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How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work
January 21, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

“You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.” Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher of the NY Times give an in-depth report on Apple's migration of electronics manufacturing to Asia and its impact on middle class Americans.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (158 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
You can buy them all here.
posted by curious nu at 11:23 AM on January 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


I was going to make a snarky comment about how damn hard it is to find a Y1 Tri-Wing screwdriver when you want to fix a MacBook Pro at home. Then I read the article, and now I am depressed.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:28 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


After reading article: it's.. weird. There's nothing on factory conditions (besides a throwaway mention of dormitories), and towards the end there's this: "“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” "

Well, thanks to other, interesting reporting, we know that "the skills we need" consists of putting up with 12 hour shifts, in utter silence, every day of your life, for room and board and a few pennies. I guess they need people with a lesser sense of.. I was going to say "self-worth" here but I'm not sure that's actually true. But the issue isn't a skills thing, based on the high turnover rate of those factories, it's a psychological and/or cultural thing.
posted by curious nu at 11:31 AM on January 21, 2012 [62 favorites]


The OP lost me at "migration of electronics manufacturing". I'm pretty sure Sony, JVC, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sanyo and even General Electric have always been manufacturing their products in Asia*.

*Asia = not here
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:37 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone interested in the state of American manufacturing should really listen to this Planet Money podcast from a few weeks back: The Past and Future of American Manufacturing. The accompanying Atlantic article: Making It in America is pretty good, too.
posted by jeffkramer at 11:38 AM on January 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Don't be so jealous, Obama. Foxconn is already planning to replace all the Chinese worker drones with an actual robot army. So the Chinese won't get to make iphones for that much longer either.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:38 AM on January 21, 2012


I mean, how many people here can say they've bought a vcr that was built in the US?
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:39 AM on January 21, 2012


Nothing about workers? It has managers coming in at midnight, waking everyone up with a biscuit and tea, then leading them to a 12 hour shift.

The problem, apparently, is that Americans are not willing to live like this. Imagine that.
posted by absalom at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


Interesting article. I do admit to feeling a significant amount of guilt that my iPhone is assembled under working conditions that I would fight tooth and nail against if a government lowered labour protections to such a level in my own country. But clearly not enough guilt, because I still bought it. Which in turn makes me feel guilty again.
posted by modernnomad at 11:41 AM on January 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


What gets me about Foxconn is that workers aren't allowed to unionize. In "Communist" China.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:43 AM on January 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


My manager doesn't wake me up with a biscuit and tea. I'm repressed!
posted by cjorgensen at 11:43 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The OP lost me at "migration of electronics manufacturing". I'm pretty sure Sony, JVC, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sanyo and even General Electric have always been manufacturing their products in Asia*.

This is discussed in the article. Apple was one of the last companies to move to Asia, having completed moved operations around 2004 (if I remember the piece rightly).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2012


s/moved/moving
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:45 AM on January 21, 2012


What's a VCR?
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:52 AM on January 21, 2012


/youthtrolling
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:52 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem, apparently, is that Americans are not willing to live like this. Imagine that.

The problem is that Americans also now demand insanely cheap consumer goods. One follows the other. If we (Canadians and a lot of the rest of the west too) could accept longer product cycles and more durable, more expensive goods we would likely be able to support domestic manufacturing again.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:54 AM on January 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


It also mentioned that the high-ranking executive at Foxconn makes less than an entry-level grunt worker in America.

God, I know the reporter has to be objective, but it's weird to read this without someone saying how it's pretty disgusting. I mean, hundreds of thousands of workers live and work in conditions that have been illegal in the States for a century just because Steve Jobs wants a scratch-resistant iPhone in 6 weeks. They say the US market can't meet their needs - I think that's a really fucked up definition of "need."
posted by Peevish at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2012 [28 favorites]


Honestly, Apple's candid dismissal and reasoning why they wouldn't make their products in the US was refreshing. How rare is it that a company shows just how much they value their libertarian (capitalistic) workforce. They can do it cheaper, with faster turn arround, and they don't have to concern themselves with the well-being of their workforce. Moreover, their fans (consumers) are far too willing to pay for it.

Honestly, they should be honest and make a human flesh and bone version with a very limited release. Sure, it is gruesome to think about, but really... how different is it from reality?
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:04 PM on January 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


"“The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” "

I have a friend who ran a factory in China and he said the workers were amazing. They were fine with just sitting/standing there and doing the same exact tiny thing over and over and over. It's not a "skills" as in something that can't be taught to a human being thing-- it really is a willingness to do this same thing over and over for long hours and very little pay and possibly sleeping in the basement with no heating. Mostly the very little pay and very little hope of ever moving up.

My friend says his factory was progressive because they offered blankets and tried to get some heating in the building.

(The business collapsed as did my friends emotional belief there was anything good in the world. He now believes all Americans need to become souless robots as well because that is the most efficient thing and hoping for happiness or human welfare is a hippy child dream=me of course.)

I think no matter how much income we have as americans we should do our best not to buy luxury items that are NOT actually essential, made under these conditions while claiming we HAD to buy a cheap entertainment system because of low income. We don't actually have to buy entertainment systems. It can be used for good purposes, and it can FEEL like a need, but it's really not a need. I think as Americans we can give ourselves the illusion that we need many items that we *must have* and that justifies lack of awareness about how they are produced or how our purchasing effects the world.

Just a hundred years ago everyone survived without these things. I'm not saying that technology hasn't made AMAZING things possible for healthcare, communication, emergency services--- but most of our foriegn made purchasing is not really based in essential items or for the furtherment of human wellfare. Well in fact it's quite in the opposite of it. I imagine that even farmwork-- and I believe farmwork can be degrading and horrific under many conditions-- but the frmwork many poor pre-industrial people endured allowed people to be outside, to be in communication with each other and feel the sun. I'm not sure if this technology- especially for the purposes of entertainment-- actually advances human welfare as much as we claim it does. I do believe that it CAN function for advancement of human wellbeing- but that means we need to incorporate the cost to workers who produce the goods into the overall effect on human well being. (I tried to make that less convoluded, sorry if that didn't come through well)

To think about the reality of the amount of work and labor conditions that go into making phones so people can play angry birds-- doesn't seem like a balance of improving human well being. Maybe I'm adding wrong though, I've never been very good at math.
posted by xarnop at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


The problem is that Americans also now demand insanely cheap consumer goods.

I am at a point in my life where I would very happily pay more money for my laptop/smartphone/[insert tech gadget here] if I could be assured that it was manufactured under decent working conditions where the workers had a right to unionize and negotiate with management. I can buy fair trade coffee. I'd -really- like to buy a fair trade laptop.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:10 PM on January 21, 2012 [69 favorites]


What gets me about Foxconn is that workers aren't allowed to unionize. In "Communist" China.

They call unions in China "fake unions" for a reason. ACFTU exists to keep people in line and got its start by murdering leaders of other unions, so I don't know what communist has to do with workers' rights. Form the beginning it's been there to make people do what the government wants, and right now the government wants more Foxconn so nobody's going to rouse the employees out of their passivity and cynicism.

I think it's possible to win business back from companies like Foxconn but it takes a lot of work. As has been said, we don't get ahead by putting in the effort here, but we do have technological/mindset advantages. I'd encourage everybody reading this to invent a lot and focus as much energy as possible at work into being very productive and creative during each hour. Realistically, the only way to stop foreign offshoring is to produce better things for the same price (under better conditions) here.

Reducing consumption and becoming more self-sufficient is also good, of course, but it's not a very contagious practice. Even people who read about it all day don't really do it.
posted by michaelh at 12:12 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

Really, Mr. Apple Executive? Did you and your fellow executives bother lobbying Congress and the President for investing in education at all? Did you push for giving money to state and local governments to turning underperforming community colleges into tech education centers like they're doing in Chicago? Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, even the goddamn Koch brothers are giving bundles of money to education, why can't you?

