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The iPhone 5: That Shine Comes from the Blood of Foxconn Workers

[ 34 ] September 24, 2012 |

When workers are rioting because their lives are so awful that there’s absolutely nothing to lose, it’s pretty bloody awful. Let’s just hope international pressure continues to push Apple to “work with Foxconn” to improve conditions. After all, what power does one of the world’s most influential corporations really have to dictate the conditions of work for its manufacturers??? And of course, since consumers clearly won’t pay a penny more to acquire the coolness of an Apple product, the idea of creating work conditions that would make suicide nets unnecessary is obviously impossible……

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  1. max says:

    That Shine Comes from the Blood of Foxconn Workers

    Naw. Apple could make perfectly good iPhones anywhere they wanted, and charge the same price.

    The shine on Apple’s quarterly reports and the gleam in the accountant’s eyes when reviewing Apple’s massive holdings in cash comes from the blood of Foxconn workers.

    max
    ['As does the gleam on the lobbyists teeth when they lobby for an Apple-friendly tax holiday.']

    • Aaron says:

      When I read the article, I found a claim that the reasons for the dispute were unclear, with the best reason offered being this:

      “At first it was a conflict between the security guards and some workers,” said a man who was reached by telephone after he posted images online. The man said he was a Foxconn employee. “But I think the real reason is they were frustrated with life.”

      Within the context of the Chinese labor markets, I’m not sure how a foreign company can address that type of issue except by ending its relationships with Chinese manufacturers like FoxConn (which, like its most famous customer, is the primary target of critics not because it’s the worst of the bunch but because it’s huge).

      It’s difficult for me to imagine how you can create factories of this nature, staffed with dormitories full of workers who are removed from their families, and not have periodic, significant unrest – no matter what you pay them or how comfortable you make the dormitories.

      Nicholas Kristof would defend this type of arrangement, I expect, by arguing that for those who seek the jobs the availability of work in sweatshops is better than their alternatives. I would like to think we can do better, but there are no easy answers.

  2. DrDick says:

    Apple is evil. That is all.

    • firefall says:

      Apple were evil before anyone* else. They taught Google how to be evil.

      *anyone = anyone but IBM, who were always evil, but dumb as a sack of hammers.

      • DrDick says:

        Evil is in their original business plan.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        Please. All corporations tend toward evil with age and success. (Whatever problems Foxconn employees have, I don’t think that anyone’s accused Apple of killing babies.) Microsoft occupied pretty much exactly the same Evil Overlord position that Apple does now during much of the nineties; in fact, Bill Gates forked over a pile of cash when it looked like Apple might go out of business, purely because as long as there was still a tiny slice of the desktop OS market that belonged to Apple, Microsoft could claim not to have a monopoly in the OS business.

  3. Funkhauser says:

    Is it possible to buy a smartphone made under certified humane labor conditions? I ask because I’m soon in the market.

    • arguingwithsignposts says:

      Given that FoxConn makes parts for many major manufacturers, which Erik somehow leaves out of his diatribe, I’m going to guess “No.” But if there is, I’m all ears as well, as I too will be trading in my Motorola Droid2 at some point.

      • James Hare says:

        I don’t think it is possible to buy any consumer electronics that don’t have at least some components manufactured by Foxconn. More importantly, they’re not the only bad actor OR the worst actor in this particular industry. Outsourcing almost all electronics manufacturing to China came with costs beyond money. One was accepting the conditions in Chinese factories.

        It’s a shame that folks in other countries are going through the rhyme of our workers’ rights struggles. I feel deeply for the workers trying to get basic rights we have enjoyed for years. Taking away the leverage of producing valuable consumer goods desired by Western consumers won’t do these workers any favors. At least making goods for Apple they have a large group of consumers who care how they’re treated. Making systems for Dell or other manufacturers doesn’t give them anywhere near as much power.

        • PbF says:

          When I built my latest computer I looked into using components not manufactured in China. A few Taiwanese companies still manufacture their high end stuff in country but almost all mainstream components are assemble in China. It was nearly impossible to find out which subcontractor actually made the components. In the end the best I could do was avoid companies with the worst reputations when it came to labor.

      • Rob says:

        My guess if anyone, it would be Nokia to satisfy EU requirements.

  4. arguingwithsignposts says:

    Apple is worse than Bush!

  5. Linnaeus says:

    I can’t find it now, but I just read an article today (and there have been several covering the same topic in the past year or so) about how manufacturers are increasingly finding Chinese labor too expensive and are now looking to move production into other Asian countries that will presumably be cheaper.

  6. What about one of those fine Research in Motion products?

    • mds says:

      Truly a sad story. And with all the spectacular fumbling by management, the recent uninspiring releases, the “too little too late” vibe for BB10, etc., to choose from, the last article I read about their woes chose to call out the fact that they don’t do enough manufacturing in Asia. So it goes.

