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April 30, 2011 2:32 PM   Subscribe

$26.74bn in revenue, £0.69 an hour - is Apple exploiting Chinese workers ?
posted by sgt.serenity (158 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes. Undoubtedly. Just like every other corporation over there, and every headquarters over here that contracts over there. Just like every person who lives a modern Western lifestyle, ie. wears clothing, buys appliances, eats snow peas.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:37 PM on April 30, 2011 [26 favorites]


In case you're having trouble getting a sense of scale because you don't feel like converting in your head:
£16.02 billion in revenue, £0.69 an hour
or
$26.74 billion in revenue, $1.15 an hour.
or
wtf
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 2:38 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I have to ask, why choose to point fingers exclusively at Apple, instead of broadening your scope and giving us something comprehensive and, more particularly, not so trollish.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:38 PM on April 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


because apple isn't microsoft. it's the tool of the creative, liberal, globally minded, not the petty, narrow curmudgeons.
posted by rebent at 2:41 PM on April 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


Apple could put more pressure on its partners so that they treat their employees better, yes. But so could pretty much every single other company that manufactures their stuff in China.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:41 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


If by "pretty much" you mean "all."
posted by five fresh fish at 2:42 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, Apple, and only Apple, exploits workers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:42 PM on April 30, 2011


FWIW, China is exploiting those workers, too, by establishing itself as the cut-rate manufacturer to the world.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:43 PM on April 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


"But so could all every single other company"

Hrm.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2011


Foxconn is also a contract manufacturer for Dell, Sony, Motorola, HP and Nokia. But I guess for those jobs, the workers get $20/hr and a Google-syle cafeteria.
posted by birdherder at 2:45 PM on April 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


Yes, Apple, and only Apple, exploits workers.

So it's totally okay guys.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:46 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good lord. If Apple actually paid living wages, NOBODY could afford their products.
posted by erstwhile at 2:46 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a hunch that this is one of those things like Greenpeace's regular attacks, where Apple is actually one of the most responsible major corporations, but they get singled out because of their popularity.

For some balance, here's Apple's Supplier Responsibility page and 2011 Progress Report. Compare the readability and openness to competitors like Dell, HP, Microsoft (oops, can't find a page), and Google (nope).
posted by designbot at 2:47 PM on April 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


The really outrageous part is that they're paying them in pounds.
posted by koeselitz at 2:48 PM on April 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm now really curious about how many of these comments were written by people using Apple products.
posted by knapah at 2:48 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm now really curious about how many of these comments were written by people using products manufactured in a developing country somewhere in the world."

Answer: all of them.
posted by stratastar at 2:50 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So it's totally okay guys.

No, but when people single out a company amongst millions you know it's more about the headlines than a genuine concern for Chinese factory workers.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:50 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


But Apple aren't Dell or some generic computer maker. They've made a conscious effort to not engage in a race to the bottom on price. The charge a premium price that their target market is willing to bear in exchange for a higher quality product and a philosophy of doing things right. I think those paying this premium have every right to demand that Apple start treating its workers with more equality.

Apple are in a great position to do something about this. They can show other companies that they don't have to treat people in third world countries like shit to beat their competitors on price alone and make a profit. Instead, they're letting that opportunity slip away. As someone who buys Apple products, I would rather see them make a little less and lead the race to the top for workers around the world.
posted by reformedjerk at 2:51 PM on April 30, 2011 [24 favorites]


could someone who is knowledgeable tell us what the style of living would be for someone working full time at those wages? It would put it in perspective for me.
posted by tomswift at 2:52 PM on April 30, 2011


No.
posted by gyc at 2:52 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think those paying this premium have every right to demand that Apple start treating its workers with more equality.

But they aren't exercising that right, are they? If they did, they wouldn't buy apple products of shares.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:53 PM on April 30, 2011


_or_ shares
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:53 PM on April 30, 2011


Millions? There are millions of companies mistreating workers in China?
posted by koeselitz at 2:55 PM on April 30, 2011


As someone who buys Apple products, I would rather see them make a little less and lead the race to the top for workers around the world.

Stop passing the buck and buying products you know are made by slave labour. Seriously, unless this is brand new knowledge, you're absolutely, positively part of the problem.
posted by dflemingecon at 2:55 PM on April 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Isn't it obvious that the workers would be more mistreated by Apple pulling out of China?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:56 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I have to ask, why choose to point fingers exclusively at Apple, instead of broadening your scope and giving us something comprehensive and, more particularly, not so trollish.

Would you say that if this post was about the shoes you wear? Really, why can't we take them to task?
posted by lumpenprole at 2:57 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So it's totally okay guys.

No, but the focus on Apple is meant to contrast with the hippie-creative reputation of the company, which dilutes the overall point about the exploitation of Chinese workers. Apple's not the issue here; the issue is the western world turning a blind eye to the slave labour that provides it's high tech toys, which are arguably the biggest symbol of its conspicuous consumption.

The axe-grindy OP is trying to score a twofer by backhanding Apple in the process.
posted by fatbird at 3:00 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stop passing the buck and buying products you know are made by slave labour. Seriously, unless this is brand new knowledge, you're absolutely, positively part of the problem.

What are my options then? Should I stop buying electronics all together? Because I choose not to live like a luddite, I automatically give me the right to question the treatment of workers? What did you use to write your message? Are you part of the problem? And if you are, can you no longer be part of the solution? What absolute bullshit.
posted by reformedjerk at 3:01 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Millions? There are millions of companies mistreating workers in China?

That's not what I wrote. There are millions of foreign companies that partner up with Chinese manufacturers, exactly like Apple.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:01 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stop passing the buck and buying products you know are made by slave labour. Seriously, unless this is brand new knowledge, you're absolutely, positively part of the problem.

The problem is it is not possible to buy a computer that is manufactured by workers making a living wage. They don't exist anymore. So the answer is to not buy a Dell, HP, Sony, Apple or even a noname whitebook? We should just stop using technology?
posted by birdherder at 3:02 PM on April 30, 2011


Good lord. If Apple actually paid living wages, NOBODY could afford their products.

As I understand it the wages paid to the assembly workers are a pretty small part of the overall cost of Apple's hardware. For example, presently it's about 3% of the cost of an iPad, for example, and that's after Apple accepted a price increase in exchange for a 20% raise for the factory workers. In other words, Apple could pay triple the current rate for labor and the cost of a 16GB WiFi iPad would go up about $50. A substantial increase, perhaps, but still cheaper than a Xoom.

However, does that $1.15 an hour figure in the company-provided apartments and so forth? Or do the workers at the factories also have to pay rent? I'll admit I don't know how that works.
posted by jedicus at 3:02 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"But Apple aren't Dell or some generic computer maker. They've made a conscious effort to not engage in a race to the bottom on price."

No, they are. They pay the minimum amount of wages that ensure maximum quality; because that's the market rate. Because they are a company making profits, and their subsidiaries also make profits, and their workers make wages (not "slave labor," they're being paid) and their country is grinding its way out of deep poverty.

But here's the actual problem. Apple dropping billions of dollars from a helicopter onto workers will not make poverty go away in China. Increasing the productive and technical capacity of China does. The rest of this discussion is, unfortunately noise.
posted by stratastar at 3:04 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, considering the fact that Apple is the most profitable tech company in the world, it makes some sense that they're the first we'd look at. Foxconn has other customers, but Apple is by far their largest. But, by all means, we should talk about all of them.

Incidentally - can anybody vouch for a solid computer that is ethically manufactured? I'm just going to put Linux on it anyway, so I don't really care about the OS. Mostly I'd just like to know if there are any companies out there that I can trust on these issues. There's got to be at least one, I figure.
posted by koeselitz at 3:05 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


because apple isn't microsoft. it's the tool of the creative, liberal, globally minded, not the petty, narrow curmudgeons.

