Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple 1984: Imperialist IPhones Kill Chinese Workers

The last piece  I wrote "Tonight We Assemble XBOX's in Hell" compared the workers who stood up to mistreatment by threatening mass suicide to the noble 300 Spartans. In August, UK's Economist mentioned the anti-jumper nets in  "Robots don't  complain, demand high wages... or kill themselves" Now the New York Times really socked to Apple in "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad" with nary a peep from the usual Asian American politically correct police or even the China Daily which usually has lot of stuff under the "wierd things that happen to China" category.

I remember growing up in the 70s watching the Chinese toil during "The Good Earth" and  reading about the horrors of the Chinese communists that my parents fled from, and all the Chinese who died in the name of modernization and 5 year plans as their answer to what imperialist powers did to China before they were chased out. My generation was also given Brave New World and 1984 as reading assignments, though we all knew "well I'm glad that never happened" as we would never live in a world that worshiped corporations and their leaders like Ford or Steve Jobs. I notice my son doing a paper on Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" which exposed conditions at American meatpacking plants.

The New York Time's featured victim was Lai Xiaodong who worked at Foxconn's factory in Chengdu, where my mother grew up. Foxconn is a company from Taiwan, once known as "Free China". This was the factory producing the IPad which features a brushed aluminum back. Instead of "Arbeit Macht Frei", banner proclaimed a no-more cheerful "Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow." which even beats the Simpsons Mr Burn's nuclear plant for boosting morale. Although Foxconn pledged to Apple not to work its people more than 60 hours in a week, Lai's paychecks show he was putting in 12 hours a day six days a week, while the less fortunate were worked without a single day of rest.

He was one of the better paid workers as his college degree upped his pay to $22 day (about $5500 a year). He at least got a bedroom large enough for a wardrobe and desk where he could waste the remaining hours playing "Fight the Landlord" online compared to some 3-room apartments where they shoe-horned up to 20 workers which doesn't sound much better than conditions in American Chinatowns. Foxconn houses 70,000 workers in this town, enough people to fill a large NFL stadium. After Apple clamped down on conditions with audits, they were proud to report only two-thirds of 36 audits showed employees regularly working over 60 hours a week, and just six "core violations" such as hiring underage 15-year-olds and falsifying records. (Note Obama's recent call to criminalize Americans working before the age of 18 by requiring all youths to stay in high school until the age of 18)

In my college days, we gave demonstrations at the Pacific Science Center at the foot of the Space Needle where we puffed some air into  coffee can of flour with a candle to produce a small explosion. Unfortunately, this also happens in industrial scale in Indiana in 2003 with aluminum dust (which is also used to make solid rocket motors) and at a sugar factory in Georgia in 2008 killing 14. Coal dust can also do the job. The blast that burned Lai to death killed 4 and injured 18 came from aluminum dust from machines which polished the brushed aluminum cases. Smoke was coming out of shattered windows. When his girlfriend came, she saw his skin completely burned away and he only recognized his legs. At least the company had the decency to send a team of workers to his family's home to deliver ashes, and wire him a check for $150,000, nearly 30 years of salary, probably to head off any possibility of an ugly lawsuit. Because of the blast, Foxconn stopped production at all shops to improve ventilation and dust disposal, but only 7 months later there was another blast that injured 59.

Alas the brouhaha over Apples imperialist ways comes after the passing of Steve Jobs, not known for whipping Apple into a Corporate Superpower by being Mr. Nice Guy.  It also comes when Apple announced jaw-dropping $13 billion in profit in a single quarter on $46.33 billion in sales. Reports are that Apple is on track to not only pass Hewlett Packard as the world's largest computer company, but also Exxon as the most valuable company in stock value. Molly Wood of CNET notes that even after Apple audits its suppliers for labor, health, and safety since 2007 that "problems remain--the kinds of problems that kill people." "The company got there by riding its legendary legacy of never compromising, never accepting "no" for an answer, and of squeezing margins so it can release new and improved products virtually every year at the same price as the year before."

Also from CNET: "The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper. And then they'll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut."
That's from an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market.
Then, there's this from a former Apple exec "with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group":
"You can set all the rules you want, but they're meaningless if you don't give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well. If you squeeze margins, you're forcing them to cut safety."
It doesn't stop there. Li Mingqi, a former Foxconn manager:
"Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost."

What did Apple public relations have to say?

"Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern."
Adding: "Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It's not who we are.

BRUCE SILVERMAN of Minneapolis wrote the NYT in a section titled "Has the iOrwell Arrived": It’s ironic and disheartening that the company that set out to change the world could accomplish the task only by employing vendors who subject workers to slave-labor wages and an Orwellian work environment. With all due respect to the late, great Steve Jobs, if the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial for Apple were reshot, the image of Big Brother on the giant screen might fittingly be his own. In stark contrast to its counterculture origins, Apple seems to have evolved into the embodiment of everything it once despised — a greedy, callous, ruthless behemoth beholden only to fund managers who demand incremental profits every quarter at any cost.

ANDREA GARA of Palo Alto, Calif wrote: I can pay more for humanely produced beef. Maybe it’s time for stickers certifying humanely produced electronics.

