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February 01, 2012

Abusive Labor Practices by Apple


The Apple of My Ire

I may have purchased my last Apple product. So long IPhone, IPAD, IPOD and the like.

Apple reported record earnings of nearly $47 billion in it's last quarter - or on an annualized basis - nearly $200 billion a year. Now, I do not begrudge any company from making a buck - that is after all what they are in business for. By the same token, I wouldn't buy cotton shirts if cotton was still produced by slave labor.

The firestorm started with a report by Mike Daisy on working conditions at FOXCONN, a factory building Apple products in the Shenzen province of China. If you are interested in the details, you can read the full story here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/454/transcript. If you are more of executive summary type of person, the Business Insider put together a nice little summary of the highlights (http://www.businessinsider.com/apple-child-labor-2012-1#ixzz1kxUoa0LJ).
Here are the basics: 
Senior Worker at
Foxconn Factory
  • There's a factory in China called Foxconn. It is located in the city of Shenzhen (sounds like a good name for a infomercial product) that used to be tiny little village but is now has a population of more than 13 million. 
  • Foxconn builds IPhones and IPads for Apple and employs 430,000 workers in it's factory. Ah - that's not quite the correct term of art. The place has dorms where it workers are crammed together, 20 cafeterias so that there is no need to leave the building for food, full-time security guards and suicide nets to help stem the tide of workers killing  themselves by jumping out the dorm windows (a dozen attempted  suicide during 2010, ten were successful).  Since I am not familiar with any American factories that have had to employ suicide nets - Let's go with Fuctory in order to avoid confusion.
  • Anyway, at the Foxconn Fuctory, Mr. Daisey discovered a whole bunch of under-age workers (some as young as 12). They work in vast fuctory floor rooms filled with 20,000 to 30,000 workers apiece - NO TALKING ALLOWED!
  • There standard shift is 12  hours and often extends to 14-16 hours and much of this time is spent standing. When they are done working, they return to their dormitories - which from what I can see is a pretty generous term for the 12 by 12 concrete cubes that house up to 15 workers. 
  • The workers use a toxic chemical (Hexane) to clean the IPod glass and they so so without protection. 
In other words, don't look for the union label anywhere - they're illegal. 

So, how has Apple responded?
Working Without a Net In 2010 Steve Jobs issued a statement - "Foxconn is not a sweatshop. You go into this place and it's a factory, but my gosh, they've got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it's pretty nice.."

So, I guess as long as you ignore that people keep jumping to their death to escape this little slice of heaven on earth - yeah, it's a great fuctory. Oh - other than the fact that you are working endlessly, paid poorly and are are crammed in tight quarters with the rest of your co-workers.My Gosh - besides that  - it's pretty much a fucking Hyatt. 

Apple has also issued reports on Supplier Responsibility. One excerpt from their web site reads:

During a 2008 audit we discovered that in order to work for some suppliers, many workers were coerced by unscrupulous recruiting agents into paying excessively high fees to gain employment in neighboring countries. Because fees to these corrupt middlemen ofter equaled many months wages, workers were taking on huge debt even before they started at the job. They were forced to hand over nearly all of their wages to recruiters to pay this debt, and they had to remain on the job until the debt was repaid..."

I say Bull shit!. Wow, I mean really - you all were surprised that when China, who only has 6 billion people already, was bringing in workers from Vietnam and Thailand that they were abused workers?? You didn't discover that until 2008??? Basically, it looks as though Apples' Suppliers pretty much used the same employment tactic as those used in the sex slave trade. Now, in Apples defense, I am pretty sure that sex slaves do not get to enjoy a swimming pool or a movie theater. 

Not withstanding, Apple was pretty proud of the fuctorys' accomplishments. Here's a little snippet from the New York times interview with an Apple executive (http://venturebeat.com/2012/01/26/apple-labor-abuses/).

Apple had designed the IPhone's screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight. 

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company's dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 Iphones a day. 

"The speed and the flexibility is breathtaking", the executive told the NYT. "There's no American plant that can match that."

Nor the plant's suicide rate I expect. Although in fairness, they did get tea and biscuits.

