British newspaper The Daily Mail recently revealed that workers at Chinese tech manufacturer Foxconn have been forced to sign pledges not to commit suicide . This comes after fourteen Foxconn workers have committed suicide in the past sixteen months, allegedly because of substandard working conditions. Foxconn’s troubles have been extensively covered by Ars Technica and Wired.
The Daily Mail makes much of the fact that Foxconn is the manufacturer of Apple’s products, but the environment in Chinese manufacturing is not unique to Foxconn and Apple, but rather the norm for China. Unfortunately, our drive for cheaper and cheaper gadgets has led to a pursuit of super-thin margins and aggressive manufacturing targets. It’s questionable whether the climate in China will change, and whether people will be willing to accept higher prices for their technology in return for acceptable working conditions for the people who manufacture them.