Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Why Stuff From China Is So Cheap

This is most likely the most disturbing video I have ever seen, and just to make sure that you can’t just click through I’ll make you work for it. Please take my hint and Don’t watch this video, instead, just read the text, it is disturbing enough and it will tell you all you need to know and a little bit more besides.


The original title for the video is “Chinese Workers accidentally touched High Voltage Electricity Wire, and Catch Fire”. Needless to say, they die.

This accident is one of many that happen every day in the People’s republic and it is just one very vivid illustration of what goes wrong when things are produced at cut-rate prices without any consideration whatsoever for either the environment, workers or even general ethics.

This accident was preventable in so many ways that any OHSA employee seeing the video is likely going to have nightmares about it for a long time. Pollution, a total disrespect for the environment in general and for human lives in particular is what powers the trade that brings cheap goods to the stores near us. The price differential between producing those same goods locally and producing them far away then shipping them across the globe is paid in a very real sense by the 100’s of millions of workers in factories and by the immense pollution taking place all over China (and other 3rd world countries, for that matter).

In many ways we are complicit, we vote ‘cheap’ every time we can (I’m no exception) and if we can externalize the problems in such a way that we can pretend they don’t exist then we all sleep just fine at night. Until a video like this surfaces and rams home just how unsafe worker conditions in those low wage countries really are (and electricity is a relatively well understood danger, the long term exposure to many chemicals is not).

I’m not sure how to tackle this problem, frankly I haven’t a clue. But it definitely is a wake-up call to me that we’re on the wrong track with this, by letting the companies that we buy our goods from dictate terms based solely on price we are really missing an opportunity to force some more good to come of all of this. Western companies doing business with China and other 3rd world countries should demand compliance with the client countries’ OSHA regulations, ditto when looking at things like labor laws (minimum age for instance) and so on. Sure that will eradicate some of the profits, it may even raise prices a bit.

But I think that’s a price worth paying, if only because then nobody will be able to send me video’s like this. Thanks anyway, RobB for opening my eyes.