Globalization: responsible for problems, opportunities or both?

People from all over China come to Shenzen to find employment opportunities. As harsh as the conditions are in factories, thousands of people are still waiting and wanting to get jobs from them. But why?

To form a well informed opinion about anything, evidence and opinions from all sides must be considered. Completely consumed by Daisey’s very polarized monologue on Apple’s supply chain labor along with its surrounding controversy, I completely overlooked seeking a contrary point of view on the topic. This didn’t become apparent to me until Professor Zhu’s perspective on behalf of the Chinese people during his short segment in “un/real and un/true: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”.

It’s no secret transnational corporations provide opportunities for rapid industrialization and exceptional economic growth rates, just look at the Asian Tigers. Maybe it took a second time of hearing Daisey’s monologue to realize how ridiculous Shenzhen’s story really is. Thirty-one years ago Shenzhen was a fishing village. Now it’s a city larger and more industrialized than New York City, a place that’s been a metropolis for eras.  That’s insane. As Professur Zhu began slapping back Daisey’s argument in his short amount of time at the microphone, I started to empathize with what he was saying.

Perhaps we as consumers identify with the Responsibility Thesis and feel ethically obligated to feel guilty and responsible for all the labor problems we have created by purchasing Apple products. But then again, perhaps we should “praise globalization for those problems” as Professor Zhu said. Transnational corporations provided China with the platform to accomplish what they wanted, a modern China. This may have been in the form of taking Shenzhen and making it into a manufacturing hub, but we should “praise globalization for those opportunities” that have allowed China to escape poverty and reach their goal. As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, China is now an economic superpower to reckon with. Sure there are harsh working conditions and a few cases of life-threatening work conditions here and there, but maybe Nicholas Kristof was right when he said these conditions are a right of passage necessary to grow from a secondary to a tertiary based economy. At least Apple is diligent about knowing the work conditions of their supply chain by auditing and making their findings transparent to the public. When the United States was a secondary based economy with harsh working conditions, manufacturers’ working conditions weren’t audited to the capacity they are in China today.  Extremely accessible media platforms to express frustrations and opinions in the way Mike Daisey did with his monologue were not an option either.


Photo from China Magazine’s article, Chinese Economic Growth

Transnational corporations gave China what they wanted, an opportunity to grow their economy and modernize China. Industrialization that took the United States centuries took Shenzhen only thirty-one years. But as a country who has experienced this so called “right of passage” already, are we wrong for not exporting the protections that we have labeled ethical as a society when we decided to export our manufacturing to China? Or is creating these protections a part of the right of passage?

5 thoughts on “Globalization: responsible for problems, opportunities or both?”

  1. I am glad you use the phrase transnational corporations as opposed to international. I think there is a critical difference because the transnationals are operating in a space BETWEEN nations not merely being in one with operations in another.


  2. I am not content to say that what people in China (or Indonesia, Nicaragua, or anywhere else) experience is an inevitable growing pain. Firstly, this signs away far too much potential for human agency to affect society. Secondly, in the case of China where there is still much authoritarianism, we can no know reliably that individuals are able to advocate and petition to take their own destiny in their own hands.


    1. I agree. I think unions and a multiparty political system were key factors in mobilizing for change when developed countries were still developing. Without these factors in the equation, I don’t see a way to voice the progress or policies needed for this so called “right of passage”. Even though mobilizing as a workforce for labor rights is borderline impossible given China’s current authoritarian policies surrounding unions, I do think it is a necessity to empower and secure the future for the backbone of China’s economy, its labor force.

      But I think the debate further lies within our hands as observers and residual beneficiaries of the labor problems. We are adopting this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality despite being key players with tremendous leverage in this growing pain. I think our inability to get off the sidelines and take action lies somewhere between our political self interest and fear of China becoming the strongest economy in the world.

      Maybe China’s authoritarian policies are only hurting themselves from dominating the world economy?


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