Are you prepared to work 70 hour weeks?

David Barboza video interview re China
photo: Charlie Rose Show
To keep your job, you may need to compete with near- slave labor.

Recent reports from China paint a gloomy picture for the prospect of manufacturing jobs ever returning to the U.S. They also report that our stuff is being manufactured in less than ideal working conditions.

Charlie Rose conducted a video interview with David Barboza, Shanghai correspondent at The New York Times. He reports that the average Chinese factory worker works at least 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Mr. Barboza reports that China has major problems:

  • Corruption: huge “shadow” economy
  • Labor unrest
  • Information access demands
  • Banking problems

Mr. Barboza claims that every Chinese worker is enthused by new opportunity and is willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead.

Let’s visit the factories

My Sept 2011 article: Smartphones’ Unintended Consequences
scene from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926)

I compare today with Fritz Lang’s vision of the future in Smartphones’ Unintended Consequences

Important Note, March 17 2012: NPR’s radio show This American Life yesterday retracted their show in which Mike Daisey reported on his visit to “about ten” (it was actually 3) Chinese factories. The reason? Mr. Daisey had fabricated major portions of his report and outright lied about some events. I’m angry with Mr. Daisey, because his lies destroyed the veracity of my article. I comment on this in my March 17 comment to this blog article.
Here is a transcript (PDF) of the retraction by This American Life.. . . and now the remainder of my February 17 article. Just remember that we can believe nothing that Mr. Daisey reports:

Mike Daisey visited an iPhone factory (owned and run by Foxconn) in Shenzhen and produced a startling audio report on what he found. It aired on NPR’s This American Life in January and includes an interview with a 13 year-old worker. He reports 12-hour workdays and dormitories with workers stacked like cordwood. Judging by his recent blog articles, it sounds like Mr. Daisey had an epiphany. Watch a brief video interview with Mr. Daisey. His views on Steve Jobs are complex.


He confirms Mr. Barboza’s reports of labor problems and adds that the workers are not only oppressed by the factory owners, but also by their government. Looking on the bright side of labor oppression, New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof remarks, “the grimness of factories like Foxconn was better than the grimness of the rice paddies”.

So, until the day that your job is taken by a Chinese worker, enjoy your Chinese-made yuppie toys.


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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

4 thoughts on “Are you prepared to work 70 hour weeks?”

  1. Hi Russ !!!

    Let me give you another opinion – we employ about 110 people in Shanghai – we pay them fairly – they get benefits, overtime, annual bonus etc. They work an 8 hour day, and sometimes (voluntary) overtime in the evening and at the weekend. People move from one business to another as they like – to improve their salary or work closer to home.

    Society is different – the savings rate is amazing and China is still very much a cash society – not much in the way of consumer loans or credit – if you can’t afford it you don’t get it. Families remain fairly intact (like the US in the 1950’s). They are free to live their lives – I feel safer, at any time of day, in any part of Shanghai than I do in San Fransisco or New York..

    I’ve run factories in the UK, upstate New York and California – I have never met a bunch of people so enthusiastic, educated and hard working as the Shanghai crew. They have the same ambitions, desires and motivations as we do. The similarities strike me much more than the differences.

    Will jobs move back to the USA – I doubt it, if inflation continues in China, factories may move out to rural areas or go somewhere else (Vietnam) – it’s like “drugs” as long as there is a demand (in this case for cheap products) somebody will supply it. The cost base in the USA is just too high.

    Partisan politics fueled by the fact that we Americans have turned into sheep – allows us to be dragged into stupid wars and dust off “family values” arguments at every election. While all this is going on the Chinese work hard – we cease to think, read, reason and question while the Chinese have a growing appetite to learn and experience new things.

    Remember propaganda is not one sided. I was brought up to believe that communism and managed economies don’t work. Both seem to be working quite well – they have all our money.

    Give me a call sometime – I have to get you out here to see how the other half live !!!