That's funny--every high-powered, whip-cracking, union-hating management tool in my workplace seems to have an iPhone.
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:06 PM on April 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Would you say that if this post was about the shoes you wear? Really, why can't we take them to task?

Please. They're picking a shiny target cause its shiny and lookatmelookatmelookatme, and all that does is undermine the actual problem of ALL tech companies doing this. Look at this very thread. Because the OP, and the linked article, wanted to show what a big boy contrarian he was we've spent the whole thread on a ridiculous side topic, undermining the point they are CLAIMING to make, and undermining any hope of people discussing a SERIOUS, ENDEMIC issue relating to how US companies work with foreign workers because they wanted to score cool points against iPhones.

Grow up.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:07 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


... you're absolutely, positively part of the problem.

The problem is it is not possible to buy a computer that is manufactured by workers making a living wage. They don't exist anymore. So the answer is to not buy a Dell, HP, Sony, Apple or even a noname whitebook? We should just stop using technology?


I don't think we should stop using technology, but it might be good to be thoughtful and honest about the effects, positive and negative, that our own small actions have within a larger world of technological advances and global capitalism and stuff.
posted by box at 3:08 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm writing this on a MacBook Pro. I love the thing.

That said, Apple is a *leader* in the tech sector, as, as such, it should be expected to lead in this area, too. Would I pay extra $50-200 for their products if I knew they were paying well? Yes.

This problem is way bigger than Apple, however. The Chinese government's strategy for growth is an export strategy, and since when does the Chinese elite give a rat's ass about poor Chinese people.

Here's a news flash: A lot of atrocities on the earth are committed as a result of 1st world demand for luxury, prestige, and technology.

Petroleum, rare gemstones, fabrics, labor for tech assembly, etc. etc. are large ingredients in the abuses we see in many poor countries.

If you want to find out more about what is happening, and what can be done, start here.

We are largely insulated from all this, but that insulation if fast coming to an end, because a "flat world" also means that one can receive blowback faster than prior.

So, it's not just Apple, and it's not just America, that are to blame for these abuses - it's a complex web of corruption in poor countries, corruption in wealthy companies, and consumers who are addicted to jacking up their dopamine secretions by owning stuff.

The problem for all of us is that this entire way of live is embedded within the very fiber of 1st world existence. What are the alternatives? Some good things have been happening (environmental movement, etc.), but we are also beginning to see more ominous events occurring in 1st world countries that are beginning to see their consumerist models - models that create consumerist sheeple - fraying at the edges. Just look at America, as one example, where worker's rights in the private sector have been ground to a pulp - and now we have our own elites actually turning the workers who have lost their benefits *against* those who are left in the public sector. For who's gain.

Returns to labor are barely positive over the last 30-40 years, while returns to capital have accelerated at an almost exponential pace.

Things are heating up, and I fear (in some ways, almost welcome, because crisis will spur real change and innovation) will result in severe dislocation.

The people (worldwide), are a relatively patient lot, but when the tinder of hope becomes too dry, watch out!

That includes China, where labor riots and lots of other dissent is increasing at a faster than linear rate.

Back to Apple: Apple could help itself by taking positive steps. One final irony: the Chinese elite may not even want this to happen, because it would get other Chinese laborers thinking about how poor they are, by comparison.

Signing off from my MacBook Pro.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:09 PM on April 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


As I understand it the wages paid to the assembly workers are a pretty small part of the overall cost of Apple's hardware. For example, presently it's about 3% of the cost of an iPad, for example, and that's after Apple accepted a price increase in exchange for a 20% raise for the factory workers. In other words, Apple could pay triple the current rate for labor and the cost of a 16GB WiFi iPad would go up about $50. A substantial increase, perhaps, but still cheaper than a Xoom.

Or the iPad could stay where it is and still be only about 50% profit.
posted by kafziel at 3:09 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Mostly I'd just like to know if there are any companies out there that I can trust on these issues."

You can try to find a company like Falcon Northwest that puts together parts in the United States. You can assume that they are paying their workers "ethical wages." But all of their parts come from somewhere, so you need to figure out which factories those parts are coming from: one easy metric, the most cutting edge parts are coming from higher quality factories. Once those parts become commodified they move down the high-tech value change (say on the scale of moving from Japan to Thailand to China). So once again, its a matter of where your money is going to.

Then again ask yourself this. Is it more "ethical" for your money to go to a well paid japanese worker, or to a poor chinese worker. Then if you're asking yourself that, then ask yourself what makes that purchase in any way more ethical than another one?

If you want to start bringing fair trade / ethical trade into it. Remember fair trade is essentially a way of increasing the wages to one set of workers / farmers while reducing it to those not in the fair trade fence.
posted by stratastar at 3:10 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone fairly familiar with the industry, pretty much everything with a pc board has some manufacturing done in China. If you're willing to build it yourself though, most electronic components can be sourced from non-Chinese companies (the average person would have to go out of their way to get Chinese chips, for example).

And to be clear, by "build it yourself", I mean design the motherboard yourself and have it fabbed and soldered at a US manufacturer that specializes in building prototypes.
posted by ryanrs at 3:10 PM on April 30, 2011


he problem is it is not possible to buy a computer that is manufactured by workers making a living wage. They don't exist anymore. So the answer is to not buy a Dell, HP, Sony, Apple or even a noname whitebook? We should just stop using technology?

Heh, you could buy an Arduino. They're made in Italy (the official ones, anyway).
posted by jedicus at 3:11 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Got a link? I'd be pretty surprised if Arduinos weren't manufactured in China.
posted by ryanrs at 3:13 PM on April 30, 2011


reformedjerk: "What are my options then? Should I stop buying electronics all together? Because I choose not to live like a luddite, I automatically give me the right to question the treatment of workers? What did you use to write your message? Are you part of the problem? And if you are, can you no longer be part of the solution? What absolute bullshit."

Not all electronics are made in China. I buy stuff manufactured in Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Finland, Costa Rica, and China, among other places.
posted by wierdo at 3:13 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That said, Apple is a *leader* in the tech sector, as, as such, it should be expected to lead in this area, too. Would I pay extra $50-200 for their products if I knew they were paying well? Yes.

If this problem was meant to be fixed, these jobs wouldn't have been contracted out to China in the first place, sheeple!
posted by phaedon at 3:13 PM on April 30, 2011


Got a link? I'd be pretty surprised if Arduinos weren't manufactured in China.

From the horse's mouth: "SmartProjects handles the manufacturing of all the Arduino products, with the exception of the Arduino LilyPad, Pro, and Mini Pro from SparkFun and the Arduino Nano from Gravitech.

We stress the fact that the Smart Projects boards are made in italy because in this globalised world, were getting the lowest possible price for products sometimes translates into poor pay and working conditions for the people who make them, at least you know that who made your board was reasonably paid and worked in a safe environment. (this obviously applies only to the boards marked "made in italy", we can not attest to the manufacturing process of "third party" boards)."
posted by jedicus at 3:14 PM on April 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Huh. I knew the sparkfun stuff is mostly manufactured in China, but I guess the Italian boards aren't.
posted by ryanrs at 3:16 PM on April 30, 2011


I can't afford an iPad. I bought my iPod used. My G5 too. My display is a hand-me-down. My phone is the free POS my carrier tosses at me every 2 years. This allows me to sit high above you all and sneer.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:18 PM on April 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


because apple isn't microsoft. it's the tool of the creative, liberal, globally minded, not the petty, narrow curmudgeons.

