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Poison and Profits
May 8, 2004 11:02 PM   Subscribe

Ling Chan gave up everything to come to America. "Chan arrived in the United States with no knowledge of English, no support network, and a dependent child...she was happy to land a janitorial job with AXT Inc., a Fremont, California semiconductor manufacturing firm...on a four-person cleaning crew, scrubbing the boxes used to ship semiconductor wafers around the factory...after a few weeks, her colleagues -- mostly Chinese immigrants, like herself -- whispered that this was no ordinary dust: It could give you cancer." [via Fark, of all places]
posted by mr_crash_davis (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
God bless America and our way of life.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:49 AM on May 9, 2004


Articles like this should make the most ardent athiest hope and pray there is, in fact, a hell, a very special hell for the managers at AXT.
posted by namespan at 1:54 AM on May 9, 2004


Good post, mr_crash_davis, thanks - and it is because of egregious serial offenders like this employer that some support enactment of a Wrongful Death Accountability Act.

AXT may be among the worst offenders, but the hazards in the chipmaking industry have been known for years. See Dirty Secrets of the Chipmaking Industry and Toxic Technology.

The other important issue here is the exploitation of immigrant workers, a pretty common work occurrence, For example, AP recently did a good investigative series on immigrant Mexican workers who are dying on the job at a rate of about one per day. In some states, their on-the-job death rates are four times greater than that of any other worker group. Immigrant workers like the ones in your story are often assigned the most dangerous jobs, and for a variety of reasons ranging from language to cultural norms, they are less likely to know their rights, to understand the hazards, or to challenge authority.

For those interested in workplace safety issues, Confined Space is a good weblog on the topic.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:47 AM on May 9, 2004


thank you, mr. crash davis and ms. madamjujujive.
posted by jann at 9:05 AM on May 9, 2004


hating cancer == hating uhmurkuh. if the greedy bitch would have shut up and kept shoveling dust, one day her great grandchildren might have driven hummers. oh well, we did what we could.

*points finger*
NO UHMURKUN DREAM FOR YOU, COOLIE!
posted by quonsar at 9:19 AM on May 9, 2004


I am reminded of the famous tale of the American manufacturer of radium watch-hands. Even though it was widely known that it was horrifically dangeous work for the women who did it, he pressed on until it was actually outlawed; resulting in the death of many immigrant women.

He then moved his operation to Canada, where there still wasn't any law against it yet. This was good for another 2 or 3 years of profit, I believe, while killing women who had immigrated to Canada for a change.
posted by kablam at 9:34 AM on May 9, 2004


*THIS* is why idiot signs are bad. I have seen "this product carcinogenic in the Sate of California" printed on enough rolls of solder to ignore the warnings permanently (no, you won't catch cancer from soldering unless you're stupid).

Get rid of the useless over-warning labels and actually only put up warning signs when things are dangerous and you can save lives. Warnings such as "xx workers died doing this job" will let people understand the dangers associated with their line of work.

That being said, I have an idea for another label. Damn. And I just said I hated them. Oh well. Here it is:

"xx number of workers died manufacturing this product at this factory this year."

Stuck on every box. Hopefully that would help consumers decide what products they want to buy, and which they don't.
posted by shepd at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2004


"God bless America and our way of life."

I am hard pressed to find any way that this article is indicative of or an indightment against the American "way of life".

Is it now capitalisms fault every time some moron abuses someone else? Oh wait, yeah, many think it is.

It's a good thing communist and socialist countries ever had any abuses or we'd be in real trouble!
posted by soulhuntre at 12:02 PM on May 9, 2004


I am hard pressed to find any way that this article is indicative of or an indightment against the American "way of life".

I agree with this, but...

Is it now capitalisms fault every time some moron abuses someone else?

There's an argument that this kind of treatment of labor is a natural outgrowth of "Greed is good" philosophy. Labor chose to work under those conditions, right? Nobody held a gun to their head? Sure, the firm could have spent more money on protective measures for labor, been more generous with benefits -- but those measures cost money, and manufacturers want cheap chips to provide consumers with affordable goods. In today's competetive markets, spending the extra money to make sure workers are safe and healthy would mean having to lose their competetive edge, maybe even close up shop entirely, and then *nobody* would be better off, right?
posted by namespan at 1:41 PM on May 9, 2004


"There's an argument that this kind of treatment of labor is a natural outgrowth of "Greed is good" philosophy"

greed is the will to act in your own interest. IT DOES NOT NECESSARILY FOLLOW THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO FUCK OVER OTHERS NEEDLESSLY TO PERSUE THOSE ENDS.

That is a character flaw found in desciples of EVERY PHILOSOPHY. The only difference is that capitalists are honest about their intent to make their life's better and it makes them the target.

Seriously, FPPs about these kind of abuses that take place in socialist and communist systems could fill the whole front page.

sometimes, when you are working toward your best interest, -yeah- people get stepped on. If you and another guy both turned in applications, you aren't both going to get the job. Just is life. I doubt anyone here would claim that they would only apply for a job if they were the only one applying.

