once their wages are on the line.

  32. ” #21 posted by syncrotic , February 9, 2009 7:37 AM

    I think the abuses documented here differ in their fundamental character from anything seen during the western industrial revolution. Hours were long and conditions unsafe, but the employer never required you to love the company, live in the factory’s dorms, eat the factory’s food, and live by their rules during every waking moment.

    one word “Truck” look it up… wiki “truck acts” workers were partly paid in company script which could only be spent in the company shops at company prices…

  33. Cory gave us the context I was looking for. 24/7 abuse is fundamentally different than 9-to-5 suffering. Airship- it’s 2009, you should know that sarcasm does not translate well on internet discussions. Blaine comes pretty close to trolling, but what invalidates his argument is the existence of alternative suppliers. Western OEMs should be able to get keyboards made as cheaply (or nearly so) from manufacturers with better working conditions. We have leverage as consumers. Isn’t there a subtext here about how bad things can get before another Tienanmen Square? Is social unrest growing in China? Would the Western media know if it was?

  34. This is one of those situations where, if left alone, is very tragic. But if changed, could become even more tragic. If the factory owners were forced to pay competitive wages, benefits, and have better health and safety regulations, they would no longer have a competitive edge over factories in other poor parts of the world. So companies (and not just US companies, but worldwide companies) would move to cheaper factories. Then instead of working for $5/day in poor conditions, there would be a lot more people completely out of work. And even if factories worldwide upped their pay and conditions, that would drive the price of goods up worldwide, which would leave many more people unable to afford even basic goods.

    There are so many problems inherent in the system that it’d be nearly impossible to change things in such a way that things get better for the people at the bottom of the ladder without knocking a bunch of people from “near the bottom” to the bottom.

  35. #31: I worked for a cable company in the UK (albeit US-owned). They had some peculiar ideas about staff loyalty. They called it ‘Living the Brand’*. Essentially, it meant that if you bitched about your job or the company, even outside work and you were overheard doing so, you would be disciplined for it. A few employment tribunals later, they got the message however.

    *If you recognise that phrase, you too are a veteran of there, and you’ll know where I mean…

  36. * “Infractions” punished with severe beatings and death of loved ones

    –Showing compassion/concern
    –Leaving workstation to relieve yourself
    –Not cleaning up after yourself after you relieve yourself at workstation
    –Being human

  37. “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?”
    – Donald Rumsfeld, on the idea that prisoners should not be placed in stress positions for more than four hours.

    What you can tolerate when you can quit and find another job, when you can leave the building and escape for a few hours or a weekend, is wildly different than what you can put up with under duress.

    It’s also different than one-off project pressure; many of us have worked all hours for a finite time to meet a deadline. That’s a whole different world than the prospect of 12-hour shifts, night and day month about, for the forseeable future.

  38. People choose to work here, and they choose to keep working here. If you can quit at anytime and move to another job (like #5 Kyle says they can), then it is not a sweat shop.

    It may seem weird to enumerate every little point, and list the fine for each; but I suspect this list did not emerge fully formed from the mind of some diabolical manager. It would have had things added and modified over time, by different people, which is why it contains perfectly reasonable stuff mixed in with the silly ones.

    … they are given watery rice gruel. The workers say the food has a bad taste …

    We normally call that porridge, and whoever heard of cafeteria food that tastes good?

  39. Syncrotic, #25: Actually, Chinese culture wasn’t terribly respecting of individualistic thinking even before Communism. The coming of Communism just exacerbated existing attitudes.

  40. Absolutely startling. I’m writing my own post on this story on the environmental blog Super Eco . I think this is a great opportunity for us to start a Human Rights category on the site as well. Thanks so much for posting this.

  41. The western companies that buy the keyboards may have standing to report violations of Chinese labor laws. It sounds like there are some Chinese labor laws being violated here, particularly regarding unionization and overtime. They may only permit the official union, but I believe the official union has to be permitted or they are breaking the law.

  42. How can anyone exist in that kind of life? I imagine that section from “The Jungle” where Jurgus Rudkus gives up, abandons his family and leaves the city to wander the countryside like a ghost.

    I imagine they have to do it just to keep their families housed and fed, and the other options are similar or worse jobs (that town where everyone dismantles old motherboards using harsh chemicals comes to mind).

  43. Everyone likes to complain about gun control in the US.

    Would such rules be written in China if they knew there was a nonzero chance of someone coming to work armed better than most soldiers?

