A Citizen of the World
I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.
Socrates, philosopher (469 - 399 B.C.E.)
The recent wave of suicides at the Foxconn manufacturing plant in China has served as an eye-opener to what life is like living in a factory culture. Proposed wage increases across Chinese factories have created a dialog in the U.S., addressing concerns about manufacturing practices, what wage increases will mean in terms of product costs, and the impact it will have on our economy. While the changes in China will impact our wallets, it’s a positive shift for the Asian working class. Perhaps it is one that should have happened a long time ago.
We are no longer citizens of a small-town economy. The people who manufacture our goods are, for the most part, a vast and faceless population. When local business drove the economy, you personally knew Tom the shoe maker and drank coffee with Joe the tailor. Today, it’s all too easy to cast aside the lives of the people building our products and driving our profits, because we will never see their faces and never know what their lives are like.
Many in the U.S. have resented the perceived edge China has in manufacturing, leading to indifference toward social responsibility in the Far East. This perception is challenged on the website of Helen H. Wang, author of The Chinese Dream, in a post titled “Myth of China’s Manufacturing Prowess.” As Wang astutely points out, “There is a key misconception about China’s manufacturing prowess. In the United States and Europe, the manufacturing industry was created due to technology innovation. In China, the manufacturing industry is being created in response to global demand. Chinese manufacturers take orders from Western companies. ... They have no involvement with product development, innovation, market research and even packaging. Chinese manufacturers have no experience in bringing their own products to overseas markets.”
What China has offered up to the world economy are hundreds of thousands of nimble hands to build whatever Western culture can dream up, and they do this for pennies on the dollar. As global citizens, it is high time we ask the question: What is our responsibility to those who have helped make our dreams come true?