In my earlier post about the retraction by This American Life of their show Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory, I referred briefly to the question of whether we should feel bad about working conditions in China when we use products made there.

In the ‘Retraction’ show, Charles Duhigg outlines that the fictional account in the earlier broadcast,  while being based on factual events, connected and exaggerated the facts in a way that was way beyond the standards of journalistic reporting.  Ira Glass, the show’s host, asks Duhigg the question “Should we still feel bad about working conditions in China?”   In declining to answer that specific question,  Duhigg instead offered to share some facts to allow the listener to reach their own conclusion.  I would summarize his response as stating that working standards in many Chinese factories are significantly worse than we would accept in the USA both by law and by practice.  While I think this is almost certainly true, I don’t believe it is enough of a basis upon which to make a determination of whether or not we should still feel bad.

‘How much worse?’ is obviously an important issue in reaching a personal determination.

But even if we can resolve that question, there is an equally important issue. That is, the extent to which the working conditions have enabled the low production costs and production flexibility through which economically developed nations have shared their wealth with developing and emerging economies allowing them to improve their societal wellbeing.

I think the key conditions for accepting worse working conditions are:

  • A baseline of global human rights
  • That working conditions are better than the alternative that would exist without the foreign investment
  •  That they are on a path of continual improvement designed to lead to an equality of standards, rather than a perpetuation of the imbalance.

What do you think ?