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DAVID POGUE IS ONLY COMPETENT TO REVIEW GADGETS
February 24, 2012 1:33 PM   Subscribe

David Pogue weighed in yesterday about the Nightline piece on the terrible working conditions in Apple's subcontractor factories in China. Mike Daisey has been trying to engage with Mr. Pogue, but it hasn't gone well. Here's his final response to Mr. Pogue's story.
posted by garlic (150 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shills. Journalists are people and as so, if lucky enough are able to write about things they like all the while receiving a salary, they're going to have fun at work and write about things they like. Insert themselves into the story, even. I'm looking at you, war junkies.

If they stick with it long enough, they become PR hacks for their subject(s). This is commonplace and it's not going to get you anywhere if you tell them their baby is ugly.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:45 PM on February 24, 2012


Mike Daisey is an actor and a "monologist". What the hell does he know about factory conditions in China?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:46 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mike Daisey is an actor and a "monologist". What the hell does he know about factory conditions in China?

Plenty
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:47 PM on February 24, 2012 [36 favorites]


Because he went to factories in Shenzhen and spoke with Foxconn workers?
posted by RakDaddy at 1:47 PM on February 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


Or, what mcstayinskool said.
posted by RakDaddy at 1:48 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like what the exposure of "terrible working conditions" in Foxconn factories truly exposes how divorced most gadgeteers are from the realities factory work.

"It's actually hard now to reconstruct what I did think. I think what I thought is they were made by robots." --Actual quote from Mike Daisey.

Where... does... he ... think... his IKEA desk, his glasses, his drinking cups, etc. are made? Had he forgotten the Laverne and Shirley intro? The I Love Lucy candy factory episode? The Machinist?

Fucking factory work fucking sucks. People do it because having money is better than poverty.

I feel like Mike Daisey has turned over a rock the size of planet earth and is screaming "this shit is FUCCCKED UPPPP" when he sees all of humanity underneath it in a twisted mesh of technology, desire and passion.
posted by nutate at 1:48 PM on February 24, 2012 [33 favorites]


David Pogue's academic background is as a musician, and his journalism training effectively was on the job as a independent contractor for the NYT writing technical reviews.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:50 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


some weeks it's "apple plant", some weeks it's "microsoft plant", some times it's another technology company. it feels like it's what ever company the writer wants to grar at. chances are if you use a computer or networking equipment or a cell phone or a tv, somewhere along the line, your products came from foxconn.

major customers: Acer Inc., Amazon.com, Apple Inc, Cisco, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio
posted by nadawi at 1:52 PM on February 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


PS my favorite "inside foxconn" photo
posted by nutate at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where... does... he ... think... his IKEA desk, his glasses, his drinking cups, etc. are made? Had he forgotten the Laverne and Shirley intro? The I Love Lucy candy factory episode? The Machinist?

Yeah, but there's shitty factory jobs and shitty factory jobs, surely? I mean, don't we hear constant cries on Metafilter about the terrible tragedy of all the shuttered factories in the US and how you used to be able to make a decent middle class living working at the local plant? Little of that work was ennobling, stimulating, uplifting etc. The people who had those jobs that we now lament griped about going to work and looked forward desperately to the day they could retire. But they got paid a decent wage and they were able to put together lives of value.

The problem with the Apple factories isn't just that the work is shitty and repetitive. It's that the working conditions go beyond that into being abusive and that the pay and living conditions are miserable. I don't think we can say that the only possible solution is one in which every single Apple worker is a highly-skilled craftsperson who feels deeply invested in their work. But surely we can try to reach a point where killing yourself doesn't seem like a reasonable alternative to what's on offer.
posted by yoink at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


Really, my visceral hatred for David Pogue overwhelms all other reactions to this post. That fucking useless goofball ought to be run out of New York and sentenced to do local-news movie reviews for the Sioux City tv station.
posted by COBRA! at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll have to listen to the This American Life program, although, quite frankly, I'm not sure how working in a Foxconn factory is any worse than working as a line cook or a dishwasher (which I have done).
posted by KokuRyu at 1:57 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's not screw around with particular companies. Here is who the factories belong to. And that's the US up there with $220B/yr. Those factories are ours.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:58 PM on February 24, 2012


KokuRyu: “I'll have to listen to the This American Life program, although, quite frankly, I'm not sure how working in a Foxconn factory is any worse than working as a line cook or a dishwasher (which I have done).”

I've done those things, too. It wasn't fun. But one summer I tried working two jobs as a dishwasher, which amounted to 12 hours a day. I lasted about a month before quitting both and sleeping for about a week. 12-hour days alone should count as abuse of workers, particularly when the work is so tedious and repetitive.
posted by koeselitz at 1:59 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Mike Daisey was on Q the other day too.
posted by bonehead at 2:00 PM on February 24, 2012


My friend got me a copy of Magic for Dummies, and I was shocked to see who the author is. Yes, the same one.
posted by CharlesV42 at 2:01 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll have to listen to the This American Life program, although, quite frankly, I'm not sure how working in a Foxconn factory is any worse than working as a line cook or a dishwasher (which I have done).