If Apple and Google (for starters) spent a fraction of the money currently used for building Silicon Valley pleasure-dome HQs on expanding campuses across the country, maybe there would be Americans with the skills they need.

posted by zombieflanders at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


The problem is that Americans also now demand insanely cheap consumer goods. One follows the other. If we (Canadians and a lot of the rest of the west too) could accept longer product cycles and more durable, more expensive goods we would likely be able to support domestic manufacturing again.

What's funny is that even the American companies that charge extra for their products, like Apple, still get their stuff manufactured overseas. And you can see where the middle class went: Apple now has one hundred billion dollars in cash just sitting in the bank. That doesn't make Apple evil, but I always find it funny that they are held up as evidence of American innovation, which is apparently overcharging your customers for a product manufactured in the same sweatshops as everything else, and then spending a good chunk on feel-good nonsense marketing and throwing the rest in the bank.
posted by deanklear at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [25 favorites]


The article says Apple and other companies argue that they can't have manufacturing here only partly because of labor practice standards and lack of skilled employees in the U.S., but mostly due to larger global patterns of electronics manufacturing being based in Asia. There's a feedback loop: Asia is the place where manufacturing is done now, so if you're Corning, you don't keep your glass plant here in the U.S. only to have to waste time and money shipping everything to Asia for refinery and assembly; you build the plant there and voila, you not only can put in more competitive bids but you also get access to this ultra-cheap and efficient labor market as a side benefit.

That's the cover argument that the article puts forth, anyway. Whether it's bullshit or not is up for debate.
posted by jng at 12:19 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So in essence, even if we had a legion of new engineers to make up for the deficit of skilled workers here in the U.S., still aint getting back those manufacturing jobs. Folks are too skilled for that stuff.
posted by jng at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


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.

The only people in america willing to do that are... immigrants
posted by rebent at 12:26 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


hey, i know, let's re-invent slavery and negative externalities - PROFIT
posted by facetious at 12:27 PM on January 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


The OP lost me at "migration of electronics manufacturing". I'm pretty sure Sony, JVC, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sanyo and even General Electric have always been manufacturing their products in Asia*.

One of the more interesting factoids I learned from the Jobs biography is the story of Next building a factory to manufacture the computers in Fremont, CA. In 1987.
Granted there was a lot of automation involved, but it wasn't too long ago that you could give serious consideration to competing with a U.S. based electronics factory.

It wasn't until 2000 or so that the last U.S. full tv factory closed (Zenith, I think).

There are many electronics factories in the U.S., but less each year, and more of them convert to "assembly" rather than "manufacture" every year as electronics get cheaper and more disposable.
posted by madajb at 12:31 PM on January 21, 2012


If we (Canadians and a lot of the rest of the west too) could accept longer product cycles

There is no consumer tolerance level for product cycle length, or whatever. That is dictated purely by the companies making and advertising the goods.

and more durable, more expensive goods we would likely be able to support domestic manufacturing again.

Certainly a problem, but much more complex and challenging than one might expect.. Ever taken apart computer equipment made in the early 80s? How about late 80s? The stuff was built. Partly because they didn't know how to build it any less robustly, but partly because people wanted to "feel the quality". Servers right up to the mid 90s were built with this 'drive a truck over them and they keep running' design... All of that over building was extraordinarily wasteful.

Now, we can talk about appliances instead of electronics, and about special purpose electronics gear instead of rapidly changing gear (like audio amplifiers rather than cell phones) and the durability thing gets much more important..

I think it is better to concentrate on standards rather than durability. Like the European forcing of USB charging for cell phones. That is a huge improvement over a bunch of power adapters cluttering landfill for no reason...
posted by Chuckles at 12:37 PM on January 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


There is no consumer tolerance level for product cycle length, or whatever. That is dictated purely by the companies making and advertising the goods.

Yes. How many of us knew we needed iPhones before they existed?
posted by madcaptenor at 12:41 PM on January 21, 2012


i think durability is an important issue because electronics are made of materials that are difficult and hazardous to recycle.
posted by Evstar at 12:41 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every justification given is self-serving.

We don't produce employees with the right skills anymore? Really? Well, why would we when there are no jobs for them?

Why is China capable and we're not? From the article:When an Apple team visited, the Chinese plant’s owners were already constructing a new wing. “This is in case you give us the contract,” the manager said, according to a former Apple executive. The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory. And yet, business keeps preaching that government needs to get out of the way, and let business do business.

Even if we had people with the necessary skills, they still wouldn't get the jobs: “They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?” Asshole.

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.” The result is that “we can’t compete at this point,” the executive said. Absolutely chicken-and-egg. We gave them the business and they stepped up, not the other way around. And what's the fucking hurry all the time? If management did there job better, there would be fewer "emergencies".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


there their
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:43 PM on January 21, 2012


In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend.

Ah, the Goldilocks theory of employee skill.

But then we read:

Particularly among Americans without college degrees, today’s new jobs are disproportionately in service occupations — at restaurants or call centers, or as hospital attendants or temporary workers — that offer fewer opportunities for reaching the middle class.

So which is it? Is the problem that Americans are too educated, or not educated enough?

A few days ago, I heard an NPR report on manufacturing in the U.S. They profiled a very skilled older worker who had picked up his training on the job decades ago and a less skilled worker who started later. It was no longer possible for employees like her to be trained on the job, the reporter explained, because "the gap between skilled and unskilled workers has grown so wide", or something along those lines.

This is kind of like saying that an employer can't pay more because "the gap between low-paid and high-paid workers has grown so wide." This worker wanted to be trained in the exact same skills as her colleague, so the "gap" between the two of them was no bigger than the gap between the older worker and his inexperienced self.

American companies can't hire Americans for skilled jobs because they're not skilled enough, and they can't hire them for unskilled jobs because they're not unskilled enough, and they can't hire them for medium-skilled jobs because they're not medium-skilled enough. And they definitely can't train them because there's a big gap between skilled and unskilled. And journalists accept this nonsense even if it contradicts the nonsense from three paragraphs ago, because then they can stop talking about boring manufacturing workers and pontificate solemnly about how Americans need better education, or how Americans should stop going to college because we're too educated.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 12:43 PM on January 21, 2012 [33 favorites]


I would rather be designing and marketing iPhones than assembling the damn things.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:44 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would rather be designing and marketing iPhones than assembling the damn things.

Hard to have a kingdom consisting of nothing but kings. And not everyone wants to be king, but would still like a chance to be somewhere above a serf.
posted by maxwelton at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


from the article

Apple had redesigned 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 flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”


Something does not add up. Foxconn is traded on NASDQ. Here is a chart of their stock price since 2003. Does that look like an economic juggernaut to you?

Some more data:

Revenue US$59.32 billion (2010)

Net income US$2.2 billion (2010)

Employees 920,000+ (2010)

2.2 / 59.32 = gross profits at around four percent. (according to wikipedia)

The way this smells to me is I wonder what the percent the Communist Party biggies are skimming here. This is what we need wikileaks and assassination markets for.
posted by bukvich at 1:00 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


The myth that these iPhone assembly line workers are highly skilled is just a tactic to make people to stop asking questions.
posted by humanfont at 1:07 PM on January 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Rest assured that American Job Creators are working on getting these jobs back. Just a few more years of union-busting, high unemployment, erosion of benefits, an social safety net-gutting and we'll be able to pay Americans $17 a day to build high tech toys. Like the Chinese, they won't be able to buy the things, but there are other markets. And those workers will get to spend time with their families, as soon as we get rid of those job-killing child labor laws.
posted by Legomancer at 1:14 PM on January 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


The problem is that Americans also now demand insanely cheap consumer goods. One follows the other. If we (Canadians and a lot of the rest of the west too) could accept longer product cycles and more durable, more expensive goods we would likely be able to support domestic manufacturing again.

Well, keep in mind Apple is making significant profit on the hardware here, on top of the massive revenues they're getting through iTunes sales. Paying the workers even an American minimum wage might - MIGHT - increase the cost of an iPad by $100, if Apple still insists on making a $250 profit on the hardware. But when not exploiting slave labor comes up against having a hundred billion dollars of liquid cash in the bank, we know how this company decides.
posted by kafziel at 1:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


More likely we're talking a $10-$20 price difference, though, which hardly impacts anything except the ethicality of the employ.
posted by kafziel at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2012


Well, keep in mind Apple is making significant profit on the hardware here

Yes, that's the other thing. Companies would need to accept lower profit margins.

