It's Only Common Sense: Foxconn's "Got Some 'Splainin to Do"

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Editor's Note: To listen to Dan's weekly column, as you've always done in the past, click here. For the written transcript, keep reading...Have you noticed all those stories about Foxconn lately? Man, it seems that everywhere you look there's a new horror story about this company. With the suicide rates and the slave labor accusations this company is looking pretty bad right now. But, to me, these “horror” stories we are hearing and seeing are really not what’s important here.

Take for example the suicide rate. Sure, I feel bad about that, but let’s chill for a minute as we look at the facts. According to my information, 17 people so far have jumped to their deaths. So many, in fact, that the company now has nets around their buildings. But guess what? The suicide rate in China is 22.23 per 100,000; and, as we are constantly reminded, there are 400,000 people working at Foxconn. You do the math and what do you get? Foxconn has a suicide rate that is well below the national average, less than 20% of that national average. And do you really want to sober up? The average suicide rate at Foxconn is far below that of the good old U.S.A.’s which is about 13 per 100,000. And that number takes into consideration that most people committing suicide in China do not get that $15,000 death benefit for their families that they give at Foxconn.

Now let’s talk about "slave wages." Everything I’ve read says that the line worker at Foxconn makes about $100 a week. Guess what? My first job at Rockwell’s Maine Electronics paid exactly that: $2.65 an hour, $106.00 a week in 1973. And I was thrilled to get that since it was almost a dollar an hour more that I was making at the job left!  And, I didn’t get room and board and uniforms.

Let’s not forget that these young people coming out of the hinterlands to work for Foxconn are being given the opportunity to fast-track right into the new middle class. They are being educated, modernized, and urbanized to the next level of the economic ladder. They are on their way to owning their own homes and cars and, yes, even the iPhones they are building. Their next step is not back to the village, but to bigger and better things in Shanghai and Beijing and Hong Kong.

But, once again, when I look at all of these stories about Foxconn on CNN, 20/20 and 60 Minutes the thing that rings my bell is the fact that these stories themselves are selling; that people want to hear and see more of them; that people are starting to care about where all of that cheap stuff is coming from. That’s what’s important.

For the first time we now are starting to ask questions. For the first time we want to know where that $29.95 DVD player comes from. For the first time we are looking beyond that cheap price straight through to where it came from and what it means to us as Americans, as well as members of the global community. That’s what this Foxconn story means to me.

There's a new wind blowing in this country and I would venture to say in all Western countries; a new consumer consciousness that is finally taking hold. That’s what this Foxconn story means to me.

Americans are starting to pay attention to what the true cost of cheap consumerism is. For the first time they want to know where Walmart is getting all that neat, cheap stuff; or where that cool $79.99 sofa table at The Christmas Tree Shop comes from; or where those $4 bird feeders or those adorable Christmas ornaments all come from. That’s what this Foxconn story means to me.

This story means that people are finally watching, paying attention, and, more importantly, caring, yes caring about where all of these things come from and who's building them and under what conditions.

Right now the media is picking on Foxconn as a way to get to Apple. They see Apple is an arrogant company, but it has a right to be arrogant since they do make the coolest stuff on earth. Stuff that, ironically, is so cool that customers don’t really care how much they pay for it. When your customers are lining up around the corner for the privilege of buying the most expensive cell phone in the world does it really matter how cheaply you can get it built? But that’s another story.

What I think is important is that these stories, combined with the loss of American jobs, have finally pushed the American consumer to the point of caring and almost to the point of saying, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

And right now all they’ve heard about is where these cool Apple gadgets are being built. Apple is the only company they’re hearing about today, but wait until they dig a little deeper; wait until they find out where the medical companies build their electronics or where the drug companies put together their products or, better yet, wait until they see, hear, and read stories about where Raytheon and Motorola and Lockheed and BAE buy many of their products. That’s going to be fun to watch, isn’t it?

As our last true Cuban import was known to say, "Lucy, you've got some 'splainin to do!”

It’s only common sense.


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