  44. The problem with moral relativist arguments that operate off the principal of “they could be worse” or “they are better off than they used to be” is knowing when you hit bottom.

    After all, a Chinese factory worker is better off than a slave, a slave is better off than someone being tortured, and a torture victim is better off than being dead. At one point does a person’s condition stop being “okay” because we can’t find anyone worse off?

    I would certainly like the worker in this factory to have better working conditions and a higher pay scale. I am sure they would too. But is there a way for them to improve their status? Can they join a union? Vote for a different representative to their government? Impeach the party chairman? I don’t think so. This is a country where just talking about such issues can put you in prison, at best. (or a bullet in the back of the neck, at worst) So I guess things won’t be improving until such time as they are granted by the Communist authorities.

    I am a bit concerned about the coming year in China. Extremist systems breed extremist responses. There don’t seem to be any institutions or civic freedoms that mitigate for drastic changes. No middle ground to create compromise, no way to “blow off steam”. With the economy pinching us all in the US, that will probably mean factory closures in China. And I don’t think those workers will be happily trudging back to the farms in the rural areas.

    Tiananmen 10^x?

  45. The thing I’m most surprised at is that keyboards are made by hand. Isn’t that ideal work for robots? I guess it’s cheaper to hire 50 people to do what 1 robot could do.

  46. If Meitai keyboard factory was such an exploiter of the working poor, why were the working poor so eager to be exploited? And after they were hired, why did they seem so happy to be there? Anytime I shopped at the store, work uniform-clad Meitai factory workers encouraged me to “love the company like their home” with the sincerity of the pope issuing a benediction.

    I also note that just like the typical newly hired Wal-Mart worker, they have an apartment-share arrangement. It’s just commonsense. I’ll bet Barbara Ehrenreich would really whine about that.

    With no apologies to Charles Platt

  47. #45 STEPHEN – “It sounds like there are some Chinese labor laws being violated here”

    Are you sure? As far as I’m aware China has no labour unions – The Party, by definition, is representing the people’s interests!

    #49 THARKLORD – “The problem with moral relativist arguments that operate off the principal of “they could be worse” or “they are better off than they used to be” is knowing when you hit bottom.”

    What do you mean hit bottom? China is a huge success story at pulling people out of poverty, their lives are improving much faster than those of our (my anyway) ancestors in England. They started at the bottom, as we all did, and are moving upwards. There’s nothing relativist about celebrating this fact.

    I too look forward to the day when they’ll live lives as pleasant as ours. But don’t let your distaste for the lives they are living today trick you into taking actions which would push them back towards the lives their grandparents lived.

    I agree that China’s political repression is something to worry about in the world. They would be better off with a free press, etc, and we should do everything we can to encourage such efforts. If you want to help, work on that, not on closing the factories.

    #37 SAMF – “If the factory owners were forced to pay competitive wages, benefits, and have better health and safety regulations, they would no longer have a competitive edge”

    Another way to put it is this: as you (the worker) get richer, you choose to take more of your pay in benefits (safe and comfortable working conditions, health cover, insurance). Maybe you aren’t individually offered this choice, but nevertheless the balance shifts as you all get richer, this happened all over the world. This explains the lack of benefits.

    As for “competitive wages” I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. By all reports these factories do compete for workers.

  48. Why would it possibly matter whether an employee was a member of Falun Gong, broke the one-child policy, or failed to finish their cafeteria food? Where does the state end and the company begin?

    There is a solution here. We have to stop buying cheap junk that constantly needs to be replaced.

    You can actually buy a Unicomp buckling spring keyboard made in the United States. It will come with a warranty and will probably last for thirty years, replacing perhaps ten inferior keyboards made in sweatshops.

  49. #begin joke

    What is the difference between capitalism and communism?

    Well, capitalism is “man exploiting man.”

    But… in communism? the situation is reversed!

    #end joke

  50. Ironic that an ostensibly communist country bans unions.

    They only ban unions that are not controlled by the communist party.

    Countries that have strong, independent unions are usually called “socialist” or “socialist democracies”, not “communist”.

  51. This post is sadly in need of some context.

    I live in China. One of my close friends is a factory worker.

    Why on earth do workers put up with this? I’ll tell you why.

    The conditions are horrible, but after maybe three years of this hell, many workers have enough money to go back to their hometown and have a house built, or open their own business. Or maybe enough to put their sibling through college.

    They could never have amassed that much capital in such a short time (if ever) had they stayed on the subsistance farm back in the village.

