Thursday, December 15, 2016

Panopticon, Asian Manufacturing, Apple and Self- Subjection

Panopticon, Asian Manufacturing, Apple and Self- Subjection
In studying Panopticon and Panopticism, I propose the argument that the Panopticonic theory of human control and orderly management of turn of the century prisons, is no different today from a typical Asian manufacturing facility, eventually drawing a parallel of private prison systems and Apple Computers share the same DNA.
With the rise of the Internet and advances in communications technologies, the idea of a fixed office, a place of work, is rapidly becoming obsolete. Management techniques have not evolved much from the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the 20th Century.
I phrase the term: "Management through Intimidation" as a dated state of project collaboration and personnel management. Business schools have examined new and modern management techniques but have failed to implement them in industry. Younger, non-labor dependent companies are working more ‘virtual’ as a temporary gap before the company can provide the stability of an office.
Asian manufacturing company’s managers like to have their employees under their control and watch at all times. Employment contracts are written limiting the rights of the workers while in the employ of the company. Actions as well as thoughts are controlled and limited by the vast majority of American companies, all to protect the company's assets, which in most companies are the employees themselves.
In many Asian countries, in particular China, I have observed an even more basic and, maybe outdated, form of management: "Management through Intimidation and Observation". Figure 1 below shows managers are literally positioned with sight lines to their subordinates. In most modern companies now, the addition of CCD in the workplace now insures that you are being watched constantly, maybe. This Observation technique is the same technique used in Panopticon prisons in the 18th century.
According to Michel Foucault in his essay Discipline and Punish:
"He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection" (1 - 202)

And in reference to the Panopticon and workers:
“. if they are workers, there are no disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of those distractions that slow down the rate of work, make it less perfect or cause accidents"(Foucault)

I have even observed the Panopticism theory in modern offices in downtown San Francisco. Figure 2 below shows an exact layout of an engineering companies office I actually worked at. The hierarchal reward being that of a view, the higher up the ladder, the better the view. The manager and worker layout directly modeling the Panopticon and the Asian facilities.
            How much does the factory worker, or for that matter the office worker, understand that they are participating in their own subjection? Does the Asian worker know in advance that their desired employer is basically using a 200-year-old prison management technique to enable to company to use power dynamics to control the workers?
            The Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., (also known by its trading name, Foxconn), has been accused of violating labor rights for many years. They keep their employees in overcrowded dormitories run by military-like security forces. People work excessive hours, often with no compensation for overtime, which the company claims is done voluntarily. Management controls every aspect of workers’ lives, interfering with their privacy. The concept of privacy is even an illusion, as up to 24 people share a room in huge blockhouses.
I actually think that if you are a young worker in Singapore and you desire to work in a Foxconn factory and live in the Foxconn barracks, you know exactly what to expect, yet make this choice regardless. Is it the lack of options that drives the workers to this conclusion?
Foxconn employs about 1.2 million workers in China. In Shenzhen and Chengdu, a combined Foxconn workforce of 500,000 provides labor for Apple Inc. Violations against workers have already been widely reported over the last decade. However, in recent years these issues have drawn more attention from international media and human rights organizations as there have been a number of suicides and frequent riots in Chinese Foxconn factories. Does Apple have a responsibility to the Foxconn workers? Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) has investigated Apple and Foxconn repeatedly with varying results. From the SSACOM report:


First, SACOM conducted research at two Apple suppliers in April and May 2012 and subsequently issued a report, Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers, which documented a wide range of continuing labor rights abuses, such as inhumane treatment, excessive overtime, meager base payment, and unsafe working conditions.