They let line cooks and dishwashers kill themselves.
posted by griphus at 2:02 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why the fuck would any tech journalist want to screw with a good thing by asking too many questions? They should be conflicted out of any serious debate on fair labor standards.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:02 PM on February 24, 2012


David Pogue is a brushed aluminium whore.
posted by fullerine at 2:02 PM on February 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


I WISH MIKE DAISEY WOLD SHUTS UP AND LET THE CHINAMEN MAKE MY GADGETS
posted by Legomancer at 2:03 PM on February 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think i've said it elsewhere on MeFi, but I hate that I can't stop myself from buying gadgets that are made under such utterly deplorable conditions, that I would fight tooth and nail against if they were introduced in my own country, and that I would do anything to ensure my children didn't have to suffer through them.

It's embarrassing and shameful in so many ways, and yet here I am, bashing away on my macbook air and occasionally checking my iphone to see who's texted me.
posted by modernnomad at 2:03 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll have to listen to the This American Life program, although, quite frankly, I'm not sure how working in a Foxconn factory is any worse than working as a line cook or a dishwasher (which I have done).

The reports show factories that employ teenagers and make them work 12 hours a day for under $2 an hour, much of which goes to pay for their crowded dormitory housing and poor cafeteria food. I've worked shit jobs in the U.S. too, but nothing like this where I am treated as an unfeeling cog in the machine.
posted by aught at 2:04 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I love this from Pogue:
More tellingly, the broadcast showed 3,000 young Chinese workers lining up at the gates for Foxconn’s Monday morning recruiting session.


Somehow the fact that out of work people are desperate enough to want to work there (or anywhere) is some kind of proof that it's not a sweatshop.
posted by octothorpe at 2:07 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem with the Apple factories isn't just that the work is shitty and repetitive. It's that the working conditions go beyond that into being abusive and that the pay and living conditions are miserable.

The problem is that working and living conditions are relative. There is little drive to really change those things until factories have trouble finding workers. The reality is that Foxconn style factory work still represents a step up for millions of people in China. And large parts of the rest of the globe. Sweatshop work still beats the alternative.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:09 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Fanboys gonna fanboy, etc.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:09 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mike Daisey on 'Real Time with Bill Maher' a couple of weeks ago.
posted by ericb at 2:10 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Daisey is mostly right and Pogue mostly clueless on this issue, but there is one part of Daisey's argument that bugs me quite a bit:

"with $100 billion dollars sitting in the bank right now. Is there really a question that they might not be able to make their supplier come into compliance with local labor laws?"

This seems to me to be a naive faith in the idea that any problem can be solved given enough money, especially in a case that involves an authoritarian government with a known track record of only enforcing the law when it suits it's own purposes.
posted by pascal at 2:10 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's still weird how all of this is marketed as an Apple specific issue, even when it's been shown they are leading the industry in a way of (at least on paper) responsibility. I'm not saying the situation is right or justified, but I'd want to find a cellphone made in better working conditions than Apple's.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I go out of my way to pay for things made in the states. I love stuff like ACL's The American List, and use it whenever I can. If Apple made a "Made in America" version MacBook Pro, for example, I would totally buy it, even if it cost 2 or 3 times more. I just wouldn't replace it every 2-3 years. More like every 6-8 years.

Would that be sustainable for Apple? I'm guessing not. So where's their incentive to change?
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


And, just to pile on, there are stories in the TAL episode about people being put in prison for trying to unionize, and at least one worker has been maimed on the line. Working at Foxconn is much worse than working at a line cookin a country that grants workers real protections like the US.
posted by JHarris at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


David Pogue's academic background is as a musician, and his journalism training effectively was on the job as a independent contractor for the NYT writing technical reviews.

Not to mention his ethics and 'conflict of interest' issues.
posted by ericb at 2:13 PM on February 24, 2012


Sweatshop work still beats the alternative.

"You get a roof to sleep under, guaranteed meals a day and plenty of exercise out on the plantation. Sure beats being eaten by a tiger in Africa, doesn't it?"
posted by griphus at 2:15 PM on February 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


The Nightline piece raised many troubling questions, such as: Why do all the starving Chinese slave-laborers have way more stylish clothes and haircuts than I do?
posted by designbot at 2:15 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Cost of a Story: Who Pays?
"An e-mail arrived this week from a reporter with a San Francisco newspaper, the SF Weekly. The journalist, Matt Smith, asked if I knew that an NPR freelancer [David Pogue] had accepted services from a computer company, which he then did a story about for NPR's Morning Edition. I didn't. I looked into the matter, and here's what I found."
posted by ericb at 2:16 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mike Daisey responding to callers on BBC World Service's World Have Your Say.
posted by idb at 2:17 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"You get a roof to sleep under, guaranteed meals a day and plenty of exercise out on the plantation. Sure beats being eaten by a tiger in Africa, doesn't it?"

Snark away, if you wish. Reality doesn't care. Viable alternatives would be useful.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:18 PM on February 24, 2012


Just because a situation you have nothing to do with (farm life in rural China) might be very bad, that does not grant you moral immunity from a (perhaps slightly slightly less) bad situation which you contribute to through the purchase of these products. Which is not to even mention the huge assumption that factory work is in fact an improvement. Obviously it seems like one because people choose it, but there are all sorts of factors that play into that, not the least of which that people are not very good at making smart decisions when it comes to things like the risk of repetitive strain injury. Are Foxconn workers better off in terms of wages? Yes, while they are working. But are they better off overall? I have not seen anyone give a good answer to that question.
posted by Nothing at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's still weird how all of this is marketed as an Apple specific issue, even when it's been shown they are leading the industry in a way of (at least on paper) responsibility. I'm not saying the situation is right or justified, but I'd want to find a cellphone made in better working conditions than Apple's.

