The odor on the factory floor was somehow… different. Most modern factories smelled of disinfectant or chemicals, and this one was no exception. But just beneath this was the wilder, less antiseptic scent of unwashed bodies and overripe fruit.
Dr. Ferdinand beamed at his visitors like a proud father. “As you can see, the training has produced enormously productive results. The apes on the production line work without complaint in eight-hour shifts, and, since each ape is trained to execute a precise set of movements, there is little room for error. Our quality-control analysis has shown that the rate of rejection is at considerably less than a tenth of one percent. Better than we had with our human employees, and line stoppage time is almost nonexistent.”
The Brazilian delegate spoke up. “How do you stop the line if something goes wrong? Are any of the chimps trained to recognize a problem?”
“No. The keeper has a double role. He makes certain the apes are fed, and stops the line if there is any problem. He’s the only human employee you need physically present on the manufacturing floor at any time. We believe that, if you buy the chimps and the training course from us, your production costs will drop by anywhere from thirty to fifty percent versus your current scheme with human operators.”
“But,” the Japanese delegate said, “wouldn’t it be more efficient still to replace the workers with robots?”
“Not at all. With robots, you have a much higher initial investment. Think about it: a robot that screws a cap onto a bottle is worth upwards of ten thousand dollars per position, at least. And that is a simple operation. Other robots go for tens or even hundreds of thousands. Due to the fact that we’re subsidized by various wildlife organizations, we can get you each chimp for two thousand dollars, already trained! And, of course feeding and replacing chimps is much less expensive than maintaining complicated machines.”
“Wildlife organizations?” the American industrialist asked, a puzzled expression on his face. “Why aren’t they raising hell about this?”
“Well, initially they were, but we pointed out that, in this way, chimps could be insured a high survival rate. Please remember that their habitat in Sub-Saharan Africa is being plundered for bushmeat by the warlords involved in the civil war, so the chimp has nearly disappeared in the wild. We are, at present, its best hope for continued survival. And besides, if the work is safe enough that humans do it, how can it be bad for apes?”
Silence greeted this proclamation.
Dr. Ferdinand continued with a conspiratory wink. “Besides, apes never complain, never go on strike and never, ever form unions.”
The European guests perked up enormously at this news. It was extremely interesting to observe a prominent Frenchman and an equally important German look at each other with expressions of rapt bliss as opposed to the more usual disdain.
“Never?” the Frenchman said, hope recognizable even through the accent.
“Never,” Dr. Ferdinand replied confidently.
But one delegate was less then enamored. The Indian representative, a no-nonsense woman in a severely tailored suit was checking her watch impatiently. After a while, she spoke up.
“How many bananas does a chimpanzee consume each day?” she asked.
Dr. Ferdinand chuckled. “They don’t just eat bananas. They enjoy figs and other fruit. The amount they eat varies from one individual to another, but should average out to about a kilo and a half a day.”
“A kilo and a half of fruit a day?” the Indian delegate shouted, outraged. “Have you got any idea what that costs? Our workers make less than that in a week.” Everyone knew she was exaggerating, but not much. The world’s largest democracy was a great place to put a factory. “I’m sorry. I can’t invest any more time here.” She walked briskly away.
Dr. Ferdinand looked after her wistfully. The production capacity for almost a billion people was walking out of his presentation.
But he quickly pulled himself together and, grinning, addressed the remaining industrialists. “She was always going to be a tough sell,” he said.
Then he invited them to the production line to meet the monkeys.
Whenever his time isn’t being wasted at the day job, Gustavo Bondoni spends his time writing. You can read his stories in varied genres both online and in print. You can usually find him in airports with a bored expression on his face.