    They may hate the job and the regimented lifestyle, but I think most of them are happy to have for the opportunity, and look on it as a way to invest a few years of their life in order to escape an *entire lifetime* of poverty back in the village.

  52. the owner of this factory sends his children abroad for education and has multiple foreign residences. He dreams of the day when he and his family can escape China, and pays bribes to local officials to conceal the money he has already moved offshore. He has covered his bets with ostensibly domestic investments and retirement plans,but is prepared to abandon these if the Chinese economy `collapses and he needs must bolt. Every single robber baron capitalist vice is his – in spades.

  53. spazzm “This is why we need robots.”
    They tried that a few years ago, but the robots formed the Digital Workers Union and demanded better working conditions.

  54. Right after the government cracked down on the union, a bunch of Buddhist robots staged a protest and demagnetizing their harddrives.

  55. They tried crushing the protest with robotpolice, but the robocops had trouble calculating ballistics, and caused only minor damage to nearby robots and major damage to nearby ground. The robot in charge, in a happy coincidence, was Major Damage.

  56. As someone who just returned from Dongguan City, Guangdong, China this is standard. Most of the workers are migrant workers from the rural areas of China. The conditions in these factories are FAR superior to their home conditions. The living situation is dorm style living, and is nicer than my college dorms. Guangdong, Shenzhen, etc. have THOUSANDS of factories with similar conditions and the companies include Dell, Apple, Tivo, Abercrombie & Fitch, STMicro, etc.

    I’ve spent lots of time in these sort of facilities, and it’s not as bad as it’s reported.

  57. If the conditions are so bad why do they work there? Perhaps relative to the other options its worth it?

  58. Oh you Americans always judging others by your standards and refusing to be judged by others’.

    The alternative for the workers is a lifetime of subsistence poverty. Yes the working conditions are hard, and yes there are some rules that are abusive. But every wealthy, industrialized country today went through the same phase. None were exempt, none are exempt. If you really care about the billions of people living in poverty, you would actually want more factories like these because they are the first step out of poverty.

    We can help by publicizing the really blatant abuses. But the long hours at ‘low’ (by U.S. standards) wages are unavoidable. Guess what though, ask any worker there, the long hours at ‘low’ wages are infinitely preferable to long hours of backbreaking agricultural labor at subsistence wages. And those ‘crowded, substandard’ dormitories? Try living in a hovel with a dirt floor, no indoor plumbing, sleeping next to livestock.

  59. I guess these rules might be somewhat harsh compared to those most of us are used to at our jobs.

    But have anybody thought that thoses rules and penalties were fixed after many revisions over the years because it was needed to keep the factory work properly and not beause the factory can save 10 RMB for 1 minute late?

    1 minute late to your desk might mean nothing, but 1 minutes late to an assembly line could mean 20 coworkers waiting 10 minutes for you to get ready.

    It must be easy for western people archieve the discipline required for an assembly line without so many rules and penalties, but decades of poverty and lack of education have left chinese in with lower moral and discipline than most other richer countries and chinese worker tends to be more chaotic.

    take for example Shenzhen Highly Technological city with one of the newest and best Subway / Metros in the world, but nobody ever lines up to wait for the Metro and people tend to get chaotic and pushy on peak hours also wallets and phones tends to be stolen inside it.

    I guess the Metro example would explain at least another 2 of the factory rules / penalty.

  60. Hey it’s all for the common good.

    Welcome to your future U.S. citizens.

    I for one welcome our new Obama overlord.

  61. Re#53, et al…

    Are things improving for the Chinese people? Darn Tootin’ they are! Would I want them to go back to rural starvation? Perish the thought!

    The question for me is not from what perspective relative improvements should be viewed, but where the impetus for these improvements comes from. Is it the “empowered citizen” model whereby people can be actively involved in improving their own lives or is it the “livestock” model where the employer only improves worker conditions to a level of equilibrium where productivity (profitability for the employer) is maximized.

    With a free society’s “empowered citizen” model, the worker and factory owner are on more equal footing and extreme differences in pay and conditions are reduced. In the “livestock” model, the worker’s conditions are exactly what the factory owner wants them to be and never any better. After all, if a dairy owner builds a new barn for his cows, they may give more milk and be healthier, but they won’t be sharing in the profits and when the milk stops flowing it’s off to the slaughterhouse for them.

    It comes down to this: do we want people (Chinese, Wal-Mart employees, etc.) to be powerful, or “well cared for”?

