Media outlets in China reported on Monday that between 3,000 to 4,000 people staged a protest over the weekend at a Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. plant in Shenzhen, China. The protest was spurred by the joint business venture between Sanyo and Panasonic as well as growing concerns among workers about job security and compensation.
Reuters reported an interview in the Sing Tao Daily in which a Sanyo employee said workers suspected they would not receive payment after the two companies’ integrated their business earlier this month.
Four people were arrested during the protest after clashing with police, reports People.com.cn.
Reuters also reported that a spokesperson for Panasonic in Tokyo said it was not clear what exactly the workers were demanding, but that negotiations were still being made.
The factory employed 3,400 people as of December 2010.
This is the latest protest by laborers in China’s industrial city of Shenzhen, where most of the world’s tech products are assembled. Just last week, Foxconn closed deals with protestors after some threatened mass suicide. The workers claimed they were moved to a new facility and given less than one-third of the pay they were promised.
Shenzhen is larger than New York City and “is the place where almost all of your crap comes from,” storyteller Mike Daisey said in an hour-long segment of This American Life .
Several big stories over the past few years have reported on deplorable working conditions in Chinese factories that manufacture the vast majority of tech gadgets. Daisey employed investigative reporting techniques and went to China for a segment that spotlighted the Foxconn factory’s conditions.
In January of this year, Apple released a list of the companies that build its products. That list typically is released in February. In a response post on This American Life , Producer Brian Reed wrote they don’t know if the release of Apple’s suppliers was spurred by their show, but they did give Apple credit for initiating some positive changes.
Apple hired an independent auditing service, Fair Labor Association, to monitor working conditions during unannounced audits of Apple factories and allow transparency into Apple’s manufacturing process. The company will post the review on its website without giving approval from Apple. Apple is the first tech company to allow this. However, some have been critical of this plan, saying it is nothing more than a public relations move by Apple, because if a factory is found in violation of working standards, the auditing company doesn’t name which factory location it is.
“This makes it impossible to learn anything new about what is going on in Apple’s supply chain, to verify anything, or hold anyone responsible,” said Daisey during his segment.
In the 1990′s, shoddy work conditions in China at clothing retailers such as Nike sparked protests and eventually caused Nike to partner with the Fair Labor Association (FLA). Will increased public attention on tech manufacturers in Shenzhen hasten positive change for workers?
At the end of the radio show on which Daisey’s segment aired, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof makes a guest appearance. Kristof and his wife spent time in southern China and observed the boost factory work provided for the Chinese economy and the quality of life for local people.
Clearly, there’s a lot of gray area with this issue. Ultimately, consumers will keep demanding gadgets at reasonable prices and factory work will only continue to grow. Maybe in the future, however, more factories will use robots to do tedious, repetitive and dangerous tasks.
Do you consider where your device came from? And, what do you think about the future of Shenzhen factories? Tell us in the comments.
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