I think it's pretty reprehensible for companies such as Apple to do business in countries with no minimum labour standards, or at least try to not lobby for such things. I'm not sure of their record of such action but I can't imagine it'd be good.

Any way you shake it, it comes down to consumer demand tempered by government regulation. If the US and Canada made it illegal to sell goods manufactured in such countries, we might get somewhere. There's too much at stake for them to actually do that, though.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


er...sorry. That should be 'at least not try to lobby for such things'.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:23 PM on January 21, 2012


The problem is that Americans also now demand insanely cheap consumer goods.

Read the article though. It mentions that the cost of using US workers for an IPhone would be about $65, and Apple would likely eat some of that because the phones are so profitable.

This is a failure of our corporate systems. They can't see that gutting the middle class will usher in the demise of the world's largest consumer economy. This shouldn't surprise us - US companies have always pursued short-term profit over long-term sustainability - think pollution.
posted by RalphSlate at 1:25 PM on January 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


From the article:

“Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. “That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.”

Capitalism knows no patriotism. Did it ever? Apparently.
posted by kgasmart at 1:31 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a failure of our corporate systems. They can't see that gutting the middle class will usher in the demise of the world's largest consumer economy.

Oh I think they see it, I think they just don't give a shit. We're past peak prosperity in this country, the saturation point where rising incomes allowed expenditures to continually increase. But that certainly isn't the case in China and elsewhere in Asia, where people are being lifted out of poverty (or to a slightly less onerous form of poverty) and will have money to spend; more growth there than here.

It's a chicken-or-egg thing. Pay the workers more, they can afford to buy more and higher-priced consumer goods. It spirals up. Pay them less, and you need lower-priced imported goods that they can afford. It spirals down. That's where we're at right now.
posted by kgasmart at 1:35 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know, if I was apple - I'd approach this growing PR issue like this: they should demand standards for the employees. Nothing real mind you, just enough that some exec can cut a ribbon on a new factory for a photo-op, the workers eat a piece of cake or two, there's some hand shaking, and good old Americans can relax in knowing that Apple is able to drive standards in China...

See? We talked about standards, we posed for a picture, we placated the American public so they could go back to just consuming, we justified a 10-20% price hike on our products, kept the businesses overseas, we kept things exactly as they were - except we go forwared with fewer reporters visiting the factories...

It amazes me that people ever thought electronics came from some place more akin to Willy Wonka's Factory and that the workers dance around like oompa-loompas without care or problems. Man - you'd think someone would wake up - our political process is a mess. Our jobs are outsorced. Our haves have a hell of a lot, and the have-nots are an ever growing population.... The only comfort I get out of this is knowing that Apple's proffits are equal to $400,000 per person - not that each person at Apple makes $400,000 - I'm pretty sure they have demonstrated their ability to screw over their workforce... But it is nice to think that if they felt like it, they *could* pay each of thier employees that much.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:41 PM on January 21, 2012


These jobs will never return unless we Americans are willing to accept the pay scale and working conditions that existed here 100 years ago. Then again, as the rates rise in Asia, we may reach equilibrium in about 50 years.
posted by crushedhope at 1:49 PM on January 21, 2012


jimmythefish: "If we (Canadians and a lot of the rest of the west too) could accept longer product cycles and more durable, more expensive goods we would likely be able to support domestic manufacturing again."

I'm right there with you in consumer goods like furniture and clothing, but from a technology perspective you can forget about it. Innovation just moves too fast. The iPhone sales start was 4.5 years ago, it had EDGE cellular data, shitty camera and no apps. Three versions later, the next iPhone will probably have an LTE radio and god know what other hardware gimmicks. And it's built on top of the previous products. It's a great advance, and taken in context with the whole technology industry, you'd be hard pressed to categorically say that they cause more harm than benefits to humans because Chinese labor standards are not up to western standards - which is not a bad thing by definition. When looking at labor conditions in Chinese factories, they need to be graded against the economic alternatives in China, and not against labor conditions in Swedish factories.

RalphSlate: "This is a failure of our corporate systems. They can't see that gutting the middle class will usher in the demise of the world's largest consumer economy."

On the other hand the Chinese middle class is rioting because they can't buy enough iPhones. They will be fine.

Nurturing the middle class as a consumer class through increasing labor standards has been tried before. It did wonders for the auto industry in the end. Yes, I am fully aware of that story about Ford raising salaries so his workers could buy the model Ts they manufactured. Unfortunately, the world today is so much bigger than Michigan in the early 20th century.
posted by falameufilho at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, if I was apple - I'd approach this growing PR issue like this: they should demand standards for the employees. Nothing real mind you, just enough that some exec can cut a ribbon on a new factory for a photo-op, the workers eat a piece of cake or two, there's some hand shaking, and good old Americans can relax in knowing that Apple is able to drive standards in China...

I'll just leave this here then.

I remember when armchair Apple haters used to at least be abreast of what the company is up to. Could you at least do the cursory amount of research before you do the whole drive-by facetiousness?
posted by Talez at 2:03 PM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not really sure we have to pay more for consumer goods.
Maybe some companies could simply profit a tiny bit less.
Srsly a dormitory without heat? What did that save on cost per unit?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:06 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


These jobs will never return unless...

According to Steve Jobs, these jobs will never return. Period.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:09 PM on January 21, 2012


This is the irony of Apple catching all this PR backlash right now: they appear to be the *most* ethical of the US consumer electronic companies. Should we hold them to an even higher standard? Probably, but if Apple is treating (or allowing to be treated, or unable to prevent being treated) it's proxy Chinese employees in this fashion, how do you think the workers on the products of any of a multitude of US corporations with far fewer scruples are being treated?
posted by pharm at 2:11 PM on January 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


These kind of jobs should be done by robots anyway. In factories built by other robots.
posted by sammyo at 2:15 PM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Our jobs are outsorced.

They aren't your jobs, they're just jobs. Someone can do them cheaper now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:25 PM on January 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apple is a convenient and fashionable target here, but they're one of many. Pretty much anything you own that plugs in is also applicable, as well as a huge amount of the things you don't.
posted by Legomancer at 2:30 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read an interesting piece recently (don't remember where) that talked about how the Chinese government plays a huge role in the direction of Chinese businesses (and future businesses), and how they have very smart people deciding where to place focus.

For example, while the U.S. likes to focus on building major items, like cars, farm equipment, and airplanes, the Chinese government said, "Okay, we're going to build a factory that makes rubber washers, and we will be the world's largest supplier of rubber washers." Then they did the same for bolts and o-rings and bearings and a million other little things that are necessary to build much of anything else.

THIS is how you build an national economic empire, but it takes a level of forward thinking that's anathema to U.S. business, where "long-term results" means "anything past this quarter."
posted by coolguymichael at 2:33 PM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Zombieflanders wrote: If Apple and Google (for starters) spent a fraction of the money currently used for building Silicon Valley pleasure-dome HQs on expanding campuses across the country, maybe there would be Americans with the skills they need.

I get the willies when I imagine the sort of "education" that would teach people to place beveled sheets of glass in a frame for 12 hours a day. Or that would make them aspire to live in an unheated dorm, woken up at midnight by foremen to fill a rush order. I think it would be more efficient to teach the Chinese workers how to organise.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:34 PM on January 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


twoleftfeet: "According to Steve Jobs, these jobs will never return. Period."

What an interesting exchange. Not surprised by what Jobs said, I'm surprised by Obama not being aware of this already.
posted by falameufilho at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


They aren't your jobs, they're just jobs. Someone can do them cheaper now.

I seriously disagree. And I think a good part of our economic problems stem from people making the argument you are.

American companies selling to American consumers owe employment to American workers.

Why should they get all the benefits and none of the hardships? A Chinese company employs Chinese workers, but when they sell to the American market, they pay a tariff. That tariff is there to protect American workers by compensating for the lower labor rate and laxer regulations in China. Apple (or any other company doing this) is getting to have it both ways.