It's not an Apple specific issue, nor is it marketed that way. What people are saying is that, as the (by far far far) largest single voice on the issue they could be doing much more with said voice.
posted by Cosine at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Would that be sustainable for Apple? I'm guessing not. So where's their incentive to change?

Assembled in America (which is mostly what the Foxconn plant is doing, btw) could be done for only a modest increase in price.

Problem is, all of those components are being made around the corner from the Foxconn assembly lines, so you would need all of those companies to be based in the US as well, and have the access to the raw materials and resources to be able to make it happen. Paying for 8 hour days and health insurance for the assembly line in nothing in comparison to the secondary costs associated with the slower turn around time of waiting on parts shipments from China and all of that.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Times curbs Pogue’s P.R. appearances
"Journalists are accustomed to seeing public relations pitches in their inbox. I was surprised, though, when I recently got one on June 8 touting tech columnist David Pogue’s speech to P.R. professionals in which he credits P.R. with providing most of his ideas.

The pitch revealed that for $159 I could view a video of Pogue’s 'Pitch Me, Bab' speech set for an online airing on July 11. The speech is derived from an earlier appearance at a public relations conference called the Media Relations Summit, staged by Ragan Communications.

Fast-forward a bit and here is the upshot of that pitch: my inquiry into it has led to a Times internal review and, as a consequence, Pogue is barred from making any more speeches like this one to public relations professionals.

The decision came because such appearances are explicitly prohibited by The Times’s ethics policy. Excerpts of the relevant portions: 'Staff members may not advise individuals or organizations how to deal successfully with the news media (though they may of course explain the paper’s normal workings and steer outsiders to the appropriate Times person)….They should not take part in public relations workshops that charge admission or imply privileged access to Times people.'"
posted by ericb at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fucking factory work fucking sucks. People do it because having money is better than poverty.

That was true in the US during Industrial Revolution when there were no child labor laws, no minimum wage, no OSHA, no labor unions, etc. And all of those things were put in place because working conditions needed to be improved, even if those improvements meant higher costs for companies making products. Then eventually US companies figured out they could sidestep those costs by outsourcing production to places where working conditions had not been improved. This is the end result of those kinds of changes. Hopefully we will get to a place where workers everywhere making products for US companies are gauranteed the kinds of working conditions that people fought so hard for in the US back when factories actually existed there.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:21 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Viable alternatives are so fucking simple it's ridiculous: rules mandating minimum labor standards for imported products. Everything will get a little bit more expensive, and heck, it might even boost our own manufacturing sector.
posted by Nothing at 2:21 PM on February 24, 2012 [30 favorites]


Viable alternatives are so fucking simple it's ridiculous: rules mandating minimum labor standards for imported products. Everything will get a little bit more expensive, and heck, it might even boost our own manufacturing sector.

This. Everyone benefits if we insist on higher labor standards. Oh, except the rich who might have to settle for making 1000 times more than everyone else, rather than 10,000.
posted by Maias at 2:23 PM on February 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


2N2222: Viable alternatives would be useful.

Sure. How about imposing a tax on businesses who outsource labor to other countries? That would provide a counterweight to the labor savings those businesses receive by hiring downtrodden Chinese labor, and simultaneously shift much of that demand to domestic labor.
posted by JHarris at 2:23 PM on February 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Would that be sustainable for Apple? I'm guessing not. So where's their incentive to change?

Two points: 1. They are going to continue manufacturing in countries where the labor is cheap, and that is probably not going to be the U.S. for some time (and if it is, we're going to have bigger problems on our hands). 2. The incentive would come if people stopped buying their products because of the standards at these mfg facilities. Given that a) Apple's users have religious fervor for their products and b) EVERY OTHER COMPUTER MANUFACTURER also does this (FoxConn makes a crapton of other companies gadgets too), I don't see this happening.

Apple, however, is in a unique position. They have crazy crazy amounts of money in the bank. More than many *countries*. While they are a public company, that doesn't mean that they don't have the power to change things in a socially conscious way. I am really happy that the Politically Correct Eye of Sauron is looking squarely at Cupertino, because this is the one company that has the power to actually take some action in the face of these accusations.

And that does NOT start with Apple hiring an "independent" auditing firm. It starts with Apple allowing true independent parties access to FoxConn, or putting the political pressure on China to get this ball rolling. Because those factory workers in China? They really are people, and they really do deserve better than this.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:23 PM on February 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Hopefully we will get to a place where workers everywhere making products for US companies are gauranteed the kinds of working conditions that people fought so hard for in the US back when factories actually existed there.

I wonder what happens when people everywhere will have the same kinds of good working conditions. Can't keep jumping from country to country forever.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:23 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Viable alternatives are so fucking simple it's ridiculous: rules mandating minimum labor standards for imported products. Everything will get a little bit more expensive, and heck, it might even boost our own manufacturing sector.

If by simple, you mean quite complicated, you might be on to something here.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, a reasonable alternative would be for consumers of electronics products to demand that manufacturers such as Apple press for better working conditions in Chinese factories, which Apple seems to be doing. Daisey seems to think Apple is engaging in a PR stunt, and, leaving Pogue out of the equation, it kind of seems like Daisey is being a little axe-grindy. Sure, he's been to China more times than I have, but once again, is he really an expert on Chinese factory conditions? It seems to be a complex problem: there are hundreds of millions of workers willing to do these jobs, and more than half of China's population lives far below the poverty line. Plus, the concentration of factories and specialized parts producers etc means that China really holds all of the cards, not Apple or HTC or whoever. It's not as though these companies can simply relocate to Kenya or Ghana or Papua New Guinea.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure. How about imposing a tax on businesses who outsource labor to other countries? That would provide a counterweight to the labor savings those businesses receive by hiring downtrodden Chinese labor, and simultaneously shift much of that demand to domestic labor.