In actuality, when capitalism is executed properly, (Costco, Ikea, google etc) everyone involved benefits.

But this kind of crap doesn't belong to any civilized philisophical construct.

"but those measures cost money, and manufacturers want cheap chips to provide consumers with affordable goods. In today's competetive markets, spending the extra money to make sure workers are safe and healthy would mean having to lose their competetive edge, maybe even close up shop entirely, and then *nobody* would be better off, right?"

I work for a steel rolling company of 500 employees. Average wage is $26 an hour. Each week, every full time employee is required to attend a meeting to discuss safe work practices. say the meeting gets out early (half hour) - my employer spends $7000 in wages every week toward safety. meetings usually run closer to an hour... thats 14k a week.

And we remain one of the few profitable organizations in our market, due in large part to the corporate philosophy.

There is a place where capitalism and greed meets with fair and human treatment of employees. In fact, that meeting place is where most of the money is to be made.

More business owners need to realize this.

</rant>
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 2:28 PM on May 9, 2004


There's capital punishment for people, there should be for corps as well. Why should a company get off with a $400,000 fine when a person who willfully jeopardized the lives of dozens of people get sent to prison? I'll tell you why. Because our version of capitalism protects the preeecious corporations from outrages like this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:28 PM on May 9, 2004


I agree with the corporate death penalty. Companies like this should be liquidated, with the proceeds of the sale split amongst all non-management employees. The managers should then be forbidden from working in a position where they supervise others for five years.

If they can keep Kevin Mitnick from working with computers, they should be able to keep managers like this from working with people.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:44 PM on May 9, 2004


I would have to agree that "our version of capitalism" is dirty and filthy. It makes me sick how our government panders to corporate interests - using tax dollars no less!

"Labor chose to work under those conditions, right? Nobody held a gun to their head?"

This is exactly right - unless the labor was not informed of the risk. I think if you don't inform someone of the risk, and they die, you should be charged with murder.

If they are informed, they chose to take the risk, and responsibility falls on them.

Think about coal miners. It only takes one generation of miners to figure out that the dust collects in your lungs and sends you to an early grave, yet generation after generation went down into the mines. Those men made the ultimate sacrifice to feed their families.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2004


Seriously, FPPs about these kind of abuses that take place in socialist and communist systems could fill the whole front page.

There's not a duality between communism and american capitalism. This type of thing can be stopped with less apathy more oversight, and is in some countries; it's shameful that it's not here.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:55 PM on May 9, 2004


greed is the will to act in your own interest. IT DOES NOT NECESSARILY FOLLOW THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO FUCK OVER OTHERS NEEDLESSLY TO PERSUE THOSE ENDS.

Self interest is one thing. Greed is a vice, and everybody knows this -- it's when you let the will to act in your own self interest overflow considerations that keep you from fucking others over (needlessly or otherwise).

I'm not suggesting that capitalism inevitably leads to disregard for labor safety. I am suggesting there are aspects of its culture that encourage it. One is the "greed is good" meme. Once you suggest that it's not your job to consider others interests, you've effectively declared yourself amoral in your dealings with others, and since there's so many good ways to make money by screwing people over (mildly or with the proverbial chainsaw), you are very likely to move that way.

There's others, too. Modern managerial/neoclassical economics has a tendency teach about labor as a commodity, one part of the expense equation, which you want to keep minimized. Cultural divisions between labor and managers (much less capital) keep regular association from being a humanizing force. And has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread, corps get a serious break on what kinds of penalties they receive when they seriously mess up people's lives or effectively kill them.

And the scary thing is what the Gordon Gekko idolizing Wall Street analysts will try to do to you if you aren't treating your employees with contempt -- say, unlike Costco.

The problem isn't the entreprenuerial model or necessarily capitalism per se -- they are both powerful and worth encouraging in the right ways. The problem is the culture that values the concerns of Capital over the health and safety of individuals.
posted by namespan at 9:40 PM on May 9, 2004


Nobody held a gun to their head?

we come of age with a gun against our heads. what will i eat today? where will i sleep tonight? how do i stay warm? only a moron born into money could forget this.

and who gives a flying fuck if similar abuses occur under socialism or communism or let's-run-down-and-fuck-a-cow-ism. the point is, we hold ourselves up as being better than that.

the acts described herein are nothing but slow, deliberate maiming and murder. corporate death sentence? that's an idea as stupid and counterproductive as corporate personhood. dismantle the corp, ok. redistribute its wealth, ok. but don't forget to charge the individuals calling themselves 'management' with 2nd degree murder, manslaughter or other appropriate charges. (anyone who was even remotely aware, or should have been aware).

it's only when greed-blinded assholes begin to rot away in prison or receive the death penalty that this corporate culture of deliberate abuse in the name of profit will cease. because there really is no such thing as a corporation, there are only groups of individuals, using the corporate abstraction to hide from the consequences of their actions.
posted by quonsar at 7:02 AM on May 10, 2004


a company is like a communist organization
posted by firestorm at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2004


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