What Price Globalization?
By William Carr
This morning’s (1/26/12) New York Times contains a disturbing article on working conditions in Chinese suppliers of Apple components and products. The article mentions other tech product companies, but the salient episode is an explosion at the plant of an Apple supplier; so the focus on Apple is not surprising in view of its recent report of highest-ever profits. The article contains a lot of “A said-B said” and a fair number of those who speak “on condition of anonymity.” Even so, the article raises concerns about more than its own accuracy or fairness.
There are considerable forces at work, which urge “us” to think globally in terms of opportunity. I wonder, though, where is an appropriate force, which will urge us to think globally also in terms of responsibility? In other words, we cannot reduce questions about global thinking to the question “technology—yes or no?” There is, rather, a complex web of questions concerning technology, availability of jobs, workplace safety, health, and others.
Nor are these simply economic or, in an election year, political questions. For a Christian, at least, they are also theological questions. Here are some of the questions that have occurred to me:
- “Where does the church (and its theological institutions) fit in?”
- “What kind of theology is needed to respond to the concerns of “levels of community” (global, national, state, “local”)?”
- “What is involved in constructing and teaching “theologies” of technology and of the workplace (including safety, health, and working conditions)?”
Apple’s announced “iBooks 2 e-textbooks” program has produced a lot of excitement. It certainly sounds like it will offer significant opportunities to educators and textbook writers, including theological educators and writers. How does one assess, however, what seems to be a serious human cost in manufacturing the necessary equipment?
The last line of the article, a quote from an Apple exec, says a lot about “us”: “… right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”
How ought we to think about that?
The Old Testament reading for Epiphany 5 (2/5/12) will be Isaiah 40:21-31. Verse 26 describes a creator who is global: he “brings out the host [of heaven and earth] in number.” And yet he is eminently “local”: he “calls them all by name . . . and not one is missing.” God can handle the complexities of global and local scale. We, I think, need to be considerably more circumspect about just how global we can be and not miss the local.