Today’s post links to the technology page of Faster Times. I’m sure there are ‘billions’ of articles and commentaries on this move by Microsoft, but I’m pleased to link my post to Faster Times. “The Faster Times is an independent collective of journalists and writers who are looking to create a new model for the newspaper.” They have a subscription system, and a Face Book page. We might want to support them!
Full article, at Faster Times, is here: Microsoft Buys Skype for 8.5 Billion Dollars – Not a Typo « Technology. The excerpt I’ve selected:
“That may sound like a lot but let’s consider the, oh wait, there is nothing to consider, it’s 8.5 BILLION DOLLARS. That’s 4.25 billion slices of NYC pizza. That’s more than the GNP of Senegal, Nepal and Paraguay. That’s about twice the worth of Donald Trump if you ask Donald Trump and about twenty times his worth if you ask anyone else. In short, it’s a boatload of money.”
The Faster Times article shares the same interests in Microsoft’s Skype purchase as do all reports I’ve heard today, and all interviews I’ve heard with principals involved. The interests are in risks to Microsoft’s bottom line, and in what Microsoft will do to develop Skypes potential.
All well and good! We very much appreciate technological companies bringing us new, improved, (and sometimes still ‘glitchy’) products. We like the ways we can make practical and entertainment use of the products. Shareholders of major, strong, companies especially like the possibilities for increased investment value and income.
A shining example of expansionist capitalism bringing improvements for everybody – Right?? (??)
Maybe not. It just so happens that I spent hours earlier today chasing down details for a post I hope to write on Hillary Clinton’s scolding of China. When American high profile spokespeople make accusations on human rights issues of other countries, I think there need to be ‘shadow spokespersons’ offering additional, clarifying information. The kinds of details that make ‘transparency’ real.
I am weary of the pretense that goes with hypocrisy. I don’t expect perfection, I do expect honesty.
In my search for ‘human rights issues’, for which the United States might want to acknowledge responsibility and involvement, I was over-whelmed by volumes of studies, reports, and well-researched articles that reveal consistent patterns of ‘not caring about’ the most vulnerable workers.
I’ll save mention of these for the article I hope to soon write – but for one ‘hit’ that I’ll share here. Why? Because one of the ‘hits’ I found earlier today explains how Microsoft has accumulated profits that let it afford purchase of Skype for 8.5 billion dollars.
April 13, 2010: From Global Labour Rights: Report: “China’s Youth Meet Microsoft“. (Click on the link where you can read the report and/or download a PDF of the report.)
Here are my selections from the 35 page report: (I’ve ‘messed with sequence at least once, but mostly I’ve scrolled through, picking up report details as I go. Page numbers are given.)
“Over the last three years, … photographs were smuggled out of the KYE Systems factory in the south of China. These images of exhausted teenagers making Microsoft “Life Cam VX-7000; “Basic Optical Mouse” and “Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000″ are not necessarily ones the American people would associate with Microsoft. Unfortunately these are Microsoft products, and Microsoft has been outsourcing production to the KYE factory since at least 2003.” (page 9)
The bulleted list gives items from a summary page (and a much longer list.) All but the final item are from page 8
“We are like prisoners… We do not have a life. Only work.”
-Teenaged Microsoft Worker
- Over the past three years, unprecedented photographs of exhausted teenaged workers, toiling and slumping asleep on their assembly line during break time, have been smuggled out of the KYE factory.
- KYE recruits hundreds-even up to 1,000-“work study students” 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week.
- In 2007 and 2008, dozens of the work study students were reported to be just 14 and 15 years old.
- A typical shift is from 7:45 a.m. to 10:55 p.m. Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for factory food.
- Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours.
- As punishment, workers who make mistakes are made to clean the bathrooms.
- Security guards sexually harass the young women.
- Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds.
- To “shower,” workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath.
- Workers are also docked nearly three days’ wages, 100 RMB ($14.67), for losing their time cards, which are worth only 5 RMB (73 cents U.S.). (pg. 16)
“In one workshop measuring around 105 by 105 feet, there were nearly 1,000 workers. In the summer, temperatures can exceed 86 degrees and workers leave their shifts dripping in sweat. It is only when the foreign clients show up that management turns on the air conditioning.” (pg 9, underline mine).
“Management instructs the workers to “answer the clients’ questions very carefully.” They should say they never work more than 12 hours a day and overtime is less than 36 hours a month. Workers are told to respond they are “very satisfied” when asked about working conditions, their dorms and meals. To make this sound even more “authentic,” workers are told to “spontaneously” mention other factories where they had worked in the past, where conditions were “awful.“” (pg. 24, underline mine).