Trade-restricting taxes are not only a difficult sell, they're kind of a shitty way to run things. To say otherwise is simply unreality.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:27 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


If Apple made a "Made in America" version MacBook Pro, for example, I would totally buy it, even if it cost 2 or 3 times more. I just wouldn't replace it every 2-3 years. More like every 6-8 years.

You'd probably need to replace it every six months.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:28 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


In point of fact, Apple makes its truckloads of money partly because it enjoys huge profit margins. They certainly could afford to make their products in the US if they wanted to. But that's not how businesses are supposed to be run, which is as ruthless exploiters of whatever economic advantages are available.

You take that as either an excuse for Apple of a condemnation of capitalism. I lean towards the latter.
posted by JHarris at 2:28 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, a reasonable alternative would be for consumers of electronics products to demand that manufacturers such as Apple press for better working conditions in Chinese factories, which Apple seems to be doing.

Exactly. Changes in worker welfare seem most effectively done from the customer side. Apple, and other Foxconn vendors have increasing incentive to lean on their vendors, because it simply makes them look good. And it's kind of happening.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:30 PM on February 24, 2012


Trade-restricting taxes are not only a difficult sell, they're kind of a shitty way to run things. To say otherwise is simply unreality.

Hmm, yes. Your reasoning is airtight.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:35 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


> What people are saying is that, as the (by far far far) largest single voice on the issue they could be doing much more with said voice.

But thats the thing, Apple sold 37 million iPhones last quarter, great. But Nokia sold 110 million [pdf] cellphones, and while not all smartphones, Apple definitely is not the company getting the largest number of electronic devices assembled in China.

They are the one making the most amount of money doing it, and I think them doing something about it is great, but until every manufacturer decides to follow the same standards, you will still have a problem: working for the Apple associated factories is better than working for the non Apple ones, so there will always be four people willing to replace any one worker who wants better working conditions. That much of a labor surplus will make any unionization attempt nearly impossible to do, even in a non corrupt state.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:36 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bickering about the details and pointing fingers at Apple loses the forest for the trees. The real issue is something Daisey briefly discussed early in his This American Life piece: everything we own is made this way.

I get that Daisey decided to focus on the specifics of "here is what I saw at Foxconn," because it makes the story graspable and relatable. But I wish he (we) would work a little harder to pan the camera back now, because this is bigger than "Apple sux."
posted by ErikaB at 2:36 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


The fundamental problem with "trade agreements" is the lack of labor and environmental standards.
posted by edgeways at 2:38 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


... you will still have a problem: working for the Apple associated factories is better than working for the non Apple ones, so there will always be four people willing to replace any one worker who wants better working conditions.

This is very specifically not true in this situation: as pointed out upthread, Foxconn makes a *huge* percentage of electronic devices, including Nokia ones.

This is a golden opportunity to use one large, influential corporation (Apple) to push another large, influential company (Foxconn) into better practices. Makes sense to take advantage of it.
posted by feckless at 2:40 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


BTW --- for those interested -- Mike Daisey & Jean-Michele Gregory published a transcript of 'The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs' earlier this week. It's available here [PDF].
posted by ericb at 2:40 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The real issue is something Daisey briefly discussed early in his This American Life piece: everything we own is made this way.

Yes, this the main point. One can get rid of Apple products, but not your entire life style.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:42 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


But thats the thing, Apple sold 37 million iPhones last quarter, great. But Nokia sold 110 million [pdf] cellphones, and while not all smartphones, Apple definitely is not the company getting the largest number of electronic devices assembled in China.

I never said they sold the most items, I said they have the largest voice, you cannot argue that.
posted by Cosine at 2:43 PM on February 24, 2012


They also make the most profit off of these practices, again but a huge margin.
posted by Cosine at 2:43 PM on February 24, 2012


More tellingly, the broadcast showed 3,000 young Chinese workers lining up at the gates for Foxconn’s Monday morning recruiting session.

Reminds me of that Ben Elton bit where he talks about crazy cat ladies who say of their pets, '"He must like it. He eats it all up!" The fact that the cat has no choice and if he doesn't eat it he'll starve to death hasn't crossed her mind.'
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 2:45 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For Apple, yes, cash could solve the problem. You take all that cash and you build a factory in California--or, say, northern Ohio, if anybody's looking for ideas. You hire a bunch of people for $10/hour instead of $2/hour, and you work them in eight hour shifts, and you put them on the health insurance plan and you give them a lunch break and you comply with OSHA. That's how cash can solve the problem. You use the money to pay for better production and then you splash it everywhere: Look, not only are our gadgets awesome, but they are helping the communities they're made in. And then your competitors look shitty until they start doing the same.

