Monday, November 3, 2014

Debating the Merits of Tearing Down Mark Zuckerberg for His Chinese Talk

On October 22, Mark Zuckerberg posted a 30-minute video of his discussion with students and faculty of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management in Beijing. The video has reverberated around the halls of the Internet because Zuckerberg did the whole thing in Chinese.

Within a day, China observers around the world began giving their view of the talk. One reaction unfortunately set the tone, though. Foreign Policy's Asia Editor Isaac Stone Fish ("a Mandarin speaker" is at the top of his bio) berated Zuckerberg for his poor Mandarin presentation, publishing a post titled: “Mark Zuckerberg Speaks Mandarin Like A Seven-Year-Old.”

What followed in the subsequent week was an exchange between that FP editor and myself--the platform provided by James Fallows at The Atlantic--over the correctness of his views. My original response to the FP editor is copied below the break. The editor’s response to me is here. Finally, here is a third post on others’ views toward our conversation.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Can I Raise Asian Kids in America?

This post was originally published on China Personified.

My wife, born in Taiwan, and I have talked about kids, including the possibility of adopting a child of Chinese descent. While reading Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity by Matthew Salesses, I was regularly shocked into questioning my decision to raise a child with Asian background.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

iPhone 6 Sale Reveals Ignorance and Indifference in Action -- Part 2 of 2

Photo: Silicon Angle.

The other day, I discussed how Chinese immigrants standing in overnight lines for the iPhone 6 in New York unleashed considerable ignorance and hate by tech lovers and other observers.

Today, we look at another "hot topic" revolving around the iPhone 6 release: the so-called "bendgate". Some early iPhone 6 owners have complained that the cover of the iPhone 6 can be easily bent and damaged.

Friday, October 3, 2014

iPhone 6 Sale Reveals Ignorance and Indifference in Action -- Part 1 of 2

A couple of weeks ago, the iPhone 6 went on sale with incredibly long lines forming outside Apple stores. Around the world, many of the people in the lines were Chinese.

The iPhone 6 had not yet been permitted to go on sale in China, so a resale market was immediately created in which Chinese people (often older, low-wage immigrants) would line up 12 or more hours ahead of the opening, buy one or more iPhones, and then immediately give them to an intermediary outside of the store. The person in line would receive a fee of a couple hundred bucks for their service, and the intermediary would proceed to resell the phone in China for a 100-200% mark-up.

In New York, this process was recorded and published on YouTube by a self-professed "big tech nerd" who "slept on the streets to get the very first iPhone". The video (shown below) was originally titled the "Chinese Mafia Takes Over iPhone 6 Lines", demonstrating deep ignorance and/or prejudice by the filmmaker. After major news outlets rebuked the mafia claim, he changed the title of the video to "Black Market Takes Over iPhone 6 Lines". But it was too little too late. The seeds of hate had already been planted. Just take a look at the comments in the video to get a rough idea of the terrible prejudice that exists toward and within the East Asian community.

This film breaks my heart. Money-strapped immigrants, following the law and just trying pull in a couple extra hundred dollars, are harassed by police while sleeping on dirty sidewalks in garbage bags. This film really is an allegory for so many major influences in the U.S.: immigration, capitalism, inequality, and prejudice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

An Open Letter to American Men

Dear Fellow American Men,

Why do so many among us hate women? The amount of harassment and violence we inflict on our American sisters is astounding. Millions of women are physically or sexually assaulted every year.

The tremendous number of rapes perpetrated on female college students is one issue that has gained more attention as of late. A relatively well-known case is that of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia student that was raped by a classmate her sophomore year. But Columbia administration meted out little to no punishment for the offenders in Emma and other female students' cases. Leniency toward offenders is a common theme for college rape.