This is the stupidest thing that has ever been written.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the Chinese workers will be very grateful if we all put in the time and effort to make sure that our money goes to some guys in Italy instead of them.
posted by designbot at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's amusing to see some of the same people -- people I respect -- who would rightly dismiss as a strawman a Republican "defense" of the form "but but but the Democrats do too" offering up0 the strawman "but but but other companies do too".

Of course you hold Apple responsible for this (just as you held Nike responsible for its Vietnamese sweatshops) because it's an iconic brand whose marketing induces people not just to buy its products, but to identify with a "lifestyle" constructed around consuming those products.

An Apple logo, like a Nike swoosh (putatively) identifies its owner as part of a subculture, a hipper, younger, better informed --and yes -- more concerned about fair Trade and human rights, including some vaguely defined right to self-expression and actualization, in contrast to stodgy regimented Microsoft using zombies.

So yes, there's especial irony when "there's an App for that" means bunches of Chinese girls are pretty much locked in factories so that they can produce more icons of the self-actualization they'll be forever denied.
posted by orthogonality at 3:20 PM on April 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is the stupidest thing that has ever been written.

Irony meter broken?
posted by nzero at 3:20 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


jedicus: “Heh, you could buy an Arduino. They're made in Italy (the official ones, anyway).”

Ah. So what you're saying is that there really aren't any computer components in the world that aren't manufactured in third-world countries.

Kidding, of course. Thanks! That actually helps.
posted by koeselitz at 3:21 PM on April 30, 2011


Heh, apparently so Nzero. Mea culpa, world
posted by to sir with millipedes at 3:23 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apple are in a great position to do something about this. They can show other companies that they don't have to treat people in third world countries like shit to beat their competitors on price alone and make a profit.

The snark in me says that if Apple did that, it would be resoundingly attacked as an empty gesture to make all the effete liberal hipsters proud of themselves for buying Apple. But it really is an interesting question; Apple's notoriously meaty profit margins are apparently running at roughly 60%. According to Fortune, their competitors in the smartphone industry are getting between 30% and 40%. Which means that Apple's making about 20% more than its competitors.

According to a couple of old sources I was able to dig up, about $6-8 of every iPhone's price comes from the physical assembly work done by folks like Foxconn's employees. Doubling their wages, even tripling them, would have a relatively minor impact on the iPhone's bottom line.

However, it's worth noting that the rest of the components in the iPhone -- $160 worth of parts at the time that analysis was written up -- aren't dropped off by magic technology fairies. Those components have to be manufactured by workers in other factories, factories used by the rest of the tech industry. Apple eating $20 per phone to quadruple the wages of Foxconn employees would only scratch the surface of the broader problem. It would certainly a be a good, cool thing... but what about the rest?

It's a serious question.
posted by verb at 3:23 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


China so dominates the electronics manufacturing industry, that it can be really difficult to do volume manufacturing elsewhere. High volume, high ramp rate manufacturing requires a ton of infrastructure-- infrastructure that doesn't exist outside of China. If Apple wanted to move iPad manufacturing out of China, they'd have to start by pouring concrete and building factories. It'd be a long time before they could start making product.
posted by ryanrs at 3:25 PM on April 30, 2011


It's amusing to see some of the same people -- people I respect -- who would rightly dismiss as a strawman a Republican "defense" of the form "but but but the Democrats do too" offering up0 the strawman "but but but other companies do too".

Now THAT is a strawman. Look at this thread and count how many are discussing 'APPLE' and how many are discussing this problem in China of which Apple is a part. Now with that info, ask yourself what the people who made it all about Apple were trying to do: Get pageviews for their ads and strokes for their contrarian egos, or actually help those 'Chinese girls' you and I both want to help.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:26 PM on April 30, 2011


I bought my iPod used. My G5 too. My display is a hand-me-down. My phone is the free POS my carrier tosses at me every 2 years. This allows me to sit high above you all and sneer.

In case you weren't being sarcastic: The thriving market in used Apple products allows Apple to charge more because many customers know the products will maintain their value and can be easily resold. And of course the person you bought yours from likely turned around and used the money to buy another Apple product.

Your phone is not actually free. You pay for it every month.

I'm sure the Chinese workers will be very grateful if we all put in the time and effort to make sure that our money goes to some guys in Italy instead of them.

And again, just for anyone who isn't aware of what an Arduino is: Arduinos are little microcontroller boards for hobbyists and prototyping. They're about as powerful as the chip that runs a TI-85 or similar graphic calculator.
posted by jedicus at 3:26 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, huh. Apparently they have done things like this in the past. Perhaps not at the scale we'd like, but it's certainly something to encourage.
posted by verb at 3:27 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


However, it's worth noting that the rest of the components in the iPhone -- $160 worth of parts at the time that analysis was written up -- aren't dropped off by magic technology fairies. Those components have to be manufactured by workers in other factories, factories used by the rest of the tech industry. Apple eating $20 per phone to quadruple the wages of Foxconn employees would only scratch the surface of the broader problem. It would certainly a be a good, cool thing... but what about the rest?

As I understand it a lot of the components are manufactured in South Korea and Japan. Heck, if you're talking about the desktop products, some of that stuff is made in the US and Europe (see, e.g., this list of Intel fabs).
posted by jedicus at 3:27 PM on April 30, 2011


Verb, most electronic components, especially chips, are not manufactured in China. Rampant IP theft has kept a lot of that outside of China. That's why all the fabs are in Taiwan, for example.
posted by ryanrs at 3:27 PM on April 30, 2011


As I understand it the wages paid to the assembly workers are a pretty small part of the overall cost of Apple's hardware. For example, presently it's about 3% of the cost of an iPad, for example...

The problem is that you can't just add $50 to the price to compensate the workers. At every transaction, the prices goes up by a percentage to account for the possibility of unsold stocks, for example.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:28 PM on April 30, 2011


Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Ireland, US, are all much safer wrt not having your design ripped off by the Chinese.
posted by ryanrs at 3:28 PM on April 30, 2011


Oh, yeah, a ton of components are manufactured in Taiwan, too (UMC and TSMC are pretty huge).
posted by jedicus at 3:29 PM on April 30, 2011


Verb, most electronic components, especially chips, are not manufactured in China. Rampant IP theft has kept a lot of that outside of China. That's why all the fabs are in Taiwan, for example.


Thanks for the clarification. I'm definitely more of a software guy, so my knowledge of that side of things is limited.
posted by verb at 3:30 PM on April 30, 2011


And it's not just the Chinese companies that will rip you off. The Chinese government has a hand in it, too. Of course you can forget about the courts for any hope of redress.
posted by ryanrs at 3:31 PM on April 30, 2011


In some factories badly performing workers are required to be publicly humiliated in front of colleagues.

To be fair, this is totally on brand for Apple.
posted by Scoo at 3:32 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a hunch that this is one of those things like Greenpeace's regular attacks, where Apple is actually one of the most responsible major corporations, but they get singled out because of their popularity.

They get singled out because they have an image as being more socially responsible than many of their competitors. If, say, Dell were singled out, a lot of people would just say "well it's a good thing I have a Mac!". This nips that sort of reasoning in the bud.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:33 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Macintosh factory, ca 1989.
posted by mokuba at 3:34 PM on April 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's actually enough for some people to look at how Apple exploits workers, say something along the lines of "yeah, well, they are not alone, why pick on them?" as if it some sort of defense, and then move on, feeling absolved.

Apple exploits workers, Apple customers don't care. You can switch "Apple" with many other companies, but the statement is still true.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:36 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If, say, Dell were singled out, a lot of people would just say "well it's a good thing I have a Mac!".

