Labor reform and the clash between laborors and capitalists is in itself a basic reality that continuously takes place. They're two teams pitted against each other, with one trying to get the most out of the other.
The author does have a point in that ultimately the money will follow the path of least resistance to profit, but the point of labor reform is to add resistance and BUY TIME while they (laborers) think of future possibilities. Along the way, people live better while the capitalist establishes offshore or alternative plans. Just look at what Labor Gone Wild - i.e. auto unions in the U.S. - were able to do in delaying the inevitable.
It's all about the journey, not the inevitable ending.
Cost Cost Cost
The three most important characteristics in labor and products. "Rights" (as I understand them being used here) add non-value added cost, thats the real world. So the business man that can find the less eutopian orientated labor market will always provide product and better cost.
Consumers in general will not choose the more expensive product for moral reasons. For a start, there are hundreds of thousands of consumer products, most of which, thanks to globalisation, are produced all around the globe. It is complicated for consumers to figure out which product contains the more exploitative units of Labour. But even if a reliable method could be devised (and policed and paid for), most consumers would still find it impossible to renounce their addiction to large quantities of consumers product, and addiction which, after all, relies on incredibly low prices.
I have worked in the technology area for 15 years - an interval during which consumer electronics wove its way into our lives at an exponential rate. Google, iPhones, Facebook, Mobile Connectivity, HDTV - all this lay in the future only a few short years ago, yet now people have come to believe that these kinds of technological consumer products are an essential part of their lives. (Such is the shallowness of civilisation, but that's another days work). But Globalisation has indeed pushed Industrial revolution to the - once - peripheral countries.
I would largely agree that in the end, the well being of Chinese and other exploited workers, lies in their own hands. Not simplistically. No suicide or simple revolt will turn events immediately. But as mentioned above, with time, their middle class societies will evolve and at some stage, one would expect, an awakening will occur whereby human values have to enter the so called value chain.
I don't agree with the mantra that 'well, if Chinese workers get rights, they get expensive too, and the exploitation simply moves on'. First, China is by far the biggest signle pool of workers on the planet. That alone makes it important and different. Second, in parallel, other workers in poor locations will be moving in tandem with the Chinese, and eventually, capital will run out of cheap exploitable labour. Differences will remain, but one hopes that as the final wave of Industrialisation finally washes deep into all societies, workers everywhere will have reason to expect some kind of basic dignity and quality of life for their families.
But as has been mentioned above too - this will undoubtedly mean a levelling out between East and West; and we in the West will be the ultimate loosers (on a purely material basis). Our economies will cease to be the main global powerhouses, or at least will be joined by other no less vigorous economies. And our societies too will cease to be places of privilege, wealth, progress, beside the backward, undeveloped, exploited and hungry periphery. The vast chasm between the West and the rest will have shrunk (though hopefully not reversed!)
One could improve labor conditions without needing to pass the cost to the consumer because optimizations elsewhere are made. Better automation, technology, better financing, raw material cost. Our industry has a different cost model in that the BOM not labor somehow sets the price. Automation taken to the limit eliminates all jobs, but perhaps the leisure society ( working less hours but stil have income) can still survive if it has decent wages with disposable income that gets spent. The point here is that decent wages help economic cycles without necessarily having an adverse effect. Optimization is the operative word not minimization. Finally just because people have no choice (in accepting poor wages) does not mean you do not give them one. That is what makes us sentient beings and not cold calculating short sighted opportunistic exploiters. It also happens to be good business as Imodu points out. Call me an optimist, but I think doing the right thing can be contagious specially when you refuse the zero sum game and you recognize false choices that make the unacceptable palatable.
Thanks all for the great comments. Imodu, I think you make a compelling argument. With the Foxconn wage increases, we will be paying more for products.
My hypothetical example above was meant to be sarcastic, but in all reality I would expect that some company will try to market a product that caters to this niche, emphasizing fair labor practices. It will resonate with some people.
SallyF, for the record, I am aware that I am not God. I appreciate your comments.
You sound like a hypocrite to me. Why do you expect "investors" or Steve Jobs or anyone else to do why you won't gladly do?
What exactly is it that you want to achieve? You're not God and can't even know the outcome of what you're suggesting. The people there might lose their jobs and starve. Do you know they won't?
Don't be like a Democrat that wants to make lots of laws and burden other people, but won't obey any of the laws and won't carry any of the burdens themselves.
I there was evidence that Foxconn or other Chinese manufacturers brought employees into the company by force, or kept them there under duress, or used slave labor, that would be outrageous. But nobody is saying that; it appears these workers have taken the jobs because they are satisfied with the money and conditions.
So they hate their jobs and would like more money. As George Carlin once said: There's a support group for that. It's called everybody, and they meet at the bar.
The point about peoples general willingness to voluntary pay extra for the benefit of someone else is most probably rather correct. The point about corporations should pay for this w/o passing the costs on to customers is not. Corporations has as sole responsibility towards their owners to make as much profit as possible, inside the rules set up by their respective charters and the law. There are niche markets for 'high moral' products, but as stated above, people in general will not pay for them. Thus, the only long term way to handle working conditions is by law, that is, by setting up global minimum rules.
Good points. Often people who say they want to do good or "help" are really more about making themselves feel good, or better, or less "guilty"--but ignore some fundamental realities, or the law of unintended or unforseen consequences. Food aid, for example, often crowds out local farmers--see what had happened in post-earthquake Haiti, or much of Africa. Just because your intentions are noble doesn't mean they will have the intended outcome.