Co.Design

A Photog Peeks Into Examples Of Ethical Factory Labor

The manufacturing industry isn't all Foxconn and Savar. A new series explores the inner workings of factories where order—and humanity—are in the making.

Too often we forget the human cost behind all of our electronic gadgets. And when we do stop to consider working conditions in the factories that assemble our iPhones and iPads, all we can do is identify the same culprits: Foxconn and Savar.

Both are extreme points of view, says photographer and designer Shaun Fynn. True, the impoverished, unregulated environments that many factory workers toil in day after day are very real. But these worst-case scenarios, in Fynn's estimation, are sensationalized by foreign and local press, which seemingly have little interest in shining light on the more progressive factories of manufacturing nations.

The documentary work of StudioFynn, the design firm he has overseen for 16 years, evidences that, as he tells Co.Design, there's "positive progress and change, even among difficult subject matter."

The theme is most powerfully distilled in “Garment Factory,” the first entry in StudioFynn’s “Workers Series,” an ongoing photographic exploration of the inside of factories.

Fynn’s camera navigates the inner workings of an export garment factory just outside of Coimbatore, India. The images depict an environment with conditions exactly the opposite of sweatshop-like. Instead of filthy, dehumanizing expanses and a soul-crushing jumble of wires, material, and machinery, the factory is positively tidy—and "decent," Fynn points out, following ethical labor practice.

Though the viewer can't really discern the backstory or the bosses, the workers in the photos appear to be well treated. The images are thoughtful, documenting people at their stations and operating machinery with a delicate and trained touch. Surprisingly poignant is how Fynn and his team manage to capture the relationship between the workers and the rows and rows of pristine equipment they manipulate. The juxtaposition, though somewhere between hands-on and heavy-handed, reveals this as the key dynamic that powers the factory.

As Fynn explains: “Although a workplace dominated by the machine in this way may not appeal to most people, a production facility such as this is ahead of many in the region [...] This is an important consideration in the context of an emerging market, where awareness toward work and worker conditions is often in an evolutionary stage.”

Tellingly, the results of people's labors, the end products, are never seen. It keeps the narrative focus on the workers’ day-to-day experiences. These “stories,” Fynn says, are more compelling than the jeans, or by extension, the iFodder that coming spooling off the production line.

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