A lot of people? On metafilter? You couldn't be more wrong.
posted by justgary at 3:39 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is the cost of living in China, and how does this compare to other forms of employment? What is Apple's profit margin? What fraction of product prices is attributable to labor costs? Numbers in the FPP are a bit meaningless without context.

Don't own anything Apple, never have.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:41 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Grow up.

Oh, that helps. How about Apple is now the most profitable tech company in the world, primarily a hardware company and we should look at how that affects the market.

Or in your terms: Screw You.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:42 PM on April 30, 2011


Heh, you could buy an Arduino. They're made in Italy
For now.
That will change once they become popular and production has to ramp-up.
(And, no, Aduinos aren't "popular". Unless you're talking about a hobbyist subset of geeks.)
posted by Thorzdad at 3:45 PM on April 30, 2011


Oh, that helps. How about Apple is now the most profitable tech company in the world, primarily a hardware company and we should look at how that affects the market.

Or in your terms: Screw You.


Or we could look at, you know, the market.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:52 PM on April 30, 2011


Having reluctantly bought a 'factory-refurbished' MacBook Pro for a technical writing assignment, that's my first and possibly last purchase of an Apple anything. Yes, offspring demanded IPods and two insisted on MacBooks, but I'd much rather have purchased white-box Apple-compatible thingies, because their so-called brand needs alignment with the Triangle Shirtwaist fire much more than mock-turtleneck assholes like Steve Jobs.
How much has Saint Steve committed to charity?
posted by nj_subgenius at 3:53 PM on April 30, 2011


It should be noted that manufacturing Arduinos outside of China is basically to make a political/ethical statement. Chinese manufacturing is cheaper even for very low volume items. If I were building a little electronic gizmo to sell on my blog, I'd probably move manufacturing to China once the volume was more than I could assemble myself. Doing a small run of 1000 units in China is totally doable, and likely cost effective.
posted by ryanrs at 3:58 PM on April 30, 2011


How much has Saint Steve committed to charity?

Every $1/year he makes!
posted by ryanrs at 3:59 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the curious, here are the NGO's referenced in the Guardian article. Neither site appears to have any information about the referenced investigation, though SOMO is promoting a Make IT Fair Action Day with a bizarre promo video starring a transvestite motivational speaker and an iPhone.
posted by designbot at 4:01 PM on April 30, 2011


What is the cost of living in China, and how does this compare to other forms of employment?

The 1,350 yuan/month that Foxconn workers receive is roughly equivalent to an accountant or a flight attendant.
According to the Guardian article, the NGOs that conducted this investigation are trying to raise awareness of the insane overtime and stressful working conditions that Foxconn employees are subjected to, not hand-waving about what the going rate for labor is in China.

One worker, for example, had clocked over 98 hours of overtime in one month, and many are pressured to take just one day off every 13 days. The problem appears to be that Foxconn needs to ramp up it production, and rather than hire more workers it's forcing its existing workers to keep cranking. I could be misunderstanding, but would Apple paying each worker more money actually fix that? Or would it just mean that the insanely burnt-out suicidal factory workers would have salary parity with airline pilots instead of flight attendants?
posted by verb at 4:02 PM on April 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


We're haranguing not so much about Apple as about China's labor practices. Yet, China actually seems way more en route to good labor practices than most other conceivable totalitarian cheap labor states.

By that, I mean that Chinese people generally support their current government's lack of stupid, and overall economic improvement, their one-child policy might help produce affluence, etc.

I'd be more receptive to arguments that specific eastern european, south american, etc. countries represent good inexpensive manufacturing bases with better governments, less corruption, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:02 PM on April 30, 2011


Isn't it obvious that the workers would be more mistreated by Apple pulling out of China?

It's practically Communism to suggest that the invisible hand would or can mistreat anyone, surely? The labor will move out of China when a more cost-effective option presents itself.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:08 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apple influences the first world with market segmentation and, to a great extent, design and aesthetics. That's unquestioned.
When the Mac was first fabricated and assembled in Fremont, it was first thought a bit expensive to consumers. Today, Apple products are assembled at far lower costs owing to Foxconn and its ilk, yet the consumer price is still far over what he or she deserves to pay. Apple vertically integrates manufacturing more than any others on this front, so the practical question, it seems to me is, "why does Apple charge so much?"
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:22 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The labor will move out of China when a more cost-effective option presents itself.

Good morning, Vietnam!

(Sorry, sub-saharan Africa, you're not there yet.)
posted by ryanrs at 4:28 PM on April 30, 2011


Today, Apple products are assembled at far lower costs owing to Foxconn [..] Why does Apple charge so much?

Apple's competitive advantage does not lie in its manufacturing cost.
posted by ryanrs at 4:30 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


To clarify: no other manufacturer can touch Apple's user experience, so Apple is free to charge a premium for it.
posted by ryanrs at 4:32 PM on April 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ah, ryanrs, you've hit on it, thabk you!
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:33 PM on April 30, 2011


thabk-thank
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:35 PM on April 30, 2011


I had a Dell a few years back, used it as a server. It had a Foxconn motherborad in it.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 4:48 PM on April 30, 2011


Apple's competitive advantage does not lie in its manufacturing cost.

You're right. The competitive advantage lies in an anti-competitive degree of vertical integration pair with an anti-competitive ability to gouge on the wholesale price. iPads cost $230 to make and sell for $500, for which Apple sees $485. Tripling the current rate for labor wouldn't mean the cost of an iPad goes up $50, it would mean Apple only reaps a 90% markup on every iPad instead of 110%.
posted by kafziel at 5:02 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course we know that Dell, Sony, Motorola, HP and Nokia all do this as well. What amazes me is that people are more interested in making sure that people know that Apple isn't the only company doing this. It's nice to see that Apple fans have their priorities right about this story.
posted by lilkeith07 at 5:03 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


'Cause Dell never sells direct to consumers off its web site.
posted by ryanrs at 5:09 PM on April 30, 2011


What are my options then? Should I stop buying electronics all together? Because I choose not to live like a luddite, I automatically give me the right to question the treatment of workers? What did you use to write your message? Are you part of the problem? And if you are, can you no longer be part of the solution? What absolute bullshit.

The reason you can afford to "not live like a luddite" is because someone else in China/India/etc. pays for it. You can sit here and bitch and moan about how Apple is doing wrong by you, but categorically the western demand has been for more, for cheaper, and for that not to come at the expense of quality or ingenuity...so there you go.

Corporations don't produce things you aren't willing to consume, so when you go to upgrade your still-functional iPad to the newest, shiny version, consider your role in the demand cycle before doing so, and consider investing in companies that have the kind of ethical standards you hold instead of those that will beef your portfolio return up.
posted by dflemingecon at 5:21 PM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


iPads cost $230 to make and sell for $500, for which Apple sees $485.

iSuppli's cost estimates are notorious bullshit.

You might notice that the detailed part-cost breakdown you linked to was posted over two months before the iPad with 3G was released, meaning that these guys were literally making numbers up out of thin air. There's also $0 allocated for R&D, software engineering, packaging, shipping, marketing, support, or retail operations.

If tablets cost $230 to make, explain to me why competing tablets cost more than the iPad? I guess Motorola's taking 160% profit margins on the Xoom. Oh, right, I see in the linked article that nobody can compete because Apple cheats by selling their products in their stores. Apparently Apple stores cost nothing to open or run, giving them an unfair advantage. Or something.
posted by designbot at 5:25 PM on April 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Of course we know that Dell, Sony, Motorola, HP and Nokia all do this as well. What amazes me is that people are more interested in making sure that people know that Apple isn't the only company doing this. It's nice to see that Apple fans have their priorities right about this story.