We need to (at least) force American business to pick a fucking side.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


We need to (at least) force American business to pick a fucking side.

They have picked a side - the side of greater profitability. They don't feel they owe a goddamn thing to the country.

If individuals ought to be as blithe about their own civic obligations as corporations, there'd be no society left.
posted by kgasmart at 2:57 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, "were" as blithe
posted by kgasmart at 2:58 PM on January 21, 2012


My friend says his factory was progressive because they offered blankets and tried to get some heating in the building.

I was sitting in a lounge in a fancy hotel in Beijing (girlfriend's dad always has a substantial surplus of hotel points) and heard an exchange between an American businessman and what I presumed to be his Chinese counterpart. They were from one of the American car companies and had spent the day visiting factories. It was summer in Beijing, and unbearably hot. They were sitting in the lounge, drinking cold beverages. Says the American, "I was surprised that there wasn't any air conditioning in the factory. It was so hot!" The Chinese man, reassured him, "Oh, no...the workers are used to that."
posted by msbrauer at 2:58 PM on January 21, 2012


This daily mail article from 2010 is pretty cool. They have a photograph of a foxconn factory with the suicide prevention cables over the window and they resemble jail or prison window bars.
posted by bukvich at 3:00 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"According to Steve Jobs, these jobs will never return. Period."

Wait, maybe I'm missing something, but all I read in the linked article was Steve Jobs saying the jobs will never return. Period.

That is itself not an argument for why we can't improve this situation. If it's possible to make positive change we need to at least have a vision of what that change could be and work toward it. Saying "Well it's just not possible, give up" is the surest way to continue everything getting worse.
posted by xarnop at 3:01 PM on January 21, 2012


Benny Andajetz: "American companies selling to American consumers owe employment to American workers. "

No they don't. It's nice if they act like they do and try to create jobs here and I even think that government should create incentives for that through taxes or other stimuli. But the only people who are "owed" anything (and still there's a big debate to be had on the definition of "owe") are the company's investors.
posted by falameufilho at 3:01 PM on January 21, 2012


I don't see how Chinese culture survives the next 50 years. This can't possibly continue in the face of moves to more openness and declining birth rates. Hell, wait until the robots show up and do the work even more cheaply than the cheapest humans. Robots don't need dormitories.

In 2030, China is America, and America is China. This might be a good thing for everyone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2012


We need to (at least) force American business to pick a fucking side.

They have picked a side - the side of greater profitability.


We ALL picked the side of profitability, whether we knew it or not. After all, your 401(k) does not run on unicorn blood.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:09 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


We ALL picked the side of profitability, whether we knew it or not. After all, your 401(k) does not run on unicorn blood.

No, not "we ALL," just the employers of people like you.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:15 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, I'm sure you're one of those ultra-pure types that keeps all your cash in a mattress and never, ever opens any kind of interest-bearing bank account, where the bank turns around and makes institutional investments in companies like Apple. I'm terribly sorry to have made that mistake.

Now, I said I'd have a double mocha. Chop chop, my good man.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


No they don't. It's nice if they act like they do and try to create jobs here and I even think that government should create incentives for that through taxes or other stimuli. But the only people who are "owed" anything (and still there's a big debate to be had on the definition of "owe") are the company's investors.

Business is not some monolith that exists in its own universe. They have to work under whatever laws we are willing to impose - and they will put up with much more than they have to now, regardless of what they say. Most large companies that are headquartered here are here because they benefit greatly from a stable political environment and a good currency. That's worth A LOT.

I say if they use foreign labor to build a product that they turn around and sell here, then they are IMPORTERS and subject to hefty tariffs.

We ALL picked the side of profitability, whether we knew it or not. After all, your 401(k) does not run on unicorn blood.

For most people no job = no 401k.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:20 PM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Via Rolling Stone in relation to Occupy Wall Street (remember that?)...

Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn't even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don't do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn't take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life's savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things.

posted by fairmettle at 3:21 PM on January 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem has a huge collection of Asian export art: china, silver, furniture, what have you. In the collection are a couple of paintings proudly illustrating some aspect of the export supply chain: the growth, processing, and distribution of tea in China, for example.

When I look at those paintings, and all the export art on display, it strikes me that Asian countries have been profitable at this game for centuries, far longer than we have. The workers were apparently cogs in the machine then and continue to be so. Labor rights appear to be largely a Western concept (one that we're willing to compromise on, too). And as long as the export market continues to exist, the Asian exporters will gladly supply it.

As to "agility" of American workers and supply infrastructure relative to Asia: the Empire State Building, built by Americans and Mohawks from Canada, was completed in record time. I remember hearing that when the steel (from Pittsburgh) got into the ironworkers' hands, it was still warm from the foundry.
posted by Currer Belfry at 3:25 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I'm sure you're one of those ultra-pure types that keeps all your cash in a mattress and never, ever opens any kind of interest-bearing bank account, where the bank turns around and makes institutional investments in companies like Apple. I'm terribly sorry to have made that mistake.

Dude. You're the one who brought up the specific example of the 401(k). That's a retirement savings plan. If you have one, it's because your employer (not to mention your government) is screwing you out of a pension.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:27 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Benny Andajetz: "Most large companies that are headquartered here are here because they benefit greatly from a stable political environment and a good currency."

I'm not arguing this. You're saying Americans are somehow "owed" jobs, and I'm telling you that's not written on the tin. As I said, should government help create the conditions for job creation in America's shores? Yes. Through a mix of getting out of the way and even investment/subsidies.

If I open a law firm tomorrow, and decide to hire four lawyers in Bangalore to help me with cases, I am not spitting in America's face. "American companies selling to American consumers owe employment to American workers" is one of those things that should only be allowed to be said while impersonating Larry the Cable Guy. Git r'done!
posted by falameufilho at 3:39 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I open a law firm tomorrow, and decide to hire four lawyers in Bangalore to help me with cases, I am not spitting in America's face.

No, you're trying to keep labor costs down and make a profit - rather, make as large a profit as humanly possible.

We ALL picked the side of profitability, whether we knew it or not. After all, your 401(k) does not run on unicorn blood.


Sure, and we all want (or wanted, before the current troubles hit) 8 percent or so returns. We weren't satisfied to grow at the pace of inflation or slightly ahead.

It's why this problem can never be solved. Was Steve Jobs too greedy, demanding a higher margin than was socially responsible, given that he was an American citizen, his company founded and nurtured in the U.S.? Or was it the shareholders? Or maybe it was both.

Regardless, Jobs (and probably many of his investors) is what the Atlantic called the new "trans-national elite" who show no loyalty to their country of birth or their firm's country of origin. You go where the most money is. Shareholder want you there. And any jobs you create in America, any prosperity you create in America is entirely incidental. If you can grow your company by actively undermining prosperity in your nation of birth - you do that. That's the way the game is played. Because money knows no nationality, profit knows no patriotism.

But it wasn't always this way - that's a point made in the NYT piece. And our economy, society itself, was more stable when it wasn't this way. But whose the first CEO, or shareholder, willing to accept a 3 percent return/margin when that margin could have been double that by offshoring?
posted by kgasmart at 3:49 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's interesting that, at a certain point with an automated workforce along the lines of what Foxconn is envisioning, access to reliable infrastructure is more important than access to cheap labor. It looks like the United States is positioned to lose on this front as well, given that we're already far in the negative on infrastructure maintenance and that spending any money to correct that is "socialism." The only thing the United States is capable of investing in as a society anymore is ideology.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:51 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm just puzzled that no one looks at the $100B or whatever it is Apple has in the bank and doesn't wonder who they've stolen it from. Because profits that high are usurious.
posted by maxwelton at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regardless, Jobs (and probably many of his investors) is what the Atlantic called the new "trans-national elite" who show no loyalty to their country of birth or their firm's country of origin. You go where the most money is. Shareholder want you there. And any jobs you create in America, any prosperity you create in America is entirely incidental. If you can grow your company by actively undermining prosperity in your nation of birth - you do that. That's the way the game is played. Because money knows no nationality, profit knows no patriotism.

