One of the reasons I am sceptical about the fourth industrial revolution is the scenario where instead of serving and helping us, AI and machines would replace humans in most jobs. Part of the process is undoubtedly platform capitalism and their gain for profit. Global neoliberal capitalism always seeks to find the cheapest labour, and that is why China became the world’s biggest factory production where workers do not have the right to organise in unions. Since even a strike is not possible in such conditions, it is a ‘win situation’ for international platform corporations. Through transnational solidarity ( Wodcock, 2021:5), overseas labour activists are trying to help workers, although unfortunately, without much success. One of the examples is the case after workers fled China’s largest iPhone factory in 2022. Chinese overseas labour activists and allies have launched a campaign demanding accountability from Apple and Foxconn for their gross mistreatment of workers at a Chinese factory where half the world’s iPhones are made.
The factory, located in the city of Zhengzhou in the province of Henan, is Apple’s largest production site in China and has drawn attention for its poor working conditions. Foxconn was in the midst of peak season for the production of the new iPhone 14 and had been pushing a brutal closed-loop management regime, forbidding workers from leaving the area during the lockdown.
According to Labornotes, ‘there were reports that infected workers had been forced to isolate in nearby unfinished dormitory buildings without access to medical services and supplies. Some workers slept in the workplace to avoid infected workers living in the same dorms, which were not isolated’.
Hon Hai released a statement promising improvements but continued to affirm closed-loop management practices while Apple refused to admit that the workers work in inhumane and brutal conditions under its watch.
Although digital cities and highly developed technologies and inhumane working conditions and misery seem to be a contradiction (Dyer-Witheford 2015:2), the uncomfortable truth is that they are connected and that digital capitalism, including the whole idea of digital cities as sustainable oases, depends on, and exploits poor countries and child labour, as is the case in Congo.
After seeing reality, all the western activists throwing soup on paintings while using selfies, all the stories about inclusiveness and a better world seem like empty words. And hypocrisy.
Dyer-Witheford, N (2015) “Proletariat” in Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. London, Pluto Books
Sky News (2017) Special report: Inside the Congo cobalt mines that exploit children. 27 Feb 2017 [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcJ8me22NVs
Woodcock, J (2021) “Introduction” and “Why struggles against platform capitalism matter” The Fight Against Platform Capitalism. London: University of Westminster Press
Xiang, L. And Yan, R.(2022) After Workers Flee China’s Largest iPhone Factory, Activists Demand Accountability from Apple. Labornotes, 10. November [Online]. Available at: https://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2022/11/after-workers-flee-chinas-largest-iphone-factory-activists-demand-accountability-apple#:~:text=There%20were%20reports%20that%20infected,dorms%20who%20were%20not%20isolated.