Can American cash solve Chinese labor problems? Maybe not. But we could stop *contributing* to them. Giving money to companies that we know behave in ways that would not be acceptable in the United States should not be acceptable. It's one thing to adjust wages for cost of living, etc, but tons of people would show up for jobs in the U.S., too, with low pay and illegally bad working conditions if it would mean having a job, and that doesn't mean we let corporations who have enough money to do things differently get away with it. We have labor laws for a reason. Companies should not be able to get out of compliance by manufacturing elsewhere when they still get all the benefits of being American companies. We need to hold them to their end of the social contract.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:47 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


David Pogue is not a journalist. He will tell you so himself.
posted by basicchannel at 2:51 PM on February 24, 2012


The bigger problem is that workers in China are subjugated, and go to prison if they even attempt to organize and leverage for better conditions or pay.
posted by mullingitover at 2:51 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is an issue that is not going away. I work with a software company that makes embedded software for the big smartphone and electronics companies. Several years ago he thought it was unusual that Nokia would take off a month each summer for vacation; how would they compete with emerging technology companies in Asia? And here we are.

Nowadays, he'll do work with Samsung and HTC, etc. He's located in basically the same time zone as Korea and Taiwan. Samsung will send him a project on Friday, and will expect him to provide a project plan by Sunday evening. When the staff in Seoul or Taipei are sleeping, the staff in Seattle are working. It's around the clock, 7 days a week.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:53 PM on February 24, 2012


David Pogue is not a journalist. He will tell you so himself.

And what makes it sad is that, as someone who does performance monologues, neither is Mike Daisey. But he's going a much better job of being a journalist than Pogue is, despite Pogue's significantly farther reach.

I get that Daisey decided to focus on the specifics of "here is what I saw at Foxconn," because it makes the story graspable and relatable. But I wish he (we) would work a little harder to pan the camera back now, because this is bigger than "Apple sux."

Daisey is a performer who does personal monologues. If he didn't have a personal attachment to Apple products and his own emotional hook there he wouldn't have made this piece, period. It's true of all his other monologues that I've seen as well - Cargo Cult, the one on defense whose name is escaping me right now, and How Theater Failed America. To pull back and remove that thing that makes it personal to him wouldn't be consistent with his work even if it might be better from a world-changing perspective.

Besides, "oh all those other guys push widows and orphans off cliffs too" doesn't really work for me as a reason not to beat Apple up over this. Apple cultivates a certain reputation that invites this and besides, you gotta start somewhere. Rosa Parks didn't sit down on the only bus that required the dark-skinned to sit in the back. That wasn't the only lunch counter that wouldn't seat black folks. Sometimes you pick an example and fight from there.

I can assure you, as someone familiar with his stuff, that one thing you can never accuse Daisey of is over-simplifying the issue. It's one of the thing that makes his stuff powerful and it's there in Jobs even if you can't get that from the soundbytes and news coverage. But he's also not someone you can accuse of ever finding the compromise as a place that's reasonable to stop and stop asking questions.

I think that's a pretty reasonable place for an advocate to be, so long as they're not ignoring reality. You don't have to agree with them what constitutes Enough Change.
posted by phearlez at 2:59 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


One other reason that Daisey's been focused on Apple (in addition to the ones listed here) are that his performance has a significant tie to his personal life, and he himself is a huge Apple fanboy, although he clearly has problems with the way the products are made.

The other is is that the original show, (ericb posted a link to a transcript) focuses as much on the life and personality of Steve Jobs, who is an interesting figure to discuss. Only the Shenzen portions really made it to This American Life, which is the most important part, but the Steve Jobs material is pretty interesting, too.

I think part of the problem with manufacturing in China in general, and Foxconn in particular is that the workers aren't even receiving the protection of Chinese labour law, much less the more humane protections of Western law. Assembly line work is never going to be the greatest job in the world, but it wouldn't bankrupt anybody if the workers worked 8 hour days, or even 10 or 12 hour days (and when they did, they were paid for their overtime). Or if the workers rotated between tasks sometimes so they reduced their risk of repetitive strain injuries. Or if the workers were allowed to sit down, or occasionally speak to the person next to them.

For all the talk about "it's better than being a prostitute in a rural village" (gee, thanks), remember that Foxconn has 20% turnover per month. Even given the fact that they are coming from rural villages and so on, one in five workers says "fuck it, there has to be a better way" every month.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:01 PM on February 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


You take all that cash and you build a factory in California

Nobody's going to buy an iPhone that costs $3,000. People might say they will, but when push comes to shove they will not.

Especially not an iPhone where the glass falls out of the front after three months.

Arguments about how to move manufacturing back to the US might make sense if we had anybody who could do the work. Did you read the other day about the 600,000 machinist jobs going begging in the heart of the Rust Belt, Michigan or Ohio or someplace, that they can't fill because there's no one available with the skills? Americans are fat and lazy, and the only jobs they're qualified to do is watch TV and drive their electric scooters around Wal-Mart.
posted by Fnarf at 3:01 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the work sucks. It's repetitive and you work a lot of hours and sometimes (most of the time?) the bosses are dicks.

That said, these people have alternatives. They could starve. Or toil in even worse conditions for even less money. To demand that Foxconn implement Western standards in their factories is to tell their workers that we know what's best for them. "Head back to the rice paddies where there's no hope for your future."

It's not a perfect solution. The wages they receive at Foxconn are higher than similar jobs. And those wages are rising.

We may not like it, but tell Foxconn to raise wages and improve working conditions and their costs go up. And Foxconn looks to other countries or competitors eat their lunch. It's not pretty and it's not fair, but that's how the market works.

Tell the poor, starving Chinese labourer that they can't have that [shitty] job. Better yet, tell the poor, unemployed, starving Somali person that they can have that job if they work for 10 cents less.