What's sickening is that some of us (men) blame women for their own rape: "When a woman wears clothes like that, she's asking for it", "This is why women shouldn't get drunk at parties", "She shouldn't have gone to the party without bringing a friend". We say these things oblivious to how unjust it is that men can roam free wearing and drinking whatever they want while women must vigilantly prevent their own rapes.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Socially Responsible" Capitalism Still Feeds the Disease

As part of an excellent analysis piece on the concept of social responsibility, I did an interview with journalist Toshio Meronek for Truthout. The article really touches on issues located at the root of the state of business ethics. I've copied the beginning of the article below. The full piece, published on September 16, can be read here.

Capitalism with a conscience? That's the idea behind so-called "socially responsible" investments - buying stocks in companies that are screened for criteria like good labor practices, sustainability and whether or not the company is involved in arms manufacturing. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, an industry association, claimed in its latest report from 2012 that at least $3.74 trillion in the United States is invested with environmental and social impacts in mind.

Some socially responsible investments (SRI) weed out cigarette companies like Philip Morris; others shun companies with poor environmental records, like BP. But whichever investments you choose, there's a good chance you'll be profiting off companies with bad human rights records because the backbone of many SRI funds are consumer technology stocks - companies like Apple and Samsung, which have histories replete with labor and privacy abuses.

China Labor Watch (CLW) is one of the groups that investigates ongoing labor problems; Kevin Slaten is its US-based program coordinator. He spoke to Truthout about the reports his organization has conducted on Apple, which started to be heavily scrutinized around 2010 when activists brought attention to child labor in some of the factories used by the computer giant. Some of these same factories were the subjects of protests over a number of Chinese labor law violations and mass worker suicides.

According to Slaten, "We constantly find these symptoms, but the disease underlying these symptoms has not been properly taken care of for years. The disease is these companies want the most amount of products in the shortest amount of time."

Read the rest of the article here.

More Exploitation, More Happiness: How Netizens Responded to a Deadly Factory Explosion

This essay was originally published at 
ChinaFile on September 18, 2014.

It was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in recent Chinese history. On August 2, a massive metal dust explosion killed 75 workers and injured another 186 at a factory in Kunshan, in Jiangsu province, that supplied wheels to General Motors. Asphyxiation killed more than 40 people almost immediately as oxygen in the production facility was consumed in an instant. Many of those who escaped suffered severe burns across their entire bodies as the flames instantly ignited the dust that covered their clothes and skin.

The explosion, like many workplace safety incidents in China, was preventable, and much of the blame for it rests with the factory’s owners and clients. But Chinese Internet users, who spread news of the blast over social media, tended to direct their outrage at the Chinese government, treating the explosion as a symbol of their leaders’ failure to value human life as highly as economic growth, a sentiment mordantly expressed through the popularization of the Chinese phrase “More exploitation, more happiness.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Media Round-up: Lack of reform to working conditions at Apple supplier Catcher

On September 4, China Labor Watch (CLW) along with Green America published an investigative report (PDF) on a long list of labor and safety violations at factory called Catcher Technology in Suqian, China that manufactures Apple computer and phone parts.

In addition to the approaching iPhone 6, this report followed 16 months after CLW had already reported similar labor abuse to Apple. But Apple failed to take the necessary action to see through reform. 

In the wake of this report, I had a chance to discuss findings and underlying causes with WSJ, The Guardian, the South China Morning Post, and CNET. Voice of America did a Chinese-language interview with me. I also stepped onto CNBC's Squawk Box, which you can view below.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What is the Chinese Dream?

Over the past three decades, every Chinese Communist Party chairman, upon his taking the reigns of power, has developed a grand guiding principle rolled up into a nifty rhetorical package. Not much unlike U.S. politicians' campaign slogans, in the 1990s, it was Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" (三个代表), and in the 2000s, Hu Jintao's "Scientific Development" (科学发展观).

Soon after Xi Jinping became the top official in China, he developed a phrase that would become his political slogan: "The Chinese Dream" (中国梦). But amidst increasing amounts of both real and perceived inequality, some in China do not feel that they are enjoying the dream, especially migrant workers who built much of that dream with their bare hands.