“We asked if factory management has to openly threaten workers to lie. The answer was no. As the workers put it: “They don’t have to as workers get it and know what is going on. Those who break ranks are fired. Workers have heard of others being fired for speaking truthfully. Among themselves, workers talk about this. They know not to tell the truth.” (pg. 24)
If the Chinese KYE factory management can’t be honest (apparently it can’t, see report pages 20, 25, also elsewhere in report) then Microsoft also cannot be viewed as ‘ethically superior‘:
“A Strange Thing Happened When the authoritarian government in China …proposed minor labor rights improvements for China’s workers…Microsoft and other U.S. companies fought to block them!” (pg 34, underline mine.)
“Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and other U.S. companies remained silent as the American Chamber of Commerce in China-to which they belong—threatened the totalitarian government of China that the new contract law would hurt China’s workers, negatively impact on China’s investment environment and lead to mass layoffs.” (pg. 34, underline mine.)
Here I sit, using Microsoft products to compose and eventually post this piece. There you sit, using Microsoft products to read what I’ve written.
We’re in whatever ‘atmosphere’ we happen to be in. Not many of us are in the more rarefied atmosphere of giant corporate magnates. Like other American mega-corporate owners and managers, Bill Gates, and associated Microsoft officers, find opportunities like Skype “great for business”. Accumulated profits fairly cry out for new, expansionist, opportunities.
I repeat (and am likely to beat this particular drum roll in other posts): I am weary of the pretense that goes with hypocrisy. I don’t expect perfection, I do expect honesty.
If we – you and I – do not admit to ourselves, and to one another, that we’re benefiting in productivity, ease of communication, and entertainment, off slave labor conditions of electronics industry, then we’re complicit. (In addition, we’re unaware of being gouged ourselves! Some years back – 2006? – Mattel, Nike, and SpeedO were cited as ‘shining examples’ of corporations running ‘slave condition’ manufacturing with ‘what market will bear’ pricing. The report I’ve used here, China’s Youth Meet Microsoft, includes pages of financial information and documentation – too much information for me to examine and include in this post. My concern, however, is with slave labor conditions – much closer to life/death importance – than consumer retail product price. Extreme profiteering at the retail end clearly does add to evidence that these corporate empires are motivated to accumulate profit ‘by any available means’.)
It’s interesting to imagine a comparison of our attitudes toward today’s corporate use of slave and low-paid labor with attitudes of Europe’s fortune-seeking businesses and ‘comfortable classes’ during profiteering by slave labor and slave conditions in the days of sugar plantations in the Americas.
Sugar planting, harvesting, and processing is tiring, hot, dangerous work and requires a large number of workers whose work habits must be intensely coordinated and controlled. From the very beginning of sugar cultivation in the New World, there were not enough European settlers to satisfy the labor requirements for profitable sugar plantations. Native Americans were enslaved to work on the earliest sugar plantations, especially in Brazil. Those who could, escaped from the fields, but many more died due to European diseases, such as smallpox and scarlet fever, and the harsh working conditions on the sugar plantations. A Catholic priest named Bartolomé de las Casas asked King Ferdinand of Spain to protect the Taino Indians of the Caribbean by importing African slaves instead. So, around 1505, enslaved Africans were first brought to the New World. For the next three and a half centuries, slaves of African origin provided most of the labor for the sugar industry in the Americas.
(from Sugar and Slavery: Molasses to Rum to Sugar and Slavery, by Jean M. West.)
I don’t happen, this minute, to have excerpts from a diary or letter that lets us glimpse what ‘more comfortable classes’ might have thought of slave plantation conditions. My guess is they found it interesting to discover new uses and pleasures from sugar. Other than that, perhaps they ‘sort of’ ‘ignored the whole issue’.
When fortunes were at stake, issues of ‘freedom’ and ‘working conditions’ were perceived as threat, for the same reasons (fortunes , control, and comfort), in years to come, that ‘labor unions’ were – and still are – perceived as threat.
Same old. Same old. American ‘pride of accomplishment’, ‘pride of freedom’, and ‘pride in matters of human rights’ is not based on full knowledge of human misery, and is not “proof of expansionist capitalism’s triumph over human misery“.
It’s not that simple, not that innocent.
Not at all.
A. For a 2nd look our technology pleasures benefiting from worker slavery, see “Capitalism, Steve Jobs, and Faust“, October 2011.
B. Notes on the Microsoft post above:
(1) Themes in this post can be generalized in understanding dynamics always at work in ‘expansionist capitalist’ activity. Conditions in China are not unique. Within American borders there is ‘slave trade’ activity. I hope to present my day’s searching in a post soon.
(2) I added the text seen on photos of Chinese workers.