No, what we've learned is that leading a story with Apple gets traffic -- both from people who are eager to point at Mac users and iPhone owners and say, "Hahah! I'm better than you," and from those same owners who get defensive about it. Me, I'm still trying to figure out what could change the situation. From the story itself -- not the chest-puffing going on in this thread, but the actual story linked to in the post -- the concerns brought up by the NGOs doing the investigation involved insane hours and crazy demands placed on workers to meet production demand.

Apple taking a chunk out of its profits to quintuple the wages of Foxconn workers would be pretty cool -- it would make 'iPad assembly line worker' one of the highest paying occupations in China, and it would still be less than minimum wage in the US. Would it help the problem that the NGOs are talking about, though? I'm not sure.

The problem of insane work hours to meet manufacturing demand is about manufacturing capacity. What can be done to encourage Foxconn to ramp up its manufacturing capacity and its number of workers so that they can meet demand without abusing their existing workers? Does just adjusting the pay solve that problem? At what pay point is 98 hours of overtime humane?
posted by verb at 5:27 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Foxconn probably can't ramp up its employee base fast enough to keep up with iPad demand. It's more of an issue of training than money. (Just a guess, though.)
posted by ryanrs at 5:29 PM on April 30, 2011


Of course we know that Dell, Sony, Motorola, HP and Nokia all do this as well. What amazes me is that people are more interested in making sure that people know that Apple isn't the only company doing this.

When was the last time you saw an article headlined "Dell Workers Treated Like Slaves" or "Suicides at Motorola Factory" or "The Human Cost of Nokia Gadgets"?

I don't think it would be clear to most people who follow the news coverage that this is an industry-wide issue. Apple is consistently singled out as the bad guy in these stories.

If these stories cause ethically-minded people to buy products from companies whose labor standards are actually worse, then, yes, that's a problem. What technology company is doing more than Apple to improve standards in Chinese factories? (Not a rhetorical question.)
posted by designbot at 5:35 PM on April 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Very, very few companies actually have the pull to tell Foxconn how to treat its own employees. Apple can, but not smaller companies. It would be like you telling Walmart how to treat their employees because you buy your groceries there. They're not going to let you audit their hiring practices.
posted by ryanrs at 5:43 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reformedjerk: As someone who buys Apple products, I would rather see them make a little less and lead the race to the top for workers around the world.

Right, but I think the concern there would be more for what the shareholders would rather see (i.e. profit/dividends) than what the consumer would rather see.
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:03 PM on April 30, 2011


I suspect that for this type of issue, a lot of it comes down to public perception and Steve Jobs not wanting to be the bad guy. I doubt the shareholders have much input.

Employment conditions in China is not something Steve is passionate about, but at the same time, he doesn't want to be using slave labor. So Apple will pay attention to the issue, but don't expect them to turn the Chinese manufacturing industry on its head.

Anyway, that's my take on it as someone who once worked there for a while.
posted by ryanrs at 6:14 PM on April 30, 2011


I have a hunch that this is one of those things like Greenpeace's regular attacks, where Apple is actually one of the most responsible major corporations, but they get singled out because of their popularity.

To be fair, contra my first couple posts at the beginning of the thread, this is exactly how you move the Overton window. Driving Apple forward pulls the others behind them. And Apple of all companies has the cash and profitability to invest in change for the better.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:38 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Verb touched on this, but I'm a little skeptical that any company alone (even one Apple's size) really has the ability to change Foxconn's practices all that much.

Apple/Dell/HP don't actually run these plants or manage these workers. They aren't on the factory floors and don't supervise anyone. And since the issue seems to be conditions more than pay, it seems possible that actually having trustworthy, qualified inspectors at every step of the supply chain could be pretty unrealistic.

All of this is to say that this is a deep, systematic problem of the modern economy. To point out a single company-while intentionally(?) using two separate currencies to disingenuously bolster your point-trivializes the issue into an Internet argument about fanboys and trolls.
posted by graphnerd at 6:42 PM on April 30, 2011


Heh, anyone who knows the history of Apple should know Jobs has never been a friend of the workers.

I'm not attacking Apple in this case here, my Dell is probably worse in terms of parts and manufacturing sources. But Steve Jobs has historically put business first.
posted by formless at 6:45 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, but Apple is a big company. It's not really just him. And – well, yeah, they have made the gesture of increasing workers' wages. That's a good thing there. Although working conditions still clearly aren't great.

I guess it's hard for me to know how to feel about this.
posted by koeselitz at 6:51 PM on April 30, 2011


As if raising prices in first world markets will impact wages on the assembly line in China. Their wages are tied to local supply and demand. Even if consumers AND companies decide to leave a little extra, it will simply be siphoned off by those higher in the chain. That is the nature of the wage pyramid in China, where qualified workers exceed positions available and where the income disparity exceeds that in America. The employees at the bottom will work for and be paid at whatever wage is minimally bearable, everything extra is going to be pocketed by the owners. Any intervention by companies like Apple will translate into a PR campaign and short term action before reverting back to the status quo that is most profitable to the owners. The only powers that can change wages are sitting in Beijing and they seem content. Bashing foreign companies is misguided; it's their job to appease the shareholders by maximizing profit and their consumers by passing on the saving.
posted by dirtyid at 6:51 PM on April 30, 2011


actually having trustworthy, qualified inspectors at every step of the supply chain could be pretty unrealistic

Actually, it's standard industry practice. You gotta have inspectors visit the factories and you definitely keep tabs on who Foxconn is buying their supplies from. If you don't, you will be ripped off in various ways and the quality of your product will go down. The Chinese manufacturer will substitute sub-standard or counterfeit parts, testing will be compromised, basically all manner of dubious corner-cutting. For instance, if the manufacturer is buying too few of some expensive connector, then they're probably substituting a cheaper, less robust one. Conversely, if they're buying too many connectors, then maybe the factory is running an "extra shift" and selling the excess on the black market.

So there are independent inspectors already, although they're not looking at the labor side so much.
posted by ryanrs at 6:53 PM on April 30, 2011


Apple is a big company. It's not really just [Steve Jobs].

It kinda is, especially for this sort of activist issue.
posted by ryanrs at 6:55 PM on April 30, 2011


To point out a single company-while intentionally(?) using two separate currencies to disingenuously bolster your point-trivializes the issue into an Internet argument about fanboys and trolls.

You. Don't. Say.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:02 PM on April 30, 2011


Think Different.
posted by rocket88 at 7:05 PM on April 30, 2011


designbot: "When was the last time you saw an article headlined "Dell Workers Treated Like Slaves" or "Suicides at Motorola Factory" or "The Human Cost of Nokia Gadgets"?

I don't think it would be clear to most people who follow the news coverage that this is an industry-wide issue. Apple is consistently singled out as the bad guy in these stories.
"

Because Apple is the bad guy. They aren't the only one but they are one of them. When was the last time you heard major news broadcasts talking about Motorola or Nokia or Dell? Apple is being singled out because they are popular, and being popular puts a target on you.

"If these stories cause ethically-minded people to buy products from companies whose labor standards are actually worse, then, yes, that's a problem. What technology company is doing more than Apple to improve standards in Chinese factories? (Not a rhetorical question."

I personally don't know what company is doing more than Apple is. The reason why Apple is working to improve standards is because their has been stories written about them and it has brought to peoples attention.
posted by lilkeith07 at 7:06 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is the nature of the wage pyramid in China, where qualified workers exceed positions available

I suspect that were this true, there wouldn't be this problem of overworked, suiciding employees.

Foxconn quarantines new workers. They can't afford to let disease decimate the factory floor. Foxconn is a company town operation: it's a lifestyle. You eat a healthy Foxconn diet, get regular checkups from the company doctor, live in a company apartment.