I disagree, this is the Anglo-American model but this is not the same in every country, not even in every western country. In many places there are stronger links between industry, the financial sector and government and the three areas work together to target market sectors where national champions can be supported and prevail. Have a look at varieties of capitalism (wikipedia summary). The difference between a liberal and coordinated market economy (LME vs CME) is substantial, with the latter often including workers to a greater degree in the social contract. For those who read to the end of the article I would also argue VoC and the CME approach are a key reason that Germany and Denmark captured so much of the solar and especially the wind energy manufacturing sector. The approach is a gamble obviously, it sees government attempt to pick winners, and this can fall flat. It looks likely Germany will lose out to China on solar, and with a lot more investment from the public purse stranded.
posted by biffa at 4:10 PM on January 21, 2012


> a key reason that Germany and Denmark captured so much of the solar and especially the wind energy manufacturing sector.


"To avoid a ton of CO2 emissions, one can spend €5 on insulating the roof of an old building, invest €20 in a new gas-fired power plant or sink about €500 into a new solar energy system."

From der spiegel, Solar Subsidy Sinkhole.
posted by bukvich at 4:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


maxwelton: "I'm just puzzled that no one looks at the $100B or whatever it is Apple has in the bank and doesn't wonder who they've stolen it from. Because profits that high are usurious."

Dear max. Apple is we call a "publicly traded company" which means their investors are institutions and also members of the public, not unlike you and me! That fact makes them obligated to publish a plethora of information about the companies financials, and also creates a business for analysts who scrutinize those same financials and a shit ton of other market sources to understand Apple's business and where it is trending. So with some time and patience you can account all the money Apple's customers pay for Apple products, all the money Apple needs to pay it's employees and suppliers and what's left, which has a amounted to the formidable sum of 100 billion dollars, which stuck you as immoral or "usurious" and akin to theft.

Now given that all that information is available and is scrutinized day in and day out by people much smarter than you and me, and none of them has accused Apple of grand theft (yet), what does that make of you? Ignorant, ideologue or both?
posted by falameufilho at 4:17 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Irony: a thousand rubber gaskets when all you need is a screw.
posted by yoink at 4:23 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> teach people to place beveled sheets of glass in a frame for 12 hours a day

(as claimed in the article) The missing education isn't for assembly line workers (200,000 needed), but industrial engineers (8,700). Ralston McTodd's "goldilocks" call is a good one though.
posted by morganw at 4:40 PM on January 21, 2012


what does that make of you? Ignorant, ideologue or both?

What precisely is wrong with being an ideologue in this regard?
posted by asterix at 5:09 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with championing the Apple profits-above-all-else approach is that it leads to factorys without heat and what amounts to slaves working in them. I don't really care too much if iPhones are made in China or Ghana or Alabama, but I would like whoever is making them to earn a decent wage which enables them to live as we, in the first world, have come to understand how humans should live.

If you're telling me that just because everyone who owns APPL is a greedy fuck means that it's OK, I'm not buying the argument.
posted by maxwelton at 5:56 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


maxwelton the largest stockholders in APPL are fidelity and vanguard and so forth, i.e. it's us. The system has no method for assigning culpability when called for; quite the opposite.
posted by bukvich at 6:01 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be clear: I don't think Apple is stealing from consumers; I don't care what they price their products at. If people want to pay big coin for something, go for it.

However, it is unethical--criminal--to bank huge profits while exploiting the people assembling the products bringing in said profits. If the people assembling iDevices all made decent wages and lived in decent conditions, I could care less if Apple had $1T in the bank.
posted by maxwelton at 6:02 PM on January 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can't really fault apple for going where labor is cheap. The sad truth is that even if an army if cheap assembly line workers were to be had in the US, they would not all become happy Apple employees. Legions of workers offe their own logistical problems, there is the overhead of building physical plants, HR responsibilities and a litany of OSHA regulations. If these people were here, they would be employed through staffing firms who are willing to take on the responsibilities of having an army of workers.

We have been through what China is going through now. Armies of workers digging coal, forging steel, assembling bits and peices. We decided, as a country, we don't want workers working in the conditions workers in China do. We can't turn back the clock and send everyone back to the mill, and we can only put so much pressure on China.

We need to think ahead. What happens when workers in China refuse to work under those conditions. The US is in an ideal position, we have a stable infrastructure, which someone unthread mentioned is actually as important as workers for our next steps. Manufacturing will return to the US once it is cheaper to do it here. It will not return in the way we expect. I doubt it will even be in the form of legions of robot arms.

One thing is clear, it is as unsustainable in Cina as it was in England and the US. We just got to be we're the other guy isn't, a few steps ahead.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:39 PM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fuck this racist, jingoistic assumption in the NYT article, and in many of your comments, that middle class Americans deserve jobs and poor Chinese people don't.

Yeah, yeah, you are so concerned for these poor Chinese workers suffering at Foxconn. So concerned for them that your answer to put them all out of work and send them back to the backbreaking grind of rural poverty that many are lucky to have escaped.

The answer is not to give their jobs to Americans. It is to demand humane working conditions at Foxconn, and halt every iPhone order till it happens.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:40 PM on January 21, 2012


The answer is not to give their jobs to Americans. It is to demand humane working conditions at Foxconn, and halt every iPhone order till it happens.

You mean exactly like everyone here has actually been insinuating, rather than that cynical bullshit you've imagined?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:44 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't really care too much if iPhones are made in China or Ghana or Alabama, but I would like whoever is making them to earn a decent wage which enables them to live as we, in the first world, have come to understand how humans should live.

1. The Foxconn jobs are considered better paying jobs in China.

2 The first world currently relies on electronic gadgets built by those better paying Foxconn jobs. That and high fat, high sugar diet.

3. What kind of computer do you use maxwelton and where was it made?

It is to demand humane working conditions at Foxconn, and halt every iPhone order till it happens.

What device are you using to post to the comment and what were the working conditions of those who made it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:44 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


While you're at it, how many appliances in your home have "Made in China" on them? What were the conditions like in those factories?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:51 PM on January 21, 2012


Reminded me of a few articles on hardware hacker bunnie's blog a while ago:

Ten years ago, Akihabara was the place to be for the latest electronics and knick knacks and components. I’m convinced the new place to be is the SEG Electronics Market in Shenzhen

....

Imagine a market, the acreage of two gymnasiums, but four stories tall, packed with nothing but … mobile phone bits and pieces (and finished phones too).
posted by ymgve at 7:54 PM on January 21, 2012


What device are you using to post to the comment and what were the working conditions of those who made it?

Consumers have very little (if any) choice in the matter, even in the rare instances when there is available sufficient information on which to base said choice.

If you're suggesting that people buy American electronics, well, perhaps they gladly would if such a thing existed.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:55 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Consumers have very little (if any) choice in the matter, even in the rare instances when there is available sufficient information on which to base said choice.

Exactly, so why are people in this thread pretending that we do?

The Chinese work force needs less, will work harder and do it for cheaper. The first world is pretty soft in comparison.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:01 PM on January 21, 2012


Exactly, so why are people in this thread pretending that we do?

Not that we do; just that we should. Because, you know, human rights.

The Chinese work force needs less

No.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:14 PM on January 21, 2012


Is there any life and death reason to purchase 50% of the consumer electronics and appliances in our homes? So the jobs magically come back to North America. It still does not mean that the "economic growth" model is somehow valid.

