STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A story out today in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine profiles Terry Guo, the man who started the Chinese manufacturing company Foxconn. The company assembles all kinds of things — from iPhones to Dell computers. It was thrust into the spotlight after a string of suicides at one the Foxconn plants in China. Critics say working conditions were terrible there. So Foxconn gave raises to its employees and opened up their facility for the first time to Bloomberg reporter Josh Tyrangiel. And Josh joins us now to talk about that. Welcome to Marketplace.
JOSH TYRANGIEL: Good morning.
CHIOTAKIS: So there were all these suicides over there. Did you get a handle on why people were killing themselves?
TYRANGIEL: The workers there — and there are 300,000 of them — are mostly young, 18-25 year olds, mostly from rural backgrounds. This is their first exposure not just to work, but in many cases to people from outside their town. So it’s not, strictly speaking, a comparison about workplace suicides, where there have been outbreaks of workplace suicides in the past. It’s really, the more appropriate metaphor is actually at college, where you get people from all walks of life with tremendous inexperience performing under some form of pressure often for the first time.
CHIOTAKIS: You say pressure. What kind of pressure?
TYRANGIEL: The pressure is a kind of pressure that I don’t think anyone here can understand anymore. And that’s when you’re sitting on an assembly and you have nine parts to apply to a motherboard in 15 seconds. The level of concentration, the degree to which your perfection, your execution, can either speed up or slow down the assembly line — it’s sort of impossible, again, for us to imagine. But this is what people are confronted with — hundreds of thousands of people are confronted with every day. And this is to produce things that give Western consumers a lot of pleasure.
CHIOTAKIS: Why not take another job? Why not move someplace else? I mean, is it that difficult? Is the pressure that high?
TYRANGIEL: Oh, there are plenty of jobs in China. And in fact one of the labor watch doctors we spoke to said, “You could walk out the door and go to 10 other places to work.” The fact that many people don’t indicates that the treatment and conditions at Foxconn really are better than many other places.
CHIOTAKIS: What is it going to take for the average American to understand that in order to get those things at the most inexpensive price, it takes things like this. It takes tragedies and workforces that don’t make any money and things like that.
TYRANGIEL: Well I hope that our story helps shed some light on how these products get made and what the sort of psychic costs of globalization really are. At the same time, I don’t think Americans are necessarily naive about where these products are coming from. And they have some innate sense that just as several generations ago, their grandparents worked some rather unpleasant jobs to build for a better future, that the Chinese are doing a very similar thing. The difference really is that the Chinese are doing it all in one generation.
CHIOTAKIS: The story is out today in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. And Josh Tyrangiel is the editor at Bloomberg and we appreciate you being with us today.
TYRANGIEL: My pleasure.
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