    There is an assumption running through many of the arguments on this thread that civil rights and democracy inhibit economic growth. That we should wait just a little longer before empowering people because all that “free speech” and “voting” stuff would ruin everything and “those people” just aren’t ready for it.

    I, of course, beg to differ.

    Often people look at China and think the changes couldn’t have happened without Communism. I would like to introduce the radical concept that repressive, centrally controlled governments do nothing for economic development or societal stability, but instead slow the process and focus its benefits in a small elite. The marginal liberalizations introduced by the Communist party are there solely to protect the monopoly of power of the party elite, enrich their supporters and undermine democratic movements. There is no altruistic motive here.

    The true key to economic development comes down to the “rule of law” protecting small entrepreneurs from more powerful competitors, universal suffrage for public accountability, property rights to protect against private and public predation… basically, the whole host of rights and protections that come from a system “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

    *cue the fireworks display and John Philip Sousa music*

  62. Face it, this is the reality of factory workers in China. I’ve tried it, I’ve sat next to workers before. They feel fine about it. This is their job. They work like robots. Conditions like these are already better than most factories.

    Why do you think your computer parts are of high quality(or crap-mid quality for you picky people)? Parts for the china domestic market are utter crap. Quality Control for domestic products cannot be compared to the Quality Control for exported products. What you guys get in the states/euro/etc are considered top-notch quality. This is because those “Rules, Regulations, Discipline” are in place. To keep Quality Control in check and everything running smoothly. God knows what we in states would do if we got a defective part. Well, most sane people would just send it back in and get a new one. Others would b*itch about it. For example, I’ve read one customer complain about the corner of the keyboard not smooth enough because it wasn’t polished thoroughly. Well, from the worker perspective its perfect. From the consumer in the US, “Wtf is this crap? That isn’t smooth at all!” Again, Rules, Regulations, Discipline.

    Previously being a manager at a similar factory, I will tell you the truth. We have similar Rules and Regulations in place and it is absolutely necessary for workers to abide by these rules. These workers have no understanding of quality. If they can take a short-cut, they will take it and others will follow. They do not understand why the corners of the keyboard need to be curved and polished or why it is ergonomic. They do not have the knowledge nor concept of why western products are made the way they are. And honestly, they don’t need to understand because they are only workers.

    We have to follow these rules because this is whats been handed down from the top. The top? It is what our clients, suppliers, distributors, stores, customers, end-users, you, that have shaped the requirements for these products.

    The Iphone wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for similar practices. I’ve talked to a friend in Foxconn and the assembly lines are squeaky clean with everyone in order.

    So who do we blame?

  63. This is what happens when the “Free Market” freaks get to rule the roost — ALWAYS a race to the bottom. And, just like the “trickle down,” we’re told again…and again… and again…that the “Free Market” will raise working conditions — despite the fact that nothing has changed over there for YEARS.
    Wasn’t too long ago that Pinkerton Guards could mow down labor union crowds here in the US; despite this we still gained SOME semblance of workers’ rights…but how about these people, how live in company owned “dorms.”
    For all you sick people that think this is normal and acceptable: Did you watch THX 1138 and say “Wow, how can we make our society function that well???” ? A race to the bottom brings everyone down. You think its OK as long as you’re on top but – guess what – once this is normal ALL of us will be expected to work under these conditions. THX 1138; think about it.

  64. This is insane! Who could possibly work in such conditions? I am ashamed of my keyboards.

    I liked that joke, #55. Very funny. And true.

    But we can’t boycott chinese things, or the work conditions will get even worse for these poor souls. How can we help? It’s a paradox, simple as that.

  65. A worker toiling 75 hours a week will earn a take-home wage of $57.19, or 76 cents an hour including overtime and bonuses

    So, about 400 RMB a week. That’s a lot of money. Not enough to live in 3-star hotels, drive around in taxis all the time and dine at expensive restaurants twice a day, like I did when I visited China; but certainly enough to sustain a large family in the countryside.

    (Incidentally, I find it bad style to only mention USD in this kind of context. Especially considering the rapid decline of this so-called “world reserve currency”.)

  66. You loaded sixteen tons and what do you get, an other day older and deeper in debt. Lord have mercy because I can’t go I owe my soul to the company store. These days they owe their souls to the credit card companies. So what has really changed?

  67. My dear God. I have never thought I’d read comments like these in such an article. Rationalizing it. Justifying it. Complaining your jobs are worse because you can’t set your own wallpaper.

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