I really want an XBox. As one of the gamers who finally reached the end of the wonderful dark Doom II a decade ago, I know the thrill of the kill, the adrenalin high, the emergence into daylight after a solid night's combat and seeing the cityscape changed to a Doom scenario. I, too, have felt the compulsion to walk up to Camden Town Hall's forbidding architecture and hit the spacebar, BFG at the ready.
But I can't have one. Not just because this is one displacement activity too many in what should be a busy and creative life, but because Microsoft have followed in the footsteps of other infamous toy-manufacturers and are facing allegations of teenage "slave labour" exploitation.
One group of teenagers in China is being paid 37 pence per hour in 15-hour shifts to ensure that other groups of teenagers in the West can have their fun. Sucking the life out of their 16- and 17-year old workers making mice and XBox controllers, conditions in Microsoft's KYE Systems factory in Dongguan sound atrocious.
The Telegraph reports the US National Labour Committee's findings:
"The factory is very crowded. In one workshop measuring around 105ft by 105ft, there were nearly 1,000 workers. In the summer, temperatures can exceed 86 degrees and workers leave their shifts dripping in sweat. It is only when the foreign clients show up that management turns on the air conditioning," the report's authors alleged, citing testimony from workers.
China has been trying to clean up its manufacturing act, with only 3,000 toy factories surviving out of 8,000 due to rising standards. But the news that a giant corporation like as Microsoft is still using such antedeluvian facilities is disturbing. It was due to pressure from the American Chamber of Commerce, backed up by the Europeans, that China did not push through its planned relaxation of the state stranglehold on trade unions. But China has to stand up to its powerful Western customers and restore some credibility, not to mention pride, by ensuring its workers enjoy the very best conditions.
So many companies seem to be slipping backwards after paying initial lip-service to decent working conditions. It's a lesson that we have to keep the pressure up. I used to love shopping at Primark, that cornucopia of up-to-date fashion beloved by working-class women on low incomes, but the company lost its Ethical Trademark Initiative mark when it was caught using underpaid illegal labour.
When I look at their frocks, I see the scrawny undernourished whey-faced souls who have to slave long hours in cramped, badly-lit, under-ventilated conditions to make me look good. It's like Soylent Green, feeding us the lives of other workers and we aren't even supposed to care. Whatever way the corporations are treating other workforces is the way one day that they might be treating us. That's what I see staring back when I look into Primark's shop windows.
And THAT's when I want to hit the spacebar and let loose with my BFG.
UPDATE: Apple not much better. Staff in China on suicide watch.