The kind of future promised in The Jetsons has finally arrived, in the form of Google Glass. But before the crowd of phone-gazing pedestrians gives way to facial computer wearers, somebody has to make these revolutionary new gadgets. Along with Glass, Google is ushering in the era of Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn in America. It's been reported that the multinational company will be building its first facility in the U.S., in the northern California city of Santa Clara.
Foxconn, known also as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., is the same company that manufactures iPads and iPhones, as well as Kindles and Wii U. It's also the same company that came under fire in 2010, when 14 workers committed suicide at its factory complex in Shenzhen, a sprawling compound nicknamed iPod City where hundreds of thousands of workers live, eat, sleep, and make electronics. All of those who killed themselves did so by jumping from a building. Low wages, worker abuse,and unpaid overtime were cited as some of the reasons behind the suicides in the Shenzhen factories, called "labor camps" in a joint research report produced by 20 universities in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
After the suicides, Foxconn raised wages and installed netting to catch jumpers. A 2012 audit of the company by the Fair Labor Association at Apple's request revealed labor violations including unsafe conditions and low wages.
When the formerly "Made in America" Apple took production to Asia, it was because American workers didn't have the specialized skills or the work ethic needed to crank out iProducts at breakneck speeds. And, needless to say, the price of the average Foxconn worker, though now much higher than the Shenzhen minimum wage at about $400 per month with a promise of increase, is still much lower than that of an American worker.
While a factory in China is required to produce enough Apple gadgets to meet insatiable demands, is it really necessary to make Google Glass? The high-tech eyewear is expected to roll out in a small batch of just 8 thousand, to be sold to select tech pioneers at $1,500 a pair. By the end of 2013, Glass should be available to all consumers at a lower price. It remains to be seen whether consumers, who relatively recently got used to touch screens, will be clamoring to get their hands on Glass as they did for the iPad.
It's a relief to see that unlike the majority of electronics, Glass will be made on U.S. soil. According to the Financial Times, which first reported Foxconn's coming to California, Glass, unlike the iPad, is a good candidate for domestic manufacturing due to its small scale of production. Still, it's disconcerting that while striving for the "Made in America" label, Google chose to go with a company that has a history of labor abuse violations. Even if there isn't likely to be a factory city with worker dorms in Santa Clarita, Foxconn's behavior on its home turf speaks to its lack of scruples.