As long as people live in deplorable conditions a job will improve their lives. Often dramatically. Even a shitty job.

Foxconn shouldn't be harming people, like requiring them to inhale poison (as they apparently do with that glass cleaner chemical), but they don't 'owe' these people high wages. If they don't pay enough, people won't work for them. Same as 7-11 over here.

What Foxconn does, on the whole, is improve lives.

Also, I find David Pogue funny and useful, but I look for insightful social commentary from other sources.
posted by Phreesh at 3:02 PM on February 24, 2012


Pogue, pogue mahone.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:08 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you really think it's a matter of "building a factory" in the US and then employing US workers to staff that factory then you're light years away from understanding what has happened to manufacturing during the last 30 or so years: there is no "factory" in isolation. Even looking at the level of the factories themselves: everything is tied together in the most fantastically intricate dynamical system, where the final assembly line is like some giant queen bee being tended by dozens of worker bee supply factories, each of which also interact with a dozen other assembly lines for distinct final buyers. None of this is simply replicable, as the whole *system* is required to make a competitive product.

A factory in the US making iPhones would need a constant stream of memory from toshiba/samsung/whoever, cameras from Sony, microphones, glass faces, capacitive screens, etc etc, each being sourced from a very specific factory in China (say). An modern, efficient, inventory system requires you to have no more than a week or two's worth of product at any time, so you're absolutely dependent on those supplies being delivered *perfectly* on time, and are at the mercy of any slip up along the way. Anyway, I'm rambling, you can see how the whole thing fails to decompose into simple relocatable pieces. Every complication in the process, including but in no way limited to interruptions in supply of any of these parts, introduces massive overall risks to the supply line -- risks that a large company (even one as large as Apple) just cannot afford to take.

You might try going one level deeper, and replicating the supplier factories. But even they need to be tapped into their own just-in-time suppliers, and these lower level providers need to have ready and reliable access to raw materials in the right amount at the right price. And there's another infra-infrastructure that you cannot simply relocate. It's localisation and just-in-time provision and assembly all the way down.
posted by pjm at 3:09 PM on February 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Reminds me of that Ben Elton bit where he talks about crazy cat ladies who say of their pets, '"He must like it. He eats it all up!" The fact that the cat has no choice and if he doesn't eat it he'll starve to death hasn't crossed her mind.'

I'm guessing Ben Elton never actually met a real cat before writing that line.
posted by acb at 3:10 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The people who think this is just dandy wouldn't last a single shift in one of these sweatshops.
posted by maxwelton at 3:12 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


None of this matters past the short term:
Foxconn to replace workers with 1 million robots in 3 years"
posted by esoterica at 3:13 PM on February 24, 2012


Let's try this again with a properly formatted link:

None of this matters past the short term:
Foxconn to replace workers with 1 million robots in 3 years
posted by esoterica at 3:16 PM on February 24, 2012


Nobody's going to buy an iPhone that costs $3,000.

American labour would add $65 to the cost of an iPhone, or around 10%.

Humane treatment of Chinese workers would add much less to the cost of the phone; instead of $649, it might cost $652. Or Apple might choose to have 59% gross margin on the product, rather than 60%. Or we could let hundreds of thousands of people continue to suffer in unbearable conditions.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:17 PM on February 24, 2012 [32 favorites]


I agree that Apple should do something, they have the influence to do so, and they may even be lobbying their peers.

My initial comments came as my gut reaction to questions I get from people who have just read the headline stating Apple has horrible working conditions in their factories, when they aren't particularly worse or better than others. Not that I want to defend Apple's practices, but again, there is a bigger issue than just one manufacturer.

I'd love to see a fair wage act that pretty much says you don't get to export your human rights violations along with your labor. And I think it wouldn't be too bad of a use of Apple's money that they are sitting on to eat the increased cost of the iPhone by making it under better working conditions wherever they are made.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:23 PM on February 24, 2012


Walmart has built their whole system on just-in-time using products in large part shipped from Asia. If you've got some evidence, pjm, that one cannot ship from Asia in a way that can work with modern ops management, sure, I'm happy to hear it. But I'm not going to just believe that this is the case without evidence. Those things aren't all being themselves produced in the very next room. At some point, goods have to move. At some point, the raw materials are coming out of mines in Africa and whatnot and somehow getting to the first level in time for them to produce along these lines.

I'm not saying that things should have to come *to* the US, anyway. Just that it would be one thing that could happen. The other is that you start treating your overseas producer like they *were* your factories, since basically they are when you're contracting with them, and you actually do random inspections, you check every location, you insist on total compliance, etc.

Fnarf: There aren't 600k machinist jobs. There are 600k skilled labor jobs, in the whole country, not just in the Rust Belt. Polishing an iPhone screen is not skilled labor. It's an unfortunate situation, but it's not laziness, it's lack of available training, and it's not the kind of work that kids from Chinese farming villages are moving into cities to do.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:23 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Walmart is *distributing* products coming from Asia.

Imagine if Walmart had to close for a week every so often because their supply of low-end toilet paper ran out. (Or any one of the other hundreds of "components" you would need to reliably supply to actually manufacture in the US in the way you mentioned.) Sorry everybody: come back next week please. That's the sort of thing we're talking about, except that it runs several levels lower when you're looking to manufacture a complex electronic device.