    • Cody says:

      I suspect most of their components are still made in Asia, though perhaps not the final assembly?

      Also, they really screwed up their customer base. I have a BlackBerry Bold for work, and it sucks. I’m personally hoping Google buys them because they have some good technology and patents.

      The recruiters/engineers I’ve met were very forward-thinking and perhaps with a restructuring/rebranding they can become marketable again.

  7. Bruce Baugh says:

    Apple deserves the criticism. But it would be nice if any other firm using the same Chinese suppliers got one-half the volume of criticism for doing likewise.

      • Bruce Baugh says:

        It does when so much of the rhetoric implies that this is a distinctive failing of Apple’s as oppose to bog-standard practice throughout American industry. You didn’t go on to urge us to switch to competitors who turn out to be dependent on the same shit, at least, but quite a few others have.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Walmart, McDonald’s, any big dominant company within an industry is going to attract this kind of attention and be the representative for all. What’s important here is not making sure each corporation gets the proper percentage of blame, it’s putting maximize pressure on difference makers to improve workers lives.

          • Bruce Baugh says:

            I’d be more willing to buy that if I saw many mentions that this actually is an industry norm, that there are a whole bunch of other firms doing the same thing who might feel any pressure to change if Apple did. I do see that kind of discussion when it comes to retailing, fast food, and so on – some discussion of norms and the context of specific bad actions by influential firms within that. There hasn’t exactly been no blogging at all about how much the whole market depends on exactly the same thing, but not more than none that I’ve seen.

            The actual reports provoking the blogging have often been very good about that context, I should note. Reading them gives me a good sense of the overall picture. The blogging commentary about them, not so much, to put it mildly.

            • Steve LaBonne says:

              The point is not to dump on Apple for the sake of dumping, the point is that pressure on Apple is likely to be more effective than pressure on many other companies. As between worker rights and being “fair” to rapacious mega-corporations, I really don’t give a rat’s ass about the latter. They can take care of themselves.

          • JRoth says:

            The problem with this argument is that Apple’s practices are already certified as better than those of its competitors – by multiple outside groups, including ones run by Chinese labor activists – but, because only Apple is attacked, Samsung et al are under no pressure to improve their practices.

            In other words, we already have evidence that the strategy of targeting Apple, and only Apple, is ineffective at creating broad improvements in worker conditions. But I guess we should stick with the strategy because it feels good to snark at the status symbol (a symbol so exclusive, of course, that half a billion people own an iPhone or iPod).

            • Steve LaBonne says:

              And to the extent that’s true, do you think it happened by accident or out of the goodness of Apple executives’? It’s important to have a pattern-setter, just as in industry-wide labor negotiations in the US. And what on earth makes you think that no pressure is being applied to other companies?

              I’m sorry, but this kind of stuff is just Apple-fanboy whining.

              • Halloween Jack says:

                Did you miss the entire point of his comment, or are you studiously ignoring it? There is no pattern-setting going on, there is no pressure on other companies. If you’re arguing that there is, then let’s see you provide links to proof.

        • Warren Terra says:

          Apple isn’t just an electronics brand: it’s an enviable – and inherently bankrupt – corporate image. It’s Think Different, with Gandhi and Mandela and the like. It’s psychedelic displays of colored iMacs like the classic Beetle ad. It’s cleanliness, purity, elegance, perfection. The other brands are just electronics. That idealized image is what people are aiming at when they single out the abuses for which Apple is responsible for particular attention.

          • DrDick says:

            Which is why they are singularly evil. Dell never claimed “purity” or moral superiority, just cheap prices.

          • Cody says:

            This.

            I feel like the criticism is focused on Apple because they’re “cool” and “modern”. People consider Apple a clean company above reproach.

            The fanboyism is a symptom of this. People see the iPhone and think “this is what the future looks like”.

            It’s important that when people see the iPhone they think “thousands of people tried to commit suicide while making this, why can’t the future be better for everyone?”

    • njorl says:

      I don’t agree. There is no reason at all to be fair to Apple. If other companies are left alone, that heightens the damage done to Apple. It makes them more willing to address the situation. I would argue that there isn’t enough concentration on Apple. They are more image conscious than other companies, which makes efforts against them more effective. It would be foolish to waste any effort at all on other electronics companies.

      Apple is a uniquely powerful player in the game. If they are forced to treat their workers better, they will turn on the rest of the industry. They will lobby for regulations to inflict on their competitors what public opinion has inflicted on them. If Apple has to pay workers more just to appease its customers, Apple will make damn sure its competitors have to pay workers more because it is the law.

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