    Best regs


    1. Hi Andy,

      It’s wonderful to hear from you.

      Since writing this article my on-line time has been occupied with the bottomless pit of improving clients’ SEO (search engine optimization) and I can only now take a breather to respond to your thoughtful reply.

      Your use of the word propaganda was prescient. It turns out that Mike Daisey’s report of his visit to “about ten” (it was actually 3) Chinese factories was filled with lies. His report aired on NPR’s This American Life, which has published a retraction and this week devoted their hour-long show to sifting through Mr. Daisey’s report (if you can call it that) in search of the truth. (PDF transcript of March 16 show) Here’s what This American Life published yesterday, March 16:

      This American Life has retracted this story because we learned that many of Mike Daisey’s experiences in China were fabricated. We have removed the audio from our site, and have left this transcript up only for reference. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction, featuring Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who interviewed Mike’s translator Cathy and discovered discrepancies between her account and Mike’s, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who has reported extensively on Apple. Ira also re-interviewed Mike Daisey to learn why he misled us.

      During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story, This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter’s contact information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn’t work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.

      “At that point, we should’ve killed the story,” says Ira Glass, Executive Producer and Host of This American Life. “But other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn’t think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.”

      Here’s the retraction by This American Life. I sympathize with This American Life‘s producer Ira Glass (cousin of composer Philip Glass, BTW); he’s obviously angry that Mike Daisey lied to him and that his “story” contains lies. I’m annoyed, also. I’ve never been to Asia, and rely upon the honesty of first-hand reports.

      This reminds me of my shortwave radio broadcast listening in the early 1960s: Radio Moscow, Radio France, Radio Deutsche Weld, BBC, and Voice of America would all report on the same event, but an objective listener would have difficulty discerning what really happened and the meaning of the event, because each nation would color the story to suit itself.

      I think that Cathy has it right. She says of Mike Daisey, “It’s better if he can tell the American people the truth. I hope the people know the real China. But he’s a writer, and he exaggerates some things. I think it’s not so good.”

      Please keep in touch!


  2. Breaking news — after the stock market close 3/29/12, the independent Fair Labor Association announced violations at Apple’s plant in China. They found “extreme hours” and improperly recorded overtime. While there were many such cases of violations, I heard on CNBC that only 18% of employees there (in China? at Foxconn? in that region?) think that they are over-worked — they specifically take these jobs to earn a lot of money in a short time. There are a number of articles that just appeared on this topic, but here’s part of one and a link to the entire article:

    (Reuters) – In a landmark development for the way Western companies do business in China, Apple Inc said Thursday it had agreed to work with partner Foxconn to substantially improve wages and working conditions at the factories that produce its wildly popular products.

    Foxconn – which makes Apple devices from the iPhone to the iPad – will hire tens of thousands of new workers, clamp down on illegal overtime, improve safety protocols and upgrade worker housing and other amenities.

    The moves came in response to one of the largest investigations ever conducted of a U.S. company’s operations abroad. Apple had agreed to the probe by the independent Fair Labor Association in response to a crescendo of criticism that its products were built on the backs of mistreated Chinese workers.

    The Association, in disclosing its findings from a survey of three Foxconn plants and over 35,000 workers, said it had unearthed multiple violations of labor law, including extreme hours and unpaid overtime.


    1. Thanks for the headz-up.

      I’d never heard of the FLA. It’s evidently a US-based organization that includes western companies which outsource labor. The “violations” are apparently violations of FLA’s Code of Conduct, not China’s labor laws. According to Wikipedia, “the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct . . . is based on International Labour Organization standards”. I found criticism of this latest FLA action (What Is The Fair Labor Association And Why Are They Auditing Apple Suppliers?), based mostly on the fact that its membership comprises manufacturers who outsource labor. The article refers to the action as the result of “a deft P.R. move” by Apple.

      Presumably the Foxconn factories’ labor practices conform to Chinese law.


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