Now Apple, quite proudly I expect, has initiated a program to curb labor abuses. They call it :Labor Initiatives - Ending Indentured Migrant Labor:  Basically, they recognize that some of their "suppliers" work with third party agencies to bring in labor from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. Turns out that some of these agencies treat the workers as indentured servants, charging them prohibitive fees for bringing them to the Apple fuctory which takes forever for the workers to pay off. Apple is against this and therefore initiated the Ending Indentured Migrant Labor Program. As far as I am concerned they get no credit for ending a practice that they should have never allowed to occur in the first place. Just replace the term "indentured labor" with "slave labor" and then do a gut check.  They should be more ashamed of doing business with folks who use slave labor in the first place then they are proud of their program to curtail it.

Now Apple also does audits of their fuctorys. They issued their supplier scorecard in 2011. If interested, you can read all of it here:

To give you a sample, here is one excerpt on worker health and safety:
Wow! - Great report card Apple!  You really ought to hang it on the refrigerator. The fuctorys have a 76% compliance rate in worker health and safety. Hmmm - I wonder if Apple would be equally as proud if their tax attorneys had a 76% success rate in finding all tax deductions and credits? Or maybe if their quality control folks were able to achieve a 76% product effectiveness rate. I do believe this - If the fuctory workers only produced 76% of the IPads expected - well then:

I'm pretty sure the fuctory suicide net budget would be slashed. 

So basically, Apple wants us to believe that they were shocked to find indentured workers, underage workers, poor working conditions, toxic chemicals and suicide nets, among other things at their overseas fuctorys ("I'm shocked to find that there's gambling going on in this establishment - Your chips Sir.."). Yeah - right. Who would have suspected that their would be labor abuses? What's next - someone going to claim that there's lead in our imported toys or that some imported products are counterfeit??? Heavens to Betsy. This is a Siri-ass problem. Fortunately I just got this new IPhone that automatically answers all questions.

Me: "Siri - it's me - WordsofWhizDumb Guy."

Siri: "Yes Guy."

Me: "I was wondering. If I contracted my work to a fuctory in the Far East, would there be any chance that there would be exploited workers?"

Siri: "Are you retarded?"

Me: "Pardon?"

Siri: "Anyone with a 3rd grade education knows that sweatshop labor has been rampant all over the globe, especially in the Far East and that labor abuses are almost inevitable. Haven't you ever heard of Kathie Lee Gifford?" 

Me: "I suppose."

Siri: "Just Google - Sweatshops in China - you will get a billion hits. It is not like it is a State secret you moron. Anyone who contracts with a factory there and then acts surprised when abuses arise are not being genuine.  am surprised that you have the intelligence to even use a cell phone/. 

Me: "Well, with all the labor abuses going on, how can any corporation avoid being caught in the indentured servant vicious circle?"

Siri: "Build the fucking things in the USA! Now- would you like me to recommend a restaurant?"

Me: "Oh."

Wow, Apple could have avoided all of this mess by just building the stuff here. I'm pretty sure our factories are free of suicide nets and that we achieve a better grade than 76% in worker safety. Who knows, we might even have better environmental regulations so that the by products of ICrap doesn't contaminate the planet. What's that you say? - Too costly? We pay workers too much??


"Damn - a conundrum indeed - wish I hadn't pissed Siri off - she could help here." 

"What to do, what to do, what to do????"

I GOT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sing-Singing a New 
We'll build them in prisons.

It's a natural and I don't know what took me so long to thing of it. After all - we do call them cell phones.

Inmates could be re-labeled as IMates. Of course, Apple would need a new icon for their convict based labor program (or, I guess in this case it would be an Icon) and I will be willing to let them use the one I created on the left - free of charge. What - you think it's an ISore? Okay - submit your own.

For those that think my plan wouldn't work I would offer this. I did some detailed analysis and I believe that the scorecard below provides a compelling justification for prisons.


Apple Logo Now, I don't want to besmirch the entire Chines manufacturing complex based on one fuctory (to quote Donny Osmond - One bad Apple doesn't spoil the whole bunch girl). But I do believe it time we start demanding that our great American companies live up to our core values. It is just tedious that our great American corporate minds continued to be shocked in disbelief when it is discovered that abusive labor practices exist in the overseas factories they contract with. I believe that they know abuses are common and they contract with them anyway.

I have a better paradigm for them. Rather than trying to tackle human rights abuses in your fuctories after those abuses are publicly disclosed - how about only doing businesses with factories that have demonstrated compliance with basic rights. A sure fire way to do that is to build it here. I for one would be happy to pay the extra cost.