Now, in September 2012, our researchers revisited Foxconn’s plants in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China, whose sole product is the iPhone. Most of the 60 interviewees who SACOM talked to are new workers recruited by the government. The high turnover rate and the government’s need to recruit workers and take other special steps to smooth production implicitly suggest that job satisfaction is not high. More than that, SACOM’s new investigation finds that Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou are still facing deplorably harsh working conditions. It is disappointing that no matter how advanced the technology introduced by Apple is, the old problems in working conditions remain at its major supplier Foxconn.” (3- 2)

Foxconn demands for workers is insatiable. A constant cycle of recruitment and termination. At the Peak Season (preceding a new Apple IPhone launch) up to 500,000 workers are employed at Foxconn and living in its barracks. The average age is 19 yrs. old.
It would seem that China has taken the theory of Panopticism to its logical conclusion, with the complete control of its workers 24/7/365.
From simple visual self-Subjection, to systemic control of the entire human, is the ultimate in the Capitalist control of the worker. This control is exactly the same that is exercised in the Prison Industrial Complex. Angela Davis, in her book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?” quotes:
In 2000 there were twenty-six for-profit prison corporations in the United States that operated approximately 150 facilities in twenty-eight states. The largest of these companies, CCA and Wackenhut, control 76.4 percent of the private prison market globally. CCA is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and until 2001, its largest shareholder was the multinational headquartered in Paris, Sodexho Alliance! which, through its U.S. subsidiary, Sodexho Marriott, provides catering services at nine hundred U. S. colleges and universities. (4-97)

It would seem that CCA is to prisons as Foxconn is to manufacturing. According to SACOM, Foxconn power to violate laws is based upon their relationships linking Government, International Partnerships and media and communications relationships. The exploitation of prison labor by private corporations is one aspect among an array of relationships linking corporations, government, correctional communities, and media.
"For private business prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers' compensation to pay. No language barriers, as in foreign countries. New leviathan prisons are built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, and make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria's Secret, all at a fraction of the cost of 'free labor.'" (5)

The Worker in a Foxconn factory and an inmate in a CCA or Wackenhut prisons are the result of Panopticism brought to its logical and tragic conclusion. The systematic ordering and controlling of human populations through subtle and often unseen forces. This ordering is visible in many parts of the modernized and now, increasingly digitalized, world of information. Contemporary advancements in technology and surveillance techniques have perhaps made Foucault’s theories more pertinent to any scrutiny of the relationship between the state and its population.  Foxconn workers and CCA inmates share the lack of unions, the inability to strike, access to fresh food, credible workers compensation and providing cheap labor for some of the world’s most valuable companies.
            I have a theory or a story if you will, a bit comedic, based on some true stories and a bit of fantasy.
There once was a guy named Steve Jobs, who stole some great designs and made a lot of money. Steve had stolen a new idea and wanted to make his company the largest there ever was in the world. Steve knew that to make this product, in the volume required to make him the wealthiest company on earth, he would have to do 2 things: One, expose how incredibly stupid the human species really is and two, sell his soul to the devil (or in this tale, the Chinese). Steve did both, but had to pay a price, his life. He made the deal
                Steve company Apple, did become the most valuable company on earth, ever. And the iPhone (which is the most powerful information computer ever made) with access to all the knowledge in the world, all the worlds libraries, research centers and almost unlimited information access, people post pictures of their lunch and share photos of pets.

China has sacrificed its young, its environment, all to make iPhones. And unlike Henry Ford’s $5-dollar day, the Foxconn worker cannot afford to buy the product they make. It seems to me to be an incredible waste resources, energy and youth.





Figure 1: Layout of a typical Asian Manufacturing Facility

Figure 2: Layout of Western Office Facility

Works Cited:
1- Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punishment. Vintage Books, New York: 1995.
2 - Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior http://www.sacom.hk/?p=960
3 - http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2012-09-New-iPhone-Old-Abuses-Have-Working-Conditions-at-Foxconn-in-China-Improved.pdf
4 - Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? Seven Stories Press, 2003
5 - Linda Evans and Eve Goldberg, "The Prison Industrial Complex and the Global Economy" [pamphlet) [Berkeley. Calif.: Prison Activist Resource Center, 1997).

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