This post is 100% op-ed. All of the opinions in this blog post come directly from Paul Shirey (not T3KD), unless cited to another source.
Ever since the dollar became a thing and people began to find ways to make money, there has been a large number of workers employed by a small number of employers. However, there has also been a fair share of employers who completely despise the idea of paying their workers a (fair) wage. This was especially the case in the days of plantations when workers essentially worked for nothing but a little bit of food, a little bit of shelter, and place to sleep. It makes perfect sense too, because paying a fair wage means higher business expenses. However, we have gotten over that period, and here in the US, we have minimum wage. Even with minimum wage there are instances where it doesn’t apply, such as being a waiter/waitress, but for the most part there is a federal mandated minimum wage that employers must pay in order to comply with labor laws. That’s just the United States, however.
The Industrial Revolution was a big time for change in the United States, and while that was all going on we had a lot of troubles with child labor and general work conditions. There were entire towns built around factories where all of the stores were owned by the factory, so when you got your paycheck from the factory and went to the grocery store to buy food, the factory would be getting a lot of your money back from grocery stores.
A lot of the manufacturing eventually moved out of the United States and into China. While the United States is still a major hub for manufacturing (especially the Midwest), conditions have improved. This isn’t the case however in areas like China and Japan. Many of us are well aware of the big case that went on with the Foxconn factory that manufacturers most Apple hardware. Conditions were apparently so bad at that factory that there were multiple suicides a week, and it was enough to get the attention of CEO Tim Cook and to pay a special visit.
Let’s take a look at minimum wages. One of the Foxconn factories is located in the Shanxi province of China, and according to Wikipedia, the minimum wage there is US $108 – $137 per month. It’s pretty easy to assume that the factory workers are only getting paid minimum wage. Also in case you were wondering, the highest minimum wage in China is in Guangdong at US $200 a month. The average US minimum wage employee working 40 hours a week making $7.25 an hour would make $870 in a 3-week period before taxes.
So Does Slavery Still Exist?
Now that I’ve filled you with enough facts, let’s get onto that question of whether or not slavery still exists in the tech industry. There was just news today that Amazon has apparently hired a security firm called HESS that has ties to neo-Nazi groups. These security officers are dressed and trained to intimidate the workers at Amazon warehouses in Germany, supposedly to get them to work harder and faster. We already know of the conditions at Foxconn factories. Some workers start and end on the same exact point in an assembly line, and may be doing the same task for hours on end with no breaks. Microsoft doesn’t have much of a good reputation for their suppliers either as far as factory conditions. All the factories have minimum wage, very few benefits, poor living conditions often, and very few breaks.
Yes, I believe that slavery still exists in the tech industry when it comes to factories. While the workers are (as far as we know) getting paid, money isn’t everything. If workers are treated like machines and hardly never given a break or anything to look forward to, I believe that it can still be considered slavery.
Can it be fixed?
I strongly believe that the conditions in tech factories has to do purely with greed. Get the employees to work as fast as possible with as little pay and benefits, and they will make more money. With a higher profit margin, they can have the most appealing bid to companies like Apple and Microsoft that need to get the products made for the lowest cost possible so they can have the highest profit margin. When a company like Amazon comes out and says that their $99 tablet is being sold at a loss, I find that hard to believe, even coming from Amazon. There are plenty of other companies that sell Android tablets for even lower than $99, and it’s hard to believe that they would all be doing that for a loss. It makes sense for Amazon, but not for Polaroid.
The only way to really fix this is for companies to bring manufacturing back to the US where labor laws are strong and highly enforced. The only problem with this is that it won’t be as appealing to companies because it means less money in their pockets. In the early years of Apple, all of the manufacturing was done in the US. All we can do is wait and see what happens.
Featured images courtesy of SACOM