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January 13th 2012 6:35 pm

Where gadgets come from

I just heard a fascinating monologue on NPR's "This American Life" about the manufacturing plants in China where devices from Apple, Dell, and hundreds of other consumer electronic companies come from. Has anyone else had a chance to listen to it? Any thoughts or reflections on the experiences of the narrator, an avowed Apple fanboy himself?

You can find the monologue here:


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I read the transcript; and, probably because I was reading and not listening to a story, I was not moved in the way I probably should have been. Isn't this the kind of thing we have to expect when we outsource to the degree that we have in this country? When it comes to other products (or at least some other products), we can choose to NOT shop at Walmart (to pick on the worst of the worst). Except many of us will still shop at Walmart; no matter what. The sweetness of low price is just too irresistible!

However, when it comes to electronics, there are very few electronics companies whose products aren't assembled in China or someplace else equally bad. There effectively is no choice if you want to play the game; not for consumers, not for Dell or HP, and maybe not even for Apple.

How much more would any of us pay for a gadget that is completely untainted by the sweat and blood of badly exploited workers? The pragmatist in me says, "not too much more" . . . given human nature and the economic pain that most of us are feeling these days. It doesn't help that the messenger, in this particular case, is (presumably) profiting from the telling of the story.

I was disappointed that NPR failed to report on the conditions in the shops, factories, fields and mines where there are no outside corporations with Western rules regarding the treatment of workers. You know; like the factories that Apple stopped doing business with? Poor conditions are relative. Most of us haven't a clue when it comes to bad working conditions - and I'm going to go out on a limb here - I'm guessing that Mr. Daisey is wealthy enough to be particularly clueless in this regard. My evidence?

How many of us could afford to take time off from work and finance a trip to China? And for what? To satisfy our idle curiosity about the expression on the face of a Chinese factory worker that we see in a picture? Give me a break. Sorry. All my BS alarms went off over this story . . . and I am normally a fan of NPR.
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The MacBreak Weekly podcast discussed this topic last week. Worth a listen in my opinion . . . think the discussion was about mid-way through the episode.
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