If we are to take recent news reports at face value, the collective conscience of the world's consumers can be eased, because conditions at Chinese factories are improving.
Last year, The New York Times told us that these workers are “cheap no more,” and just this February, the Heritage Foundation, touting the virtues of global free trade, claimed that Chinese factory wages have risen 20 percent per year since 2005. Foxconn, Apple's major supplier and the manufacturer of approximately 40 percent of the world's consumer electronics, says it will hold free union elections every five years.
But Pollyannas should take pause: The average migrant worker's $320 monthly salary in 2011 was actually 43 percent less than the $560 national average, according to government statistics. And though it's true that Foxconn will permit the election of union leaders, we have yet to see how much China's so-called democratic unions can empower the workers they purport to represent.