I think the big problem is that Apple has been such a smash hit that Foxconn can't get enough workers fast enough. Quarantine alone has them running behind the demand curve.

It's a helluva step up from peasant to Foxconn factory worker… but it's not a life I'd want to be born into.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:07 PM on April 30, 2011


As far as I can tell about all this bullshit about "brand" and "culture" really means is that Apple is the only company out there even worth discussing. As in no one's expecting HP, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Moto, etc to do anything worthwhile and no one's even going to bother to talk about it.

By the way, the notion that retail wheeling and dealing is anti-competitive is "not even wrong".
posted by Wood at 7:11 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's not a life I'd want to be born into

No one is born into that life. They have to fight to get it.
posted by ryanrs at 7:13 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


In case you weren't being sarcastic: The thriving market in used Apple products allows Apple to charge more because many customers know the products will maintain their value and can be easily resold. And of course the person you bought yours from likely turned around and used the money to buy another Apple product.

No sorry, Apple did not double dip. No one builds a business plan around the used market. And there is no "of course". They "likely" turned around and bought any of the millions of other consumer products available to US consumers (see my note about the used market). THAT seems likely.

Your phone is not actually free. You pay for it every month.

No, I pay for access to the 3G network. The guy that paid $400 for his phone? He also paid for mine.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:14 PM on April 30, 2011


Notice that the issue here is about Foxconn creating inhumane working conditions.

Notice that most of the discussion is about Apple.
posted by fatbird at 7:17 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because the issue isn't that Foxconn is creating inhumane working conditions, it's that companies like Apple are paying them to create inhumane working conditions.
posted by kafziel at 7:19 PM on April 30, 2011


Eh, I think some perspective is needed.

China is hardly alone in this. Electronic component makers in Malaysia pay their workers at about that level too, about USD200 per month. I would bet anything that Indonesia, Thailand, all sit around that wage rate - and it's not because China is depressing the wages in the region - these have ALWAYS been the wage levels here. It's only shocking because suddenly Americans are aware of how rich they are relative to the rest of the world. Lots of people live at that wage level just fine. They just don't own iPods. Your aunt makes your clothes for you. You get some eggs from your grand-dad's chickens. You fix your uncle's motorbike. In Malaysia I can get a SIM card for a mobile phone for USD1.50 and it lasted me one frugal month of calls and texts and then I threw it away with credit still remaining, I did the same thing in China when I was there.

Well if you want to double the pay that one factory makes you have two problems

- Now you have a hundred million people lining up at your factory wanting to work at your generous $2 per hour wage. How would the factory HR team choose who to hire? I would bet corruption would be incredible. Artifical price setting does not work!

- Every job at a final tier assembler is roughly the top tier of 5 other jobs in the industry manufacturing lower tier parts. You don't have a hope of controlling what happens in the lower tiers.

Minimum wage laws have to be set centrally, at the government level. I just don't see any other solution. China is a very hungry place: there are probably lots of factories in Asia who would love to underbid Foxconn but are rejected on the basis of quality. I'm sure Apple would love to pay double the basic wage to achieve a halving in defect rate. Think back to what happened a few years ago to GM / Ford / Chrystler... people rejected their product en-masse and turned towards cheap Asian imports on the basis of quality, driving them bankruptcy. The fact that US factory workers made more money than Asian factory workers was not even a factor in that decision. In fact, there were many articles denouncing the unions for being greedy and for destroying their own industry. I think the citizens have spoken pretty clearly where their priorities lie, and it's not the welfare of the common worker making their product. Our companies make the product that we deserve.
posted by xdvesper at 7:21 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If Apple wasn't paying Foxconn, nobody would care.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:22 PM on April 30, 2011


The subtext of all of this is the wrongheaded idea that a first-world electronics consumer somehow has an onus to moral virtue merely by their selection of specific goods to the exclusion of others. This idea ought to be rejected. Apple is not somehow behaving hypocritically because they have yielded to market forces and basic big business practices. This is wrong. Apple itself does not have a calling beyond that of any other multinational corporation. People buy Apple products because they want to. It's absurd. The conditions that workers endure abroad in the manufacture of most of the toys you buy your children are probably worse.
posted by breakfast_yeti at 7:41 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I suspect that were this true, there wouldn't be this problem of overworked, suiciding employees. "

I believe the amount workers are optimized to account for the surge in demand when new idevices are released and for when production eventually steadies. Regardless, there is fierce competition to secure a Foxconn assembly job because the "life style" and physical conditions are better than what most of the workers grew up with. But yes, new workers require training like every job and are expensive to replace. The hours are terrible because the alternative - being over worked in another job with less life style benefits is worse. My aunt used to work 14x7 for months without time off while sharing a dilapidated room with 11 others for very little pay. Her job? Waitressing in the city. It's already been mentioned the suicide rate in Foxconn is statistically lower than the rest of China.

I do sympathize though, it's not easy being working poor in China, but it is better than being working poor in China 20 years ago. Again, I don't think there is much western companies can realistically do to increase Chinese wages or reduce hours because in the end, it is beyond their control. No amount of inspectors or paperwork will stop the rich from finding a way to exploit the poor in China (I'm sure the sentiments is familiar even here). However, lifestyle/infrastructural improvements like enhancing the conditions of the worker dormitories (better furnishing, better food, less people per room) might be a step in the right direction.
posted by dirtyid at 7:46 PM on April 30, 2011


Of course we know that Dell, Sony, Motorola, HP and Nokia all do this as well. What amazes me is that people are more interested in making sure that people know that Apple isn't the only company doing this. It's nice to see that Apple fans have their priorities right about this story.
posted by lilkeith07


Amazing? Really? I find it amazing that you know what 'apple fans' priorities are from this ridiculous thread. Truly remarkable. You have a gift.

Look, there may be a good post somewhere among the details, but this isn't it. Maybe a post describing how tech companies take advantage of Chinese workers (and deeper, how China takes advantage of Chinese workers), and perhaps how Apple, now the most profitable tech company, and one of the most respected, are in position to try and shake the boat. Instead, we get a few lazy links thrown together to create a trolling, bullshit post that should have been deleted to begin with. I highly doubt the OP wanted a real discussion: mission accomplished.

(I do find it ironic that a company that is often branded on metafilter as nothing more than a successful marketing ploy with an army of fanatics is simultaneously held to a higher standard than other highly profitable companies-- all companies do it, but THIS is APPLE--- but I'm not surprised.)
posted by justgary at 8:09 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


No sorry, Apple did not double dip. No one builds a business plan around the used market.

Build a business plan around it? No, but it's a significant effect, significant enough that lots of Apple resellers offer trade-in programs (example). You don't see that—certainly not to the same degree—with other brands.

And there is no "of course". They "likely" turned around and bought any of the millions of other consumer products available to US consumers (see my note about the used market). THAT seems likely.

Oh c'mon. Very few people give up using computers entirely. Selling a computer is almost always done in conjunction with buying a replacement, and Apple users are pretty loyal. It's highly likely that the old computer was sold to help pay for a new one. That's how the trade-in programs work, and you see "it works fine, but I'm selling this one to buy a new one" all the time on eBay.

No, I pay for access to the 3G network. The guy that paid $400 for his phone? He also paid for mine.

The cost of your subsidized phone is built into the network access charges. That $400 phone? Same thing; it was likely subsidized, too (a no-contract iPhone costs ~$400 more than one with a contract) . Very few people buy unsubsidized phones in the US. There's little economic incentive to do so, since the monthly cost is the same either way.
posted by jedicus at 8:13 PM on April 30, 2011


If Apple wasn't paying Foxconn, nobody would care.