We're facing catastrophic climate change. Consumer culture has been part of the problem. If we could all figure out how to raise tilapia or something, it might be better than going back on the assembly line.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:15 PM on January 21, 2012


Apple is exploiting Chinese workers! Please, bring those jobs home so we can be exploited too!
posted by miyabo at 8:31 PM on January 21, 2012


Yeah, or, you know, make it so that there's more to distinguish the Chinese workers from actual slaves than a daily wage of five dollars.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:54 PM on January 21, 2012


From the Wikipedia entry on Foxconn:

Foxconn manufactures products for companies including: Acer Inc. (Taiwan), Amazon.com (United States), Apple Inc. (United States), ASRock (Taiwan), Asus (Taiwan), Barnes & Noble (United States), Cisco (United States), Dell (United States), EVGA Corporation (United States), Hewlett-Packard (United States), Intel (United States), IBM (United States), Lenovo (China), Logitech (Switzerland), Microsoft (United States), MSI (Taiwan), Motorola (United States), Netgear (United States), Nintendo (Japan), Nokia (Finland), Panasonic (Japan), Philips (Netherlands), Sharp (Japan), Sony Ericsson (Japan/Sweden), Toshiba (Japan), Vizio (United States)

In fact, Apple was one of the companies which moved production to Asia late in the game. (As pointed out several times above.) Apple are a convenient scapegoat for the destruction of American manufacturing capabilities, but they are just one of many American (and other) companies who assemble products in Asia due to flexibility, speed and cost.
posted by blob at 8:59 PM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Agreed Sys Rq, provide them with air conditioning in their Foxconn dormitories and thin mattress to sleep on would be a good start.

From the link bukvich shared upthread:

Revealed: Inside the Chinese suicide sweatshop where workers toil in 34-hour shifts to make your iPod

posted by mlis at 10:11 PM on January 21, 2012


The "move manufacturing to the states, how dare you, xenophobes!" uproar in this thread is a distraction and certainly not what I care about. Make your gadgets wherever you like. Just pay and treat your workers, wherever that is, like human beings.

Apple (and others, I suppose, though Apple is the one sitting on huge bank) clearly makes enough profit to pay all of its workers, whether they're Apple employees or the sub-contracted pseudo-employees of Foxxcon, a decent wage. Define a decent wage as being able to comfortably support a family in modest prosperity, working for 40 hours per week. This is less money in China than in San Francisco, obviously. I don't care what the actual number is.

(And to avoid another derail, I think our corporate overlords should pay their American workers the same way. Why are we so proud of beating everyone down to join the working poor instead of lifting everyone up to the middle class?)

Brandon, I use a Windows 7 box assembled from components off Newegg. It cost roughly $700 to put together, I think. If there was an ASUS board for $129 that was the "slave sweat inside" board and one for $229 which was the "made in humane conditions" board, I wouldn't have to think about that, I'd buy the latter every time. My computers get about four or five years of use. I can afford the extra $150 a year that doubling the price would amortize out to. I don't own a smartphone, mainly because we live in a cell hole. No tablet. A couple of T60 laptops picked up for $100 from a big company buying new toys for the executives.
posted by maxwelton at 10:22 PM on January 21, 2012


Brandon Blatcher While you're at it, how many appliances in your home have "Made in China" on them? What were the conditions like in those factories?

Are there serious options, though? With regard to tools, I only buy American. I stay away from imported China outfits like Harbor Freight at all costs.
posted by mlis at 10:23 PM on January 21, 2012


Some high-end stuff is made in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan under distinctly non-sweatshop conditions. But it's hard to tell since the same companies make low-end versions in China.
posted by miyabo at 11:00 PM on January 21, 2012


This is what it must have been like listening to plantation owners tell themselves stories to feel good about themselves.
posted by rodgerd at 12:05 AM on January 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


falameufilho wrote: If I open a law firm tomorrow, and decide to hire four lawyers in Bangalore to help me with cases, I am not spitting in America's face. "American companies selling to American consumers owe employment to American workers" is one of those things that should only be allowed to be said while impersonating Larry the Cable Guy. Git r'done!

Why should you get to skirt environmental and employment regulations like that? Why shouldn't there be a level playing field between nations that doesn't involve our returning to pre-union working conditions?

I am against arbitrary tariffs, but I have no problem with using them to account for differences in working conditions and environmental practices and the like. If you can pay your workers a living wage and not dump raw pollutants and still make it cheaper in China, bully for you. If you have to exploit your workers and the environment to do it, I'm not quite sure why you should be allowed to do so?
posted by wierdo at 1:03 AM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apple's profitability might make it feasible for them to move jobs back to the US, but it doesn't address the larger issue, because pretty much any competitor is much less profitable. I think even in areas like computers where Apple has a relatively small market share, they are able to get the majority of profit. For the majority of electronics a change in the labor cost is not easy to absorb.
posted by snofoam at 1:46 AM on January 22, 2012


This is what it must have been like listening to plantation owners tell themselves stories to feel good about themselves.

Manufacturing will not come back to the US without some major systemic changes to how things work on a global scale. It is actually a pretty sobering, if narrowly-focused account of the modern reality of class in the US, how we got here and why it will stay that way, if not worsen.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:57 AM on January 22, 2012


The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.

Is the lack of production or the lack of pay and conditions of work that has stopped "production" of the people?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:41 AM on January 22, 2012


Was Steve Jobs too greedy, .. Or was it the shareholders?

Both are documented. Mr. Jobs did lie to his business partner Woz to keep more money for himself.
Mr. Jobs denied Lisa was his daugter - to avoid child support payments is a commonly given reason.

CEO Gil said "we are committed to maintaining shareholder value".
posted by rough ashlar at 5:03 AM on January 22, 2012


Brandon, I use a Windows 7 box...

Well thank God you went with an ethical company.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:59 AM on January 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is this a comment thread or a rugby scrum?
posted by etherist at 6:07 AM on January 22, 2012


Which one can I morally participate in?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:16 AM on January 22, 2012


"To avoid a ton of CO2 emissions, one can spend €5 on insulating the roof of an old building, invest €20 in a new gas-fired power plant or sink about €500 into a new solar energy system."

From der spiegel, Solar Subsidy Sinkhole.


My point being that the Germany policy of support for solar was not just about saving CO2, it was predicated in an industry policy founded in the belief that by acting as the first mover on large scale adoption of solar power that German industry would be best placed to capture a predicted global expansion. This could potentially justify the greater spend if it meant returns. This strategy proved effective for wind energy but has looked less so regarding solar as China enters and dominates the gloval PV market. Which is why I say this form of coordinated market approach comes with its own form of gamble.
posted by biffa at 8:15 AM on January 22, 2012


1. Apple uses a few billion of its piles of billions to build an iFactory in the USA. It could even include training and education, even more Americans employed!
2. Apple sells USA made iDevices at a premium to cover the cost + even more profit.
3. Apple makes more money, is lauded for helping the American worker, and consumers are given a guilt-free "organic" choice.
posted by pashdown at 9:17 AM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're focusing on Apple, then you're missing the larger point. There are many appliances in your home that were made by this sort of labor. Change begins with you, not a corporation that doesn't give a crap about you think.

What are you personally going to do about the appliances and clothing and god knows what else in your home that's made with cheap overseas labor?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:39 AM on January 22, 2012


Well thank God you went with an ethical company.

I don't doubt that the manufacturers of the hardware in my computer used the same factories with workers in the same conditions as Apple's manufacturing workers. What was my choice? Is there hardware available that is made in ethical conditions? I don't have $100B or any say in the decision as to how the components are made.

On the software front, are you really trying to distinguish Apple from Microsoft, on an ethics front? I can't do Linux, software required for me to not live in a cardboard box won't work there. My server runs it, FWIW.
posted by maxwelton at 11:36 AM on January 22, 2012


What was my choice?

The point is, whether you use Apple or someone else's hardware, there's still the same blood on your hands. You, of course, have a choice, which is to not use any computer anywhere. (But then it would be difficult to participate on an Internet forum and, say, blame anything else but your own behavior as a consumer.)

On the software front, are you really trying to distinguish Apple from Microsoft, on an ethics front?

Microsoft has a long, horrible history, as far as being an unethical business, and Apple doesn't begin to compare to Microsoft on that front. But that would still be a derail.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:58 AM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


wierdo: "Why should you get to skirt environmental and employment regulations like that?"

What regulations am I skirting? None. And there shouldn't be a regulation there for me to skirt. I am hiring lawyers in another country! Have you asked the Indian lawyers if they're happy with the work conditions (here comes the important part) considering the alternatives available to them in their country?
posted by falameufilho at 12:01 PM on January 22, 2012


On the software front, are you really trying to distinguish Apple from Microsoft, on an ethics front?