I'm certainly not saying that you can't improve conditions in Chinese factories, though doing it unilaterally would lead to some "interesting" flow-on effects involving out-sourcing one level down the chain and so forth. Essentially: if there is fat in the system then someone's going to try to start ingesting it. The movement --indeed the longer-term existence-- of any such surplus is the sort of thing that has been rigorously flushed in the current instantiation of manufacturing. There's always someone who'll insert themselves to milk that arbitrage.
posted by pjm at 3:39 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see the usual Apple talking points are out in force. I suggest this article for starters for a reality check.

Acer Inc., Amazon.com, Apple Inc, Cisco, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio

Yes, lots of companies make things in china, and Foxconn is huge. Utterly huge. However, nobody, and I do mean nobody, can hold a candle to Apple for how much they rely on Foxconn. You know those plastic widgets that go on motherboards? Foxconn makes those, but that's a far cry from full assembly. Samsung and LG make screens in china (cos that's where the rare earths are mined), but Samsung does most of their assembly in South Korea; not a paradise by any means, but much better pay and conditions than the Foxconn drones. Microsoft deserve their feet to the fire over conditions for those assembling xboxes, but in terms of size they're a minnow compared to ipad and iphone manufacture.

It's still weird how all of this is marketed as an Apple specific issue, even when it's been shown they are leading the industry in a way of (at least on paper) responsibility. I'm not saying the situation is right or justified, but I'd want to find a cellphone made in better working conditions than Apple's.

Actually, they're only leading in Apple's PR statements. They've been inspecting for years, there's been many, many violations, and nothing ever happens, nothing changes.

"More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have violated at least one aspect of the code of conduct every year since 2007, according to Apple's reports, and in some instances have violated the law. While many violations involve working conditions, rather than safety hazards, troubling patterns persist" quoted from NYTimes article.... ''We've spent years telling Apple there are serious problems and recommending changes,'' said a consultant at BSR -- also known as Business for Social Responsibility -- which has been twice retained by Apple to provide advice on labor issues. ''They don't want to pre-empt problems, they just want to avoid embarrassments.''

The FLA inspections? In large part, funded by Apple. There's already been multiple examples of underage workers being hidden from inspectors, stage managed interviews, stage managed pre-warned inspections... Random un-notified inspections, and offsite anonymous interviews by truly independent journalists where workers are not afraid of being identified and losing their job paint a very different picture from that stage managed PR-spun guff coming out of Apple.



In addition, Apple drives a much, much harder bargain with suppliers than other companies.

'The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,'' said an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. ''And then they'll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.''

In January 2010, workers at a Chinese factory owned by Wintek, an Apple manufacturing partner, went on strike over a variety of issues, including widespread rumors that workers were being exposed to toxins. Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.

Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.

Apple commented on the Wintek injuries a year later. In its supplier responsibility report, Apple said it had ''required Wintek to stop using n-hexane'' and that ''Apple has verified that all affected workers have been treated successfully, and we continue to monitor their medical reports until full recuperation.'' Apple also said it required Wintek to fix the ventilation system.

That same month, a New York Times reporter interviewed a dozen injured Wintek workers who said they had never been contacted by Apple or its intermediaries, and that Wintek had pressured them to resign and take cash settlements that would absolve the company of liability. After those interviews, Wintek pledged to provide more compensation to the injured workers and Apple sent a representative to speak with some of them.

Six months later, trade publications reported that Apple significantly cut prices paid to Wintek.

....

Many major technology companies have worked with factories where conditions are troubling. However, independent monitors and suppliers say some act differently. Executives at multiple suppliers, in interviews, said that Hewlett-Packard and others allowed them slightly more profits and other allowances if they were used to improve worker conditions.

...

Just two weeks before the explosion, an advocacy group in Hong Kong published a report warning of unsafe conditions at the Chengdu plant, including problems with aluminum dust. The group, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, or Sacom, had videotaped workers covered with tiny aluminum particles. ''Occupational health and safety issues in Chengdu are alarming,'' the report read. ''Workers also highlight the problem of poor ventilation and inadequate personal protective equipment.''

A copy of that report was sent to Apple. ''There was no response,'' said Debby Chan Sze Wan of the group. ''A few months later I went to Cupertino, and went into the Apple lobby, but no one would meet with me. I've never heard from anyone from Apple at all.''


Apple is the Walmart of the electronics world. They squeeze their suppliers - and their suppliers suppliers, who DON'T end up on the inspection lists - to the absolute maximum. They say they care deeply about conditions, yet violation after violation has been ignored, often followed by serious injuries or deaths. Apple gets a 40% cut. The factories get a couple of %. The workers get virtually nothing. They are the biggest, and by far the most profitable of the companies outsourcing to China. Apple could switch manufacturing to the US and keep the price the same for a small drop in their profit margin; or drastically increase wages and improve conditions in china, and barely even see a drop.
A 16GB iphone 4S costs $188 in parts; $196 when you include labour. That's $8 to make it. EIGHT BUCKS. For a phone that sells for what, $530 off contract? Even including shipping, packaging and sales channel margins, there's a LOT of profit in an iphone. We don't need to build the things with near slave labour in a place where millions of people will put up with near anything to get a job. We don't have to kill people and cause massive pollution through unsafe and unenvironmental work practices. We don't have to. But it happens anyway, because virtually nobody cares how their iDevice was made.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:45 PM on February 24, 2012 [35 favorites]


Clearly the answer is to invade China.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:46 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


American labour would add $65 to the cost of an iPhone, or around 10%.

