I woke up recently to read about a riot at a Foxconn factory in China where, according to the New York Times, the state-run media in China had reported that some 5,000 police officers were called to the factory complex to respond to “a riot that began as a dispute involving a group of workers and security guards at a factory dormitory.” The article quotes an interview with an employee who had posted images of the disturbance online as indicating that it started as a disagreement between workers and security personnel… “But I think the real reason is they were frustrated with life.”
Frustrated with life. There’s a social impact of manufacturing for you!
The cause of some of this frustration is, apparently, rooted in concerns about promises made to workers, often migrant workers from long distances in China arriving to find that the pay package they were promised is not what they are getting. Roll in a bit of different cultural traditions linked to the different provinces the workers come from and it can be a volatile mix of social issues and different style/customs.
Is this the future of manufacturing?
In the part I of these articles on social impacts in sustainability I wrote about resiliency and some of the societal dimensions of sustainability. I introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness relating to things such as:
– Economic Wellness – Environmental Wellness – Physical Wellness – Mental Wellness – Workplace Wellness – Social Wellness, and – Political Wellness
I mentioned that trying to characterize these in a practicable way is always a challenge – but, at least for workplace wellness and mental wellness, perhaps the Foxconn employees have offered a view to this.
If we look at some of the issues gripping the US at the moment we might also suggest they stem from “frustration with life.” Joblessness, specially among certain segments of the population and in the manufacturing sector, debt (personal and governmental due to the downturn and unsound investments), maybe even “too much information.” Thanks to the internet, twitter, cable TV, blogs, etc., we can now share everyone’s pain and perceptions of reality. Are we better off?
So, where does green, manufacturing, and education come into this?
Not surprisingly, as an educator and working for a university, I have a strong belief in the power of education to make people’s lives better. I would certainly expect that, for Foxconn, education of the workforce along with attention to the other “happiness” elements above, could swing some of these folks back to feeling more optimistic about life.