[…]criticize the working conditions for those who put your iPhone together, tiny piece by tiny piece, and it’s likely you’ll get hit with some variant of this threadbare counterpoint: Well, by Chinese standards, it’s actually pretty good. Did you know they get free housing? And they’re sure better off than they are back in their village.
We’ve already established that “by Chinese standards” doesn’t mean much. And the Workers could always have it worse! fallacy, that it’s somehow acceptable to cheer a man sleeping in a slum because he isn’t sleeping in the mud, might go back farther in time, but it was put forth in its most racist, salient form 236 years ago, by Scottish philosopher and OG factory cheerleader Adam Smith:
Compared, indeed, with the more extravagant luxury of the great, [a common worker’s] accommodation must no doubt appear extremely simple and easy; and yet it may be true, perhaps, that the accommodation of an European prince does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodation of the latter exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute masters of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.
The Foxconn Reality: "Better" Is Still Bad.