Apple or no, I think you'll find a substantial number of people are rightfully concerned about the welfare of those living in a totalitarian state.
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:26 PM on April 30, 2011


Apple or no, I think you'll find a substantial number of people are rightfully concerned about the welfare of those living in a totalitarian state.

Sure, but the majority of people in this thread apparently didn't even read to the second paragraph of the linked article. The majority of the thread has been about profit margins on iPads vs. hourly wages in China, something that is only tangentially related to the working conditions brought to light by the NGOs in question.

I'm glad someone's concerned about it, but most of the people in this thread seem more interested in getting their shots at Brent Sienna than finding out what could be done to change things.
posted by verb at 8:46 PM on April 30, 2011


Because the issue isn't that Foxconn is creating inhumane working conditions, it's that companies like Apple are paying them to create inhumane working conditions.

No, Apple isn't paying them to do it. According to the article, the issue is that Foxconn can't or won't staff itself sufficiently, causing them to severely overwork their employees. The pay is relatively decent by Chinese standards. Apple could care less whether Foxconn doubled its staff and eased off the hours--and if Foxconn is paying the overtime, as the employee's paperwork shows, then it would likely be cheaper for them to properly staff themselves.

This is not a case of Apple making demands on pricing that require Foxconn to practice corporate serfdom. The price of an iPad wouldn't change if Foxxcon addressed the issue.
posted by fatbird at 8:49 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you'll find a substantial number of people are rightfully concerned about the welfare of those living in a totalitarian state.

I seriously doubt you are one of them, at least based on the framing of this post.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:57 PM on April 30, 2011


I think it's mighty convenient to put the blame on Apple or any other "big bad corporation", but how many people crying foul are still buying products made by people working in factories under the same, or WORSE, conditions?

Don't like it? Don't buy it. It seems a bit disingenuous though if you're complaining about how bad Apple is because they're "supporting poor working conditions" while buying cheap Chinese-made electronics at Walmart...
posted by 1000monkeys at 8:58 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doesn't not buying things made with developing world labour only exacerbate their working conditions?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:18 PM on April 30, 2011


Doesn't not buying things made with developing world labour only exacerbate their working conditions?

Possibly, but it makes that person less of a hypocrite when they cry foul about Chinese factory workers' working conditions while continuing to support the system that oppresses the workers.
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:37 PM on April 30, 2011


Uh, you know what I mean. Need sleep :-)
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:38 PM on April 30, 2011


No way! The workers in China are being exploited? When did they stop being Communists?

Aw well. In 30 years the shoe'll be on the other foot ... then we people in "free" "Democracies" can complain about the Chinese exploiting US workers. To sell us the wind turbines they cornered the market on, along with all the other things they learn from "our" companies.
posted by Twang at 10:41 PM on April 30, 2011


No one is born into that life. They have to fight to get it.

I suspect Foxconn employees are having sex. Their progeny will go to Foxconn school. Many will become Foxconn workers themselves.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:00 PM on April 30, 2011


I'm sure Apple would love to pay double the basic wage to achieve a halving in defect rate.

Without a doubt. Every dollar saved in an iProduct not returned/repaired is $100 in sales. Internal savings are very profitable.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:02 PM on April 30, 2011


Incidentally - can anybody vouch for a solid computer that is ethically manufactured?

And I have to ask, why choose to point fingers exclusively at computers, instead of broadening your scope and giving us a question that is comprehensive and, more particularly, not so trollish? I mean I'm going to pretend most people on this site are complete morons who do not actually completely understand it's not just computers or just Apple and be all concerned that computers and Apple are being unfairly targeted (not to mention China). Why didn't you question if anyone could vouch for a solid car, shirt, vibrator, cookie, that is ethically manufactured?

But to answer your question, others seem to have some suggestions but it would seem to be very difficult to get electronics (and for those concerned, yes I know other things other than electronics are manufactured/produced at very high profits by exploiting a number of factors that allow the exploitation of workers in China and other countries) ethically manufactured and frankly almost anything. It goes well beyond profit and exploitation and market and it will be very difficult to correct without blood and chaos. It seems we all have to die, and we all have to be party to someone, or in many cases, many people, getting fucked over.
posted by juiceCake at 11:05 PM on April 30, 2011


That's a good point, juiceCake. Until a couple of years ago, my shoe brand of choice wasn't manufactured in China. They've recently opened a factory there, however. Supposedly they don't pollute like they're allowed and pay their workers a fair wage, but who knows.
posted by wierdo at 11:09 PM on April 30, 2011


Possibly, but it makes that person less of a hypocrite when they cry foul about Chinese factory workers' working conditions while continuing to support the system that oppresses the workers.

I don't think that not buying things from the workers will liberate them. There might be some kind of political change possible, but I'm not sure how individuals can effectively advocate for it without the power of our governments.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:24 AM on May 1, 2011


Motorola build phones in Germany until a few years ago. The question is not how much you pay the worker or should pay the worker, the questions are:

1. How much of the work is needed for the product? In Germany the workers salary were - thanks to automation - only a tiny fraction of the total product cost.

2. How much money do you need to make a decent living? While 1 buck an hour seems ridiculously low, please don't forget that a huge part of the world population lives on 1 hour A DAY!

The price for labor in China will adjust itself very fast in the future due to lack of enough workers. An by the way, the low wages are only a small fraction (around 50%) of the Chinese competitiveness based on a study from a US business school.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:50 AM on May 1, 2011



I seriously doubt you are one of them, at least based on the framing of this post.

Your fascinating issues of doubt and/or faith in other posters on Mefi are perhaps something you would like to express on metatalk, rather than derailing the thread.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:58 AM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not derailing anything, since you brought up the issue of motivation. But the fact is that we're all using computers to post on Metafilter, and unless we fabricated our own microchips by hand, and soldered circuitry to boards by the sweat of our own brow, we are all — each and every one of us — using equipment built by the hands of (today) Chinese workers.

This whole thread is morally bent, from the start, by that simple fact, and if we're going to have an honest, adult discussion about culpability on Metafilter we need to begin with ourselves, or at least accept our roles in a system that exploits anyone it can. I don't see that kind of honesty happening here, and if we're going to analyze why that is so, that is a direct consequence of the framing of this issue by you.

And let me be 100% absolutely clear to you on this point: I am not getting bullied into your Metatalk games, either. If you are going to so transparently grind your axe on this site then you are just going to have to live with other people seeing you acting in bad faith.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:20 AM on May 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Think Different.

I know this is just trolling and getting a dig in at Apple, but I find it interesting how many people still regurgitate a marketing slogan that was discontinued nearly a decade ago. It comes up in nearly every Apple thread.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2011


Well, Apple have resurrected it a few times as well - for example when Rosa Parks died and Al Gore got the Nobel prize. They do that, and people still use it when talking about Apple, because it was such a successful slogan.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2011


rather than derailing the thread.

The thread was derailed the minute you made it about one company rather than about the issue, and it's incredibly transparently disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

If I made an FPP about, say, the negative effects of the typical American three month summer school vacation, and then ended it with "so way to hurt the kids, Pasco County, Florida school district!" I'd be guaranteeing a thread derail from day one. Sounds useful if I just wanted to get some digs against the Pasco district but wanted to pretend otherwise, doesn't it?
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:43 AM on May 1, 2011


Steve Jobs killed a guy but we shouldn't talk about it because lots of people kill guys and he's just a shiny target so grow up.
posted by Legomancer at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2011


Murders are happening for explicable reasons, but rather than address the issue overall and coming up with actions to try to reduce the murder rate, let's agree never to do that, instead spending that time stroking our egos by yelling at one particular murderer for the guy he murdered while not ACTUALLY doing anything to stop him and others from continuing to murder.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2011


(in other words, anyone can scroll up and see that 'we shouldn't talk about it' is the opposite of what I said in the post you're referencing. If you're going to try to lie, twist, and strawman someone's words, it's generally a good idea not to do it on websites where people can just scroll up. Helpful advice)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:52 AM on May 1, 2011


So can the apparent majority of us quit ragging on the post's poor framing now, and talk about Foxconn or Chinese factory labor in general?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Think Different.

