We’ve all been there: you’re at Mc Donald’s or Burger King; the line next to you is going faster than the one you’re in; you’re trying to figure out where you’re going to sit because all the tables are sticky with dried out soda and oil; you get ran into by out of hand chunky kids running around while their parents are yelling… And you’re just asking yourself what the heck you’re doing there. Like, is the new Mc Diabetes that good that you have to put yourself through this? Oh well, #yolo right? Besides, it doesn’t matter: only one more person then it’s your turn. Unfortunately for you, you’re behind a 600lbs guy who is riding one of those mobility scooters; and, he’s throwing a fit because the college student, who’s been flipping burgers for the past 7½ hours, gave him a regular Coke instead of a Diet Coke. 

Typical right? I’d love for him to try that in China (if he can make it here on that mobility scooter).  The point here is not to make fun of people with eating disorders (that is the politically correct way to call them right?); rather, I’m trying to show the contrast between two worlds. In China, if you go somewhere and ask for coke (or “Kele”), 5 times out of ten, you’ll be given Pepsi; same thing for Fanta (you’ll get Mirinda) and Sprite (‘hope you like 7 Up). While I am ready to concede that in some cases in the US a waitress will serve Mr. Pibb instead of Dr. Pepper, you also have to concede that not only are such occurrences rare, but they’re also cause for the traumatized customer to make a scene.

Indeed, in China, businesses (and even just people in general) have a very lax way of solving issues. The example above shows how instead of telling the customer “We don’t have coke”, waiting for the customer to finish expressing his/her frustration and make a stupid face while dealing with the Cornelian Dilemma of having to choose between Coke and Pepsi, the waiter just serves some Pepsi. I call it “the oh well/it’s whatever/it’ll be fine/who cares” policy. As westerners, we’re quick to label such behaviors as unprofessional and/or lazy. However, I feel like it’s an efficient standard operating procedure. And it reflects how policies are formulated; businesses (at both the macro and micro levels) are run and generally how China operates:

Chinese people choose the most efficient method to provide a good or service. Who pays the cost? Well either you, by getting Pepsi instead of Coke (boohoo); or, workers such as those at Foxconn (the guys that actually put your iPhone together). How do they pay the price of this efficiency-at-all-cost mentality? They work under such hard conditions that some employees committed suicides because they couldn’t handle the work-related stress (feel better now about your Pepsi?). Another group that pays the price of this type of mentality is the people subject to relocation in the gentrification process discussed in my last article.

Again, this is an instance where the West is quick to point fingers at China and how human rights aren’t respected etc. but when I see how the all-so-righteous West was built on the back of my fellow continent-men, I kinda want to tell the West to STFU (I’ll let you Google that foul acronym yourself). While I do deplore the fact that human rights are often disregarded in China (and other parts of emerging Asia), I find it very hypocritical for the West to constantly call China out on such issues. Moreover, while I’m personally ready to pay an extra $100 for the next iPhone, is the rest of the West ready to do so? Indeed, these demonized countries make all our products. If they are to start strictly enforcing workers rights and allowing employees to organize unions, the West will be the first to pay the price for this… literally.

I’m absolutely not advocating emerging nations’ disregard of workers’ rights. I’m simply pointing out that 1, the West shouldn’t be so quick to judge (considering its record) and 2, it should be careful for it wishes for before always trying to appear as a knight in shining armor… especially if our 600lbs friend from earlier is the knight riding that horse. And yes that was an intentional metaphor for how the West (including myself) is actually responsible for this situation. Our big friend represents the huge demand from the West. In a perfect world, the demand wouldn’t be so important that the emerging countries would have to ignore workers’ rights in order to meet that demand and still make reasonable profits. The infographic below illustrates trade between China and the US. The take-home point is that the US imports 29.9% of all that China exports.

So would the US still be calling China out if all of a sudden, the price of 15.3% of its imports went up as a result of an amelioration of Asian factory workers’ condition? I think not. If the United States was as inclined on ameliorating the condition of workers in Asia as they were about finding oil-cough cough, sorry: fighting terror in the Middle East, they would do something about it. I personally believe public statements condemning Asian nations are just made to silence the NGOs and tree-huggers.

I find this whole situation contradictory and full of hypocrisy. Again, I include myself in the West because I too am partially responsible for the aforementioned demand. I too would rather pay $199 for my 16gb iPhone 5 instead of $299 for the same model. So as I unsheathe my credit card, I decide to ignore the [ridiculously] underpaid factory worker who made my Nike Dunks. But it’s okay: I know how I can make up for it later by organizing an event on campus discussing all these problems… using my iPhone of course.