No. There are other appliances and clothing in your home which were made in sweat shop conditions. Even if it was made in America, are you sure of the working conditions in those businesses?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:03 PM on January 22, 2012


biffa wrote: but has looked less so regarding solar as China enters and dominates the gloval PV market.

Dominating a market is surprisingly easy if you're willing to/forced to sell your product below cost.

falameufilho wrote: What regulations am I skirting? None. And there shouldn't be a regulation there for me to skirt. I am hiring lawyers in another country! Have you asked the Indian lawyers if they're happy with the work conditions (here comes the important part) considering the alternatives available to them in their country?

I'm sure they would be. I'm sure they'd be even happier if you had an incentive not to overwork them or to pay them more like Americans. Again, why should the rest of us pay for your antisocial behavior?

Why should Apple or anybody else desiring to sell goods in the US get to manufacture those goods in factories that would be shut down in a heartbeat if they were in the US? Why should they be at an advantage relative to US companies that actually have ethical employment practices and don't dump their toxic waste into rivers?

There is no natural right for you to enjoy the benefit of access to the US market. We should sell it, like any good business person would. The price ought to be the cost of a living wage and US-spec environmental controls. Whether a manufacturer decides to do that by paying their Chinese workers more or paying the US Government the penalty, we've still provided all the incentive we reasonably can without shutting down imports entirely.
posted by wierdo at 12:18 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey look, another depressing post with further details about things we already know but make us feel bad but likely won't lead to any change! (No offense to the OP. I mean, I think I'm glad to know these things even though I've no clue what can possibly be done with it.) Some kind of brand new industry? Movements to change our government's policies? Can someone please remind me how we couldn't even pass that &*$&^%#@ return to previous tax rates on the country's millionaires and billionaires? (Oh, I remember. They're actually the ones in charge.)
posted by Glinn at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2012


Ginn, don't forget that the story's framed around being about Apple, instead of being about virtually every company that made a thing in your home that has an AC adapter or runs on batteries.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:14 PM on January 22, 2012


George Fisher (Kodak CEO 1993-2000) began his tenure saying something to the effect of "I am here for the shareholders of Kodak, not for the community of Rochester".
posted by rochrobbb at 4:15 PM on January 22, 2012


Ginn, don't forget that the story's framed around being about Apple, instead of being about virtually every company that made a thing in your home that has an AC adapter or runs on batteries.

Apple is literally sitting on one hundred billion dollars in the bank. They of all people don't get to claim financial necessity.
posted by kafziel at 4:45 PM on January 22, 2012


wierdo: "Again, why should the rest of us pay for your antisocial behavior?"

Antisocial? In my example, four Indians lawyers now have good jobs they didn't have before. They're are happy to have the business. And also, pay for what? What is everybody else paying for because my hypothetical business hired four lawyers in Bangalore?

We should sell it, like any good business person would. The price ought to be the cost of a living wage and US-spec environmental controls."

(Wow, treating govt like a business? I thought this was anathema around these parts.)

Your plan was tried, through different ways, on the U.S. auto industry. Worked wonders for them. Also, bravo on proposing such a thing when the U.S. market is becoming less attractive than it once was, with the growth of emerging markets. You may come to the sad realization that many companies may find your requirements not worth the hassle and take their business elsewhere.

The long term result of your plan? Catastrophic loss of global competitiveness for U.S. companies, and turning the U.S. economy into a closed, India-in-the-80s-like economy where few conglomerates own the market by selling crappy products.
posted by falameufilho at 6:44 PM on January 22, 2012


Antisocial? In my example, four Indians lawyers now have good jobs they didn't have before. They're are happy to have the business. And also, pay for what? What is everybody else paying for because my hypothetical business hired four lawyers in Bangalore?

Four American lawyers? (Who buy things and pay taxes and employ other people and services?)

Your plan was tried, through different ways, on the U.S. auto industry. Worked wonders for them. Also, bravo on proposing such a thing when the U.S. market is becoming less attractive than it once was, with the growth of emerging markets. You may come to the sad realization that many companies may find your requirements not worth the hassle and take their business elsewhere.


The American car industry didn't take competition on quality seriously fast enough. Pretty simple. They compete competently now.

And American business has it as good or better than they ever have right now. They ALWAYS threaten to go elsewhere. The one thing we've never tried is this - "Fuck you, then. Go. If you are going to employ foreign work forces and claim profits from those foreign workers offshore, then who needs you? No more playing both sides against the middle."
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:18 PM on January 22, 2012


I suspect your Indian lawyers would make at least $7.25 US an hour. If so, employ them all you like. If, on the other hand, you sell shoes and have them made more cheaply in China by mistreating your workers and dumping chemicals in a river rather than treating them properly, you shouldn't expect access to the US market unless you pay for that differential.

If you can't compete on a level playing field, that just means somebody else's business model is better than yours. Try again, as any good entrepreneur would.

You'll note that many of our other large trading partners already meet or exceed US environmental and working standards, yet still manage to compete in the US marketplace, often to the detriment of US corporations. Good for them. Hopefully we learn from them.
posted by wierdo at 7:29 PM on January 22, 2012


Microsoft has a long, horrible history, as far as being an unethical business, and Apple doesn't begin to compare to Microsoft on that front.

That's certainly true. Apple are much, much worse. After all, Microsoft has never claimed exclusive ownership of the idea of overlapping windows.
posted by rodgerd at 8:36 PM on January 22, 2012


wierdo: "I suspect your Indian lawyers would make at least $7.25 US an hour. "

Let's assume for sake of this discussion that the going rate for a lawyer in Bangalore is $3.00 an hour, and that's considered a good salary considering the costs of living in that city. Why in the name of all that it's holy would I have to pay them $7.25/hr?
posted by falameufilho at 9:57 PM on January 22, 2012


Interesting, more detailed article

Thought experiment: If a US company were to open up a huge factory that will give any youngish able-bodied person a job, paying food, dorm-style housing, minimal medical coverage, and $500 a month cash, would people take it?

I think the answer is yes. There are lots of young people in the US who would work at such a job for a year to save up $6,000, quit, and spend the money on an apartment security deposit, a junker of a car, a couple of dates with that cute guy/gal who you could eventually settle down with. If you come from a really poor neighborhood with high crime and 80% unemployment, it would probably be a decent way to get a start on life.

(Foxconn actually pays its workers about $200 a month, but I figure that has the buying power of at least $500 in the US. I'm not sure if Foxconn actually pays for medical care, but there's a national health insurance scheme there that covers the basics. I ignored the whole question of worker mistreatment/on-the-job injury, because that would make the answer to the question too easy.)
posted by miyabo at 10:07 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


falameufilho wrote: Let's assume for sake of this discussion that the going rate for a lawyer in Bangalore is $3.00 an hour, and that's considered a good salary considering the costs of living in that city. Why in the name of all that it's holy would I have to pay them $7.25/hr?

I omitted to mention the PPP comparison. So long as you pay the equivalent to US minimum wage, no problem. If the work can truly be more inexpensively done elsewhere without exploiting workers or the environment, it should be done elsewhere. If the advantage is gained through exploitation, however, it should be compensated for. There is no reason we have to continue encouraging such behavior.
posted by wierdo at 12:44 AM on January 23, 2012


My kingdom for an edit window?
posted by wierdo at 12:45 AM on January 23, 2012


Talk about missing the key point of the article. The message is not that US workers are too expensive, and the Chinese cheap. It is that Foxxcon has a production ecosystem that cannot be matched in the USA for delivering customer requirements.
How long until they work out they can up their prices and AAPL and the rest have no option but to keep paying them?
And how long until the workers realise they can demand a piece of the cake too?
Ad hominen up thread pointed out that Chinese workers will demand better conditions in time, just like workers have done elsewhere throughout history.
Lamenting that China is stealing jobs owed to Americans is not very useful.
posted by bystander at 1:28 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


For people who read the article:

Charles Duhigg Responds to Readers on Apple and the iEconomy
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:28 PM on January 23, 2012


So, the SOTU seems t have a heavy emphasis on reversing this trend... TBH I'm not entirely sure it's all that plausible.
posted by Artw at 9:54 PM on January 24, 2012


In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

“If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department. “But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”

Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:04 AM on January 26, 2012


Hahahahaha that's the quote you pull from that story??
posted by smackfu at 8:39 AM on January 26, 2012


Google may also be doing something vague and nefarious!
posted by Artw at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2012


It's a good article, you should read it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2012


Mitch Daniels Doesn’t Read the New York Times

posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on January 26, 2012


Eh. Or don't read it. Whatever.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2012


Questions for Li Qiang of China Labor Watch

Q.
What is your impression of Foxconn, which has some of the world’s biggest factories and is China’s biggest export machine?