"Those jobs aren't coming back"

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke,President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States? Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said. The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.
Coleen Martinez of Knoxville Tenn wrote: Jennifer Rigoni, former supply demand manager for Apple, said about the American work force: “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?” Has Apple ever wondered who could afford to buy its products if Americans aren’t working?

CNET alone has this whole series of articles: 

Apple catches flak in China supply chain saga

by CNET News staff 

Apple supplier facilities in Shanghai
Scenes from Apple supply facilities in Shanghai. At left, workers assemble MacBook Pros; at right, an audit takes place.
(Credit: Apple)
The maker of iPads and iPhones is hardly alone among tech companies that rely heavily on Chinese factories under scrutiny for labor practices. But it has become the flashpoint.

Dear Apple: Do something about Chinese working conditions

As stories keep emerging about terrible working conditions in consumer electronics factories, it's time for Apple to step up. They've got the power and the cash to make meaningful change. Let's hold them to it.
(Posted in Molly Rants by Molly Wood)
January 27, 2012 11:48 a.m. PT

ZDNet: Apple's supply chain flap--it's really about us

commentary Apple is under fire for its supply chain labor, but every tech item--and everything you own--goes through the same manufacturing paces.
(Posted in Between the Lines by Larry Dignan)
January 27, 2012, 3:04 a.m. PT

Tim Cook: Apple cares about 'every worker' in its supply chain

Tim Cook responds to a report about working conditions at a factory in China, saying that any suggestion it doesn't care about worker welfare is "false and offensive."
(Posted in Apple by Steven Musil)
January 26, 2012 11:25 p.m. PT

A kinder, gentler Apple? Don't bet on it

A New York Times article depicting the high human costs built into the making of Apple products has provoked a strong reaction from readers and consumers. How will Apple respond?
(Posted in Fully Equipped by David Carnoy)
January 26, 2012 12:39 p.m. PT

Apple and the Foxconn problem

Putting a human cost on the iPad

An in-depth New York Times report focuses on the final months of a factory worker who died as a result of an explosion at a factory that makes iPads, as well as the conditions workers often endure.
• A tale of Apple, the iPhone, and overseas manufacturing
(Posted in Apple by Steven Musil)
January 25, 2012 10:00 p.m. PT

Apple gets tax incentives in Brazil to begin iPad production

According to a report from Brazilian newspaper Folha, Foxconn will begin producing iPads after being officially granted a batch of tax incentives from the Brazilian government.
(Posted in iPhone Atlas by Joe Aimonetti)
January 25, 2012 5:48 p.m. PT

Apple's Siri teaches Jon Stewart about Foxconn

Moved by Rick Perry's plea that we need to get jobs (and Steve Jobs) back to America, Jon Stewart asks Siri about the factory where Apple products are made. It is an ear-opener.
(Posted in Technically Incorrect by Chris Matyszczyk)
January 18, 2012 9:46 a.m. PT

Apple's latest supplier report details labor issues

In an auditing report on the factories where its products are made, Apple says its findings include cases of underage workers and environmental violations. It also says it has joined a third-party auditing group.
(Posted in Apple by Josh Lowensohn)
January 13, 2012 10:17 a.m. PT

Foxconn settles with workers who threatened mass suicide

The company says 150 of its workers were involved in the protest, of whom 45 apparently resigned rather than take the deal.
• Microsoft probing report of Foxconn mass-suicide threat
(Posted in The Digital Home by Don Reisinger)
January 12, 2012 10:44 a.m. PT

previous coverage

Inside Foxconn's fatal iPad factory

The lack of safety precautions for workers was most alarming at the company's Chengdu plant, according to a report released just two weeks before an explosion at the factory killed two.
(Posted in Crave by Eric Mack)
May 21, 2011 12:21 p.m. PT

Apple report reveals grim truths behind gadgets

Progress report on its suppliers' practices marks first time Apple acknowledges worker poisonings. Also, many suppliers fail to comply with child-labor, other guidelines.
(Posted in Health Tech by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore)
February 15, 2011 4:30 p.m. PT

Apple reports on Foxconn, supplier workplace standards

Apple's latest supplier report details actions taken to help Foxconn with worker suicides and other facilities with underage workers.
(Posted in Apple by Jim Dalrymple)
February 14, 2011 12:45 p.m. PT

Apple fan's faith put to the test (Q&A)

Mike Daisey's new monologue, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," chronicles his love affair with Apple products, a revealing visit to China, and why people need to think about where our devices come from.
(Posted in Apple by Anne Dujmovic)
January 31, 2011 4:00 a.m. PT

Reporters' Roundtable: The human cost of gadgets

Can consumers do anything to ensure that their smartphones, cameras, and gadgets are ethically made? Our experts discuss.
(Posted in Reporter's Roundtable by Rafe Needleman)
October 15 31, 2011 2:46 p.m. PT

Apple, Dell, HP looking into Foxconn factory suicides

After a spate of workers having died or been injured in suicide attempts, three of Foxconn's biggest clients speak out.
(Posted in Apple by Erica Ogg)
May 26, 2010 8:25 a.m. PT

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