Over at ChinaFile, Sharron Lovell and Tom Wang asked a few young Chinese people about their dreams. One of the most memorable quotes for me was from a young man who said:

"If there weren't any migrant workers, it would be impossible for China to develop this fast." ... "The place you live was built by migrant workers. What you're eating was grown by migrant workers. What you're wearing was produced by migrant workers."     
“如果没有农民的话,中国不可能发展这么快。”... “你住的地方农民工建的,你吃的农民工种的,你穿的农民工做。”
See the entire video below.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The end of newsies

Child newsies in 1906. "Midnight at the Brooklyn Bridge" -- Photo by Lewis W. Hine. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee. Ex-collection of Corydon Hine. Copyright George Eastman House Collection.
Stepping off the Long Island Railroad train, I look up to catch my bearings. Seventh Avenue is to the right, and I follow the stream of morning passengers toward the steps that lead up into the main hall of the train station.

After squeezing out of the narrow stairway, people around me seem to multiply into a enormous crowd of commuters, filling the large hallways of Pennsylvania Station. The mass of people flows like an urgent river toward the main exit up to the street level. I jump into the stream, bobbing and weaving between groggy businesspeople and office workers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Media Round-up: Child labor at Samsung supplier Shinyang

On July 10, CLW exposed another case of child workers making Samsung products at a Samsung supplier plant in southern China called Shinyang Electronics. Beside child labor, there were a list of 14 other labor abuses, such as 120 hours of overtime per month, unsafe working conditions, and more.

There was a considerable media follow-up on the heels of the report. Among the stories, I spoke on CNN's Quest Means Business and WSJ Live, and interviewed with the International Business Times. The videos are below.

CNN clip

WSJ clip

Friday, July 4, 2014

As Hong Kong Rocked in Protest, Transformers 4 Plays Chinese Politics: Critics Call Director "A Giant Tool"

A few hours ago, I was sitting in a local theater with my wife watching Transformers 4, the latest iteration of Director Michael Bay's "robot porn" series. (The fact that we paid money to see it is perhaps an admission of a guilty indulgence.)

Trying to keep warm in the chilly theater, we were enjoying that special Bay combination of explosions, CGI, and corny star-studded humor. All of a sudden, there was a cut-away scene to the Chinese Ministry of Defense in which a top official says "the central government will defend Hong Kong at all costs"!

I felt like my sci-fi escapism had been blind-sided by a Communist Party public service announcement.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Government Steps Up To Labor’s Demands: Importance of Yue Yuen Shoe Factory Strike

Photo provided to China Labor Watch by Yue Yuen worker.

This essay was originally published at ChinaFile.

On April 14, most of the 40,000 workers at the Dongguan Yue Yuen shoe factory—supplier to Nike, Adidas, and other international brands—began what would become a two-week work stoppage. While there are thousands of strikes in China every year, the Yue Yuen action broke the mold by attracting an unprecedented show of government support for worker demands.

Monday, April 28, 2014

CBC (The Current) interview on Yue Yuen strike

On Monday April 28, I went to CBC's studio in Midtown Manahattan to chat with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about the progress of the hitoric Yue Yuen strike. The entire segment on the story can be listened to hear:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NBC News interview on progressing Yue Yuen Strike

As it entered the 40,000-strong Yue Yuen shoe factory strike entered its second week, NBC New's Alastair Jamieson interviewed me on some aspects of the protest. The full article is below.

Worsening China Factory Strike Threatens Adidas, Nike Sneakers

BEIJING - A wage dispute at a huge sneaker factory that supplies brands including Adidas and Nike escalated Wednesday, highlighting the growing problems faced by China’s manufacturing powerhouse. 

Workers at the plant – owned by the world's largest maker of sneakers, Yue Yuen – earn as little as $1.67 an hour making shoes that can sell for up to 100 times as much in the United States. 

Tens of thousands of employees have been off work for a second week, forcing Adidas to switch production to some of its other suppliers. At least one organizer was arrested by police and has not been seen for 24 hours, activists told NBC News Wednesday after a settlement offer was rejected. 

