The Real Cost of Cheap Computers

I look around in my basement office:   there are no fewer that five working computers.  Plus, my MacBook is upstairs, making a total of six!  Who in the world needs all these?  I don’t.  Yet, the computer companies know the value of frequent up-grades, and therefore my 1999 iMac sits unused — yet perfectly good — because it can’t handle today’s Internet traffic.

And I can’t part with the Classic Mac, the cutest computer ever made.  I purchased it in 1992 and it still works, too, although being totally inadequate for today’s Internet.

I’m not just a spendthift: I needed both Mac and PC technologies for my work.  And, the computers were cheap, comparatively speaking.

Recently, as I read a story in the New York Times about the sweatshop factories in China, I came to realize that I and millions of other Americans were able to purchase these marvelous — and magical in the eyes of an 80-year-old — machines because of the slave labor of young Chinese workers.   It reported that for the 8th time this year, a young worker in the plant has committed suicide.

“Last year, a 25-year-old worker named Sun Danyong committed suicide after Foxconn security personnel questioned him about whether he was to blame for a missing iPhone prototype. Shortly after he was questioned, Mr. Sun jumped from the 12th floor of an apartment building and died. He had complained to friends that the security personnel had beaten and humiliated him.

“The company said Mr. Sun had not been beaten but later said it had disciplined its security staff.

“China Labor Watch, a human rights group based in New York, said that because of the suicides, it recently surveyed worker attitudes about conditions at Foxconn in Shenzhen and reported that many workers complained of the pressures they were under.

“’We are extremely tired, with tremendous pressure,’ the group quoted one worker as saying. ‘We finish one step in every seven seconds, which requires us to concentrate and keep working and working. We work faster even than the machines.’”  Click here to read whole story.

It’s critical we connect the dots here.  The company where these suicides occurred is a major supplier for HP, Dell and Apple, all brands I have purchased.  Make no mistake about it: When we find bargains in computers, televisions, cellphones and  virtually all electronic devices, we are benefiting from the labor of hundreds of thousands of exploited workers across the seas.

All this was made possible by our growing global economy, which bases its inexpensive pricing only upon the backs of eager, but soon to be worn out, young workers.  What’s the answer?

As a start, why not have true enforcement of the trade rules which are supposed to protect against such worker exploitation? Such rules are rarely enforced.   Also, let’s encourage free trade unions in these countries.  Even though trade regulations are supposed to require free unions to exist, such unions are often mere shams.  Finally, we need all to be aware of how our cheap electronics are produced, and to begin insisting, as consumers, for those mades under fair trade rules.

The eight suicides in this Foxconn plant in China may only be the tip of the iceberg.  Who knows what other tragic workplace situations exist.


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One thought on “The Real Cost of Cheap Computers

  1. This highlights a crucial problem. Labor is being exploited all over the world and not just the United States. Enforcing international standards for labor is a must. Strenghtening and supporting Unions all over the world and especially here so we can all get involved is a start. I’m not a Marxist at all but he did predict Capitalists would roam the earth exploiting the cheapest labor and workers worldwide would revolt. Could he have been right? It is less important that he is right then what is right in front of our collective noses.

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