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The Underside of China's Economic Miracle: Child Labor

chinafactory1.jpg


Last year, Apple came into some fierce criticism for poor conditions at its suppliers' factories in China. Today, Apple gave the boot to a supplier for using child labor:

Apple has terminated a contract with Chinese circuit board manufacturer PZ after discovering 74 under-age workers were working there.

The workers, who were all under 16, had been supplied by a regional recruitment company who gave them fake identity papers, the tech giant said.

They have since been returned to their families.


Why are Chinese factories turning to underage labor? The New York Times reports today that many college graduates are shunning factory jobs. There is a huge mismatch in the types of jobs China is producing and the kind of work its college educated young are hoping to do.

In the short term, this mismatch is going to do damage to China's attractiveness as a destination for low-cost manufacturing, but longer-term it's going to put immense strain on white collar work around the world. Consider what happened to U.S. manufacturing as rural Chinese flooded into urban factories over the past three decades. Now imagine what happens to higher-skilled work as the children of those factory workers graduate from college with advanced degrees and compete on a globalized market. Those jobs may not be as susceptible to out-sourcing as factory jobs were (although that's a point of debate), but it would be naive not to think the ramifications are potentially just as significant.

(AP Photo)