At the core of the dispute is the issue of historic underpayments for social security and housing fund contributions, but the issue goes far beyond the shoe plant. 

Workers throughout China are demanding not just higher wages but better social insurance as they face the prospect of supporting a rapidly aging population.
“The fact that something as nuanced as social insurance has led to a strike shows just how much things are changing,” said Kevin Slaten of U.S.-based non-profit China Labor Watch. “This generation of workers is a lot more aware of its rights and this problem is not unique to this factory.” 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interview on BBC World News about massive Chinese shoe factory strike

On April 15, 2014, a day after a Dongguan shoe factory strike began that would continue ont April 28 and involve about 40,000 worker, BBC World News interviewed me about the event.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Apple responds to campaign, but falls short of progress

This post (with the exception of date changes) first appeared in the blog of Green America.

Co-authored by Kevin Slaten, China Labor Watch, and Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America 
On March 12 in partnership with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour and the activism arm of the Nation, Green America and China Labor Watch launched a petition to Apple to improve worker health and safety in the factories that make Apple products.

Apple was quick to respond to our campaign, in a statement shared with Computer World, however, their statement falls far short of meeting the demands of the campaign.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Guardian interview on worker safety in Apple factories

I talked with The Guardian's Samual Gibbs to discuss worker safety in Chinese plants making Apple products as part the following article:

Apple urged to stop using harmful chemicals in its factories

Labour and eco groups call for chemical safety in manufacturing at Apple factories in China, and say Samsung, Dell and HP should change too

Pressure groups China Labor Watch and Green America say Apple should stop using harmful chemicals including the solvents n-hexane and benzene in its manufacturing.

But they said that they were not calling for a customer boycott of the products, and that any reports suggesting that were “misinterpretation”.

The groups will call on Wednesday for Apple to “stop needlessly exposing workers in Chinese manufacturing facilities to toxic chemicals now causing severe illnesses” arguing that using those chemicals rather than alternatives saves it a “shockingly small amount of money”.

“Together with Green America, we demand that Apple takes responsibility and removes chemicals like the solvents n-hexane and the carcinogen benzene, which is known to cause leukaemia providing its workers with a legal standard of welfare,” Kevin Slaten, programme co-ordinator at China Labor Watch, told the Guardian.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Apple's child labor

Apple iPhone child worker Shi Zhaokun who died last year
(Photo: China Labor Watch)

In writing a piece on child labor in Apple's supply chain, a reporter for Quartz magazine talked with me about the issue as it pertains to China. The article is an interesting read, but (as I told the reporter in an email after the article was publsihed), despite the seriousness of child labor, from a numbers perspective, child labor is a relatively minor aspect of the labor abuse going on in Apple's supply chain.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Quoted in E-Commerce Times on IBM factory strike of 1,000 workers

IBM is selling its low-end server business to Lenevo, and this includes the sale of an electronics factory in Guangdong Province. But during the process, the factory did not offer economic compensation to its workers as required by law. Over 1,000 workers from the plant went on striek to protest this and other issues, like working hours. A reporter from E-Commerce Times contacted me to talk more about the legal background and labor context. Please see the article here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

It just got harder to prosecute corporate abuse

Credit: James Burke via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A Supreme Court ruling in January has made it easier for large multinational corporations to avoid responsibility for its abuses anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Could you help me find a sweatshop for my friend?"


On Monday, I attended the fifth annual Forecast of China's Economy at the New York Stock Exchange, an event organized by the National Committee on United States-China Relations which invites Chinese experts to discuss China's economic policy and its potential to influence the economy in the coming year.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Snowden case is at the soul of America

On Facebook today, a friend (you know who you are) posted on my wall that some of the labor rights denied to Chinese workers are also regularly denied to American workers. Unfortunately true.

Soon after reading this post, I read the New York Times' editorial that ambitiously kicked off the new year by demanding amnesty for Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower now self-exiled in Russia.

How, you ask, is Snowden related to labor rights defense?