I know this is just trolling and getting a dig in at Apple


It's neither. Apple was built by marketing not what it was, but what it wasn't. They were selling an alternative. Falling back on any variant of "We're just like everyone else, blame them, too!" isn't going to work.
Being successful comes with the downside of becoming the specific target for your industry's general faults. Eating nothing but hamburgers is unhealthy, but Supersize Me made it about McDonalds. It comes with the territory.
posted by rocket88 at 8:47 AM on May 1, 2011


five fresh fish: So can the apparent majority of us quit ragging on the post's poor framing now, and talk about Foxconn or Chinese factory labor in general?


If people actually are interested in these issues, the same groups that published the report on Apple project worker's labour practices also cover other participants in the industry and work with others to do the same. MakeITFair and ProcureITFair are organizations made up of primarily European NGOs who monitor and report on CSR in the computer industry. They have a number of publications which look at the performance of a range of

MakeITFair is currently running a campaign centered around Apple, which uses the argument that Apple are the most visible and profitable computer hardware manufacturer in the west, as well as having a high reputation for thinking hard about product design, and as such have a unique opportunity to make higher standards for workers the norm. To put it another way for anyone about to write off the entire organization as motivated purely by agenda-driven hatred, they agree with you that Apple are pre-eminent both in the success of their products and their ability to lead changes in the way the whole sector behaves, whether that is workers' rights or magical, revolutionary approaches to tablet computing.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:38 AM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, must have messed up the HTML at the end of that first para. Probably easiest just to ignore that mutilated half-sentence.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:21 AM on May 1, 2011


CHECK ME OUT I AM BETTER THAN APPLE MCDONALD'S NIKE AND WAL-MART

I WIN THIS THREAD YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW AND RELAX

apparently there are some Chinese people?
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:08 PM on May 1, 2011


"the concern there would be more for what the shareholders would rather see (i.e. profit/dividends)"

Just a note; Apple doesn't pay dividends hence the huge pile of cash they're sitting on. As for computers I just cut out the American middleman and buy Lenovo, a Chinese company making computers in China. Why pay a cut to American design and marketing firms like Apple, Dell and HP?
posted by MikeMc at 7:24 PM on May 1, 2011


Why pay a cut to American design and marketing firms like Apple

if linux floats your boat, this makes perfect sense.
posted by mokuba at 7:56 PM on May 1, 2011


magical, revolutionary approaches to tablet computing

And the mask comes off.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:50 PM on May 1, 2011


Are you saying that the iPad wasn't revolutionary? Dude. Before the iPad, tablet computing was all about moving desktop or laptop OSes into a tablet format, and using stylus input and handwriting recognition to replicate keyboard and mouse input. I'm sure that there were other approaches, but Apple was the first company to bring a product to the mass market which took a mobile OS - a phone OS, effectively - and optimised the experience for that form factor. The wave of tablets which put phone-optimised Android onto tablets after that, and now Honeycomb and HP's latest iteration of WebOS are following this approach.

Apple also took this new approach and found a hugely compelling marketing strategy for the iPad. They had already started to associate multi-touch on non-phone devices with the idea of magic with the Magic Mouse in late 2009, but the big marketing push on connecting the idea of finger-driven computing with multitouch input to non-traditional devices was with the iPad - understandably, because the Magic Mouse was a clear evolution from the Mighty Mouse whereas the iPad was an entirely new market sector, competing roughly against the netbooks offered by competitors.

So, what's your beef here? Are you saying that the iPad wasn't revolutionary as a product, or are you saying that it wasn't the point at which Apple started promoting the idea of "magical" as a defining differentiating feature against more conventional input experiences? Either way, it's kind of weird to start arguing about form factors and marketing in a thread where you had been telling people off for not caring enough about workers living in a totalitarian régime, but whatevs.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:01 AM on May 2, 2011


I'm saying that people who have a beef about marketing probably don't really have worker's rights in mind. But then, that's not what this thread was ever about, really.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2011


So... you think that MakeITFair and ProcureITFair, and all the NGOs and researchers who feed into them, don't really care about workers' rights? That the whole process by which they audited and published on the labor habits of workers assembling products for a range of companies - such as this report covering Microsoft, Philips, Motorola and Sony products - and applied pressure to others, such as Asahi Kosei - has been a ruse to get them into a position where they could achieve their true objective - to take a shot at Apple? And that they don't really care about workers' rights at all? The whole thing is a gigantic setup, years in the making?

Well, anything's possible, sure. But that's a long way down the rabbit hole. Manchurian Candidate territory, in truth.

My admittedly less exciting but IMHO more sensible reading would go something like this:

SACOM and SOMO are aware of how terrific Apple's marketing is. So, they send their latest report, about Apple, out to the press, knowing that the press is interested in running stories about Apple - because it attracts an audience, because Apple have such a strong brand and market it so well. Their objective is to use the halo effect of Apple's strong, popular and very well-funded branding and marketing to augment their own limited promotional budget and draw attention to the issue of workers' rights.

It's not a beef with the genius of Apple's marketing, but a tribute to it. And this thread, and indeed your and my contributions to it, are just parts of the beautiful dance set in motion by all this, which - as is presumably their hope - will propagate their message. Perhaps, they hoped, somebody interested in workers' rights might post links to their sites, and then post further links to their research into other companies' practices when it is argued that their entire project is driven not by a love of workers' rights, but a beef with Apple's marketing. So, the message spreads.

It's the circle of life. Hakuna matata.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:45 PM on May 2, 2011


The whole thing is a gigantic setup, years in the making?

Your comment is one long non sequitor. I wasn't commenting on the position of MakeITFair etc., but your specific choice of snide language that gives you away. Like I said in the last iteration of this thread, this isn't on Metafilter because of worker's rights.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:43 PM on May 2, 2011


Your comment is one long non sequitor.

It's sequitur, just FYI - third person singular form of a deponent verb - but Latin is the language causing the fewest problems here.

I linked to organizations which look at the treatment of workers by a wide range of companies in the technology sector. You ignored these links, the better to maintain that nobody cares about workers' rights, and instead appear to have focused on the pressing question of whether or not I was "snide" - whether I besmirched the delicate honor of Apple with my rustic tongue, by using exactly the same language Apple does of its own products.

I am sure this courtly romance and the thrilling heat of the duel - all this breathless, theatrical language of masks flung off, of the interloper giving himself away! - feels very intense to you, but it has little relevance to me. I own and enjoy a number of Apple products, but I am able to consider Apple as one of a number of technology companies, albeit a very successful and influential one with a dominant position in some markets and a particularly strong brand and reputation.

Likewise, whatever historical drama you have experienced with this issue, or the person who has raised it, is of little interest to me. Five fresh fish asked if we could move on to talking about Foxconn and Chinese factory conditions. I provided links to facilitate this, with the caveat that MakeITFair are currently running a campaign seeking to contact Apple, because I thought we could have a conversation about the sector as a whole. It appears that you do not, or cannot. Hakuna matata.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:48 PM on May 2, 2011


Sacom report is now available - 'Foxconn and Apple Fail to Fulfill Promises: Predicaments of Workers after the Suicides. 6 May 2011.' [PDF]
posted by unliteral at 6:12 PM on May 9, 2011


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