A.
Foxconn is not good. But if we compare all industries, electronics, textile, toys, Foxconn is one of the best. The biggest problem for Foxconn is the workers are working under a lot of pressure. They’re standing 10 to 11 hours a day. Foxconn treats the workers like they are machines.

They think about how many products they can produce, not about giving the workers a rest. But in the electronics industry all the companies are the same.

They say they’ve increased salaries, but Foxconn doesn’t say the workers have to produce more products per hour. So they have to work even harder. And the worst thing is that Foxconn is the biggest company in the industry. So they set the standard in the industry. And the working intensity has already been audited by the multinational companies, thus meeting the standards set by Foxconn’s clients.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:13 PM on January 26, 2012


Dear Apple: Do something about Chinese working conditions
posted by homunculus at 12:39 PM on January 27, 2012


Tim Cook responds to claims of factory worker mistreatment: “We care about every worker in our supply chain”
posted by homunculus at 12:42 PM on January 27, 2012


I guess that depends on your definition of care?
posted by wierdo at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2012


How Apple Can Solve Its China Problem
posted by homunculus at 5:16 PM on February 1, 2012


Interesting that the article you linked to homunculus says that HP (amongst others) make a point of paying their suppliers more in order to prevent abuse. I wonder how effective that is?

Obviously though, if you drive costs down to the point where Foxconn et al simply cannot deliver without abusing their workers (and a few moments sat down with excel & some knowledge of their supply chain costs ought to make that blindingly obvious to any SV exec that cares to make the calculation) then you have to bear responsibility for the inevitable outcome. Are Foxconn execs culpable too? Of course they are, but that doesn't absolve SV execs of theirs.

The more I read this stuff, the more I think that Jobs *really* didn't care: he actually boasted to Obama to his face that he could get Foxconn to rouse 8000 employees out of their beds in the middle of the night and then put them to work on all-day shifts for weeks on end in order to change the glass on every iPhone before it was shipped & still meet the deadlines imposed by Apple. That's not "just business": That's exploiting foreign slave labour & we ought to be censoring the companies that do it, especially ones who are making a margin on their products far in excess of any other manufacturing making similar products: they don't even have the fig leaf of "we have to do this in order to make a profit" to hide behind.
posted by pharm at 5:10 AM on February 2, 2012


Fascinating article on Apple and anti-employee control fraud
Apple has released a report on working conditions in its suppliers’ factories. It highlights a form of control fraud that criminology has identified but rarely discussed...

Anti-employee control frauds most commonly fall in four broad, but not mutually exclusive, categories – illegal work conditions due to violation of safety rules, violation of child labor laws, failure to pay employees’ wages and benefits, and frauds based on goods and loans provided by the employer to the employee that lock the employee into quasi-slavery. Apple has just released a report on its suppliers that shows that anti-employee control fraud is the norm.
It's a pretty damning analysis.
posted by pharm at 1:43 AM on February 3, 2012


How the iPod Explains Globalization. Chrystia Freeland summarizes a paper by Greg Linden, Jason Dedrick and Kenneth L. Kraemer.
One of their findings is that in 2006 the iPod employed nearly twice as many people outside the United States as it did in the country where it was invented — 13,920 in the United States, and 27,250 abroad.

... even though most of the iPod jobs are outside the United States, the lion’s share of the iPod salaries are in America. Those 13,920 American workers earned nearly $750 million. By contrast, the 27,250 non-American Apple employees took home less than $320 million.

That disparity is even more significant when you look at the composition of America’s iPod workforce. More than half the U.S. jobs — 7,789 — went to retail and other nonprofessional workers, like office support staff and freight and distribution workers. But those workers earned just $220 million.

The big winners from Apple’s innovation were the 6,101 engineers and other professional workers in the United States, who made more than $525 million. That’s more than double what the U.S. nonprofessionals made, and significantly more than the total earnings of all of Apple’s foreign employees.

Here in microcosm is why America is so ambivalent about globalization and the technology revolution. The populist fear that even America’s most brilliant innovations are creating more jobs abroad than they are at home is clearly true. In fact, the reality may be even grimmer than the Tea Party realizes, since more than half the American iPod jobs are relatively poorly paid and low-skilled.
posted by russilwvong at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A recent Reddit AMA thread by a purchasing agent who's visited Foxconn factories.
posted by russilwvong at 9:08 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Noah Smith has an economic-geography hypothesis he calls the Great Relocation.
The basic idea of the theory is this: It is expensive to move products around. This means that if you have a factory, you want to locate it close to where your customers are, to avoid paying a bunch of shipping costs. Now consider two factories. The workers in the first factory will be the consumers for the second factory, and vice versa. So the two factories want to locate near each other ("agglomeration"). As for the workers/consumers, they want to go where the jobs are, so they move near the factories. Result: a city. The world becomes divided into an industrial "Core" and a much poorer agricultural "Periphery" that produces food, energy, and minerals for the Core.

Now when you have different countries, the situation gets more interesting. Capital can flow relatively easily across borders (i.e. you can put your factory anywhere you like), but labor cannot. If you start with a world where everyone's a farmer, agglomeration starts in one country, but that country gets maxed out when the costs of density (high land prices) start to cancel out the effect of agglomeration. As transport costs fall and the economy grows, the industrial Core spreads from country to country. Often this spread is quite abrupt, resulting in successive "growth miracles" that get faster and faster (as each new industrial region starts out with a bigger global customer base). The evidence strongly indicates that agglomeration is the driver behind developing-world growth.

But here's the thing: in the theory, the "old Core" doesn't keep getting richer. In fact, under some scenarios (which are difficult to explain concisely), the old Core even gets slightly poorer while the "new Core" catches up. For a while, the negative effects of relocation trump the positive effects of progress.

So this could explain why people in the rich world are getting poorer. In the 50s, America was the only industrial "Core" on the planet. But since the 60s, we have seen successive "growth miracles": Japan and Europe in the 60s/70s, then Taiwan/Korea/Singapore in the 80s, then China since then, and now even India. In a New Economic Geography world, we would expect these successive relocations of manufacturing to hold down income growth in the U.S., even if technology was advancing as usual. And now Japan and Europe are feeling the pinch as well.
posted by russilwvong at 9:14 AM on February 4, 2012


A final link: Paul Krugman on The New Economic Geography, Now Middle-Aged (PDF).
posted by russilwvong at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2012


Another publication investigates Foxconn: CNN interviews an iPad assembler, Apple responds
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on February 6, 2012


“We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. We insist that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made. Our suppliers must live up to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple.”

Is ... is this really the Apple company line? I mean, Tim Cook's saying it, so it must be, but a flat denial that these repeatedly verified atrocities are happening just seems insane.

Steve Jobs is dead, buddy. You can't rely on his Reality Distortion Field to do everything for you anymore.
posted by kafziel at 6:37 PM on February 6, 2012


Apple supplier audit begins with Foxconn plant: Fair Labor Association begins independent inspections of tech giant's suppliers after criticism over alleged abuses of workers
posted by homunculus at 10:38 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


George Fisher (Kodak CEO 1993-2000) began his tenure saying something to the effect of "I am here for the shareholders of Kodak, not for the community of Rochester".

Apple Asks for Court Approval to Sue Bankrupt Kodak in N.Y. Over Patents
posted by homunculus at 7:18 PM on February 15, 2012


Foxconn's Other Dirty Secret: The World's Largest 'Internship' Program
posted by homunculus at 7:24 PM on February 15, 2012


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