Terry Gou says he has no idea why so many of his employees are killing themselves. Gou is the founder and chairman of Foxconn, the world's largest electronics contract manufacturer -- the maker of iPhones and iPads for Apple, computers for Dell, and countless other devices for well-known high-tech customers around the world. So far this year, 10 Foxconn workers have committed suicide. "From a logical, scientific standpoint, I don't have a grasp on that," Gou told reporters on May 27 at a press conference at the company's vast production facility in Shenzhen, China. "No matter how you force me, I don't know."
Meanwhile, work goes on in Shenzhen. Foxconn's facility is three square kilometers (1.16 square miles) and is crisscrossed by tree-lined streets with a fountain at the center. There's a hospital and a collection of restaurants. Workers live in dormitories, eight to ten people to a room. The company provides worker counseling, according to supervisor Geng Yubin. "For many of the young people who are here, this is the first time they've been away from home," Geng says. "Without their families, they're left without direction. We try to provide them with direction and help."
Terry Gou knows life is too short to sweat the small stuff, so he hires kids to do it for him! Keeping a positive attitude all depends on your perspective.
As we all know, children the world over abandon their families in search of opportunities which might contribute to the survival of either. As much as the beneficiaries of global capitalism stress the progressive tendency of the "liberated child" and her historic role in regional development, sometimes kids miss their families!
Nicholas Kristof, who is paid to write that "poor countries need to harness the female halves of their population .... and [give] young women the autonomy to enter the formal labor force" is a noted exponent of the "benevolent investor" view, which substitutes the patriarchy of rural life for the patriarchy of the industrial compound -- while taking special care to condemn the former! But what, I ask youze, will it take for a child, separated from her family, to see the world from the eyes of a globetrotting New York Times journalist, and finally recognize it for the "opportunity" that it is!
The exchange value we confront at the Apple Store enters into conflict with whatever inherent value is keenly felt by the contract employee, who tells BusinessWeek that "conditions at Foxconn make ... life seem meaningless." The meaning of life for this young person making iPhones, for reasons that the New York Times columnist cannot explain, does not arise spontaneously out of a desire to cheaply supply developed markets, donate to the private wealth of his employers, or live "footloose on the factory floor" with nary a parent in sight -- though the commercial journalist eagerly champions each as 1). free trade, 2). economic growth, and 3). liberation from oppressive traditions, respectively.
"Exchange value," which measures the cost of a transaction at one point in capital's circuit -- namely the market, or "point of consumption" -- fails to account for those costs borne elsewhere in the circuit, unless they are costs which bear on capital directly. In other words, a shortage of component parts for the iPhone may increase its exchange value, because more capital is required to purchase those parts. But employees committing suicide because they aren't happy needn't impose an insurmountable challenge to capital in preserving the value of exchange, because desperate workers are a dime a dozen, and the "rationalization" of production means you can swap one used body out with a fresh one at a minimal cost in processing and retraining.
One area where employee suicides will impose costs on capital is in the realm of public relations, so it comes as no surprise that Apple executives are shocked, SHOCKED, to discover unpleasantries accompanying a Chinese contractor that won its bid by "[directing] the business units that make components to sell parts at zero profit," with predictable consequences for the hourly staff working within those "non-profit" units, not to mention cost-cutting applied elsewhere in the organization to compensate for this loss.
Our relationships with commodities should be informed by more than what little we learn from the price tag.