But what would totally rebuilding the global technology supply chain add to the cost? The whole reason Apple doesn't manufacture its own stuff, but gets Foxconn or whoever to do it, is because then the practically infinite streams of parts is Foxconn's problem, not theirs. Which they can do because there's a vast system there, not just in China but in all the other countries that are booming in manufacturing, like South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Multiply this by many thousands again to account for all the other products that Apple doesn't make. I'm looking at my desk right now, and I see a computer, a telephone, a scanner, another computer, a firewall appliance, a hard drive, several picture frames, a coffee cup full of coffee, a tape dispenser with a roll of tape in it, a paper pad, eleventy-odd pens, a pair of headphones, a pair of scissors, a mini-hub, ring binders, file folders, a stapler, a knife, three screwdrivers, and about fifty books. Almost all of that was made somewhere else. The desk itself was made somewhere else, as was the chair and all of the clothing on my body.

Who else was surprised recently to discover that almost all hard drives are made in Thailand now? If you buy hard drives a lot, as I do, you certainly found out recently with the flooding.

Expecting manufacturing to return to the US is a pipe dream. It's never going to happen.

And when manufacturing gets expensive in China it's going to move to Vietnam or Indonesia or Botswana. Look at the esoterica's link too. This is how the world works. Wishing it was some other way never changed anything.
posted by Fnarf at 3:52 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an aside, what working conditions do you think these iphone gas burners were manufactured under?
posted by Fnarf at 3:56 PM on February 24, 2012


Expecting manufacturing to return to the US is a pipe dream. It's never going to happen.

I would be interested in hearing you defend this statement.
posted by JHarris at 4:04 PM on February 24, 2012


Expecting manufacturing to return to the US is a pipe dream. It's never going to happen.

I would be interested in hearing you defend this statement.

Didn't Steve Jobs say exactly that to Obama?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 4:19 PM on February 24, 2012


> Assembled in America [...] could be done for only a modest increase in price.

Levi's are available made in the USA for $198 & made somewhere else for $58-$64.

An American Standard Stratocaster is $1000, non-US is $500

There's some cachet attached to the US versions and there might be materials differences, but I'd love to see other examples.

> An modern, efficient, inventory system requires you to have no more than a week or two's worth of product at any time

Xboxen used to be made in a maquiladora. E-mu used to do final assembly in Scotts Valley with PCBs stuffed in San Jose. Samsung makes ICs in Texas. NeXT assembled machines in Fremont.

Cellphones are a little different, but desktop computers could surely be built in the NAFTA zone or in Ireland for EMEA, no?
posted by morganw at 4:20 PM on February 24, 2012


More companies should bring their manufacturing back to the United States, where these harsh and unfulfilling factory jobs can be done by good old-fashioned American undocumented Mexicans.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:22 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


here's how Business Insider summarized Pogue's position "POGUE: Apple's Foxconn Factory Jobs Are Way Better Than The Alternative -- Rice Farming And Prostitution"

Anyway a lot of this stuff is the result of wealthy Americans talking to wealthy and upper middle class Chinese people, and seeing that they're not upset about it. They're not talking to the actual employees (who may like it, who knows -- certainly not us since we don't hear from them, other then through Mike Daisey who actually went and talked to them.)

But come on, of course A Chinese person is going to think their country is great and (paradoxically) that Foxconn employees (and other low-wage manufacturing workers) are way better off then they would be without those jobs.

--
And when manufacturing gets expensive in China it's going to move to Vietnam or Indonesia or Botswana. Look at the esoterica's link too. This is how the world works.
Ugh, this such a dumb thing to say. The U.S. is the worlds largest manufacturer. We manufacture more then china, on a dollar basis. Germany and Japan combined export more then China, and up until a few years ago Germany alone did.

All three of those countries are high wage countries.

Look you said it yourself:
But what would totally rebuilding the global technology supply chain add to the cost? The whole reason Apple doesn't manufacture its own stuff, but gets Foxconn or whoever to do it, is because then the practically infinite streams of parts is Foxconn's problem, not theirs. Which they can do because there's a vast system there
Exactly: China (and Korea, another high-wage country) have the infrastructure to do this. China has the infrastructure because they are enormous, and even though their per capita GDP is low, they have enough money to fund these projects. The same is not true of Vietnam, or pretty much any other smaller poor country. Only India could do something similar. But, they're a democracy which means they face the same NIMBYism and regionalism factor in the way they do in the U.S. And the government can't just seize people's land.
Expecting manufacturing to return to the US is a pipe dream. It's never going to happen.
I would be interested in hearing you defend this statement.
This tech manufacturing won't come to the U.S. for the same reason it won't go to botswana or wherever. Infrastructure.

---

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what's going on here in terms of why this manufacturing is being done in China. Like someone mentioned, the labor costs of an iPad are like $8. If you multiplied the wages of Foxconn workers 10x, and paid them equivalent to American wages, you would only increase the final cost of an ipad by about 10% if you kept the absolute profit the same. Or you could simply decrease the profit margin slightly. Either way, it wouldn't really make that big of a difference from Apple or the consumers perspective.

But it's the infrastructure that the Chinese government paid for that allows them to build this stuff there quickly and easily. If the U.S. government were willing to make the same kinds of investments that the Chinese do, it would have a similar effect.

But one problem with that happening in the US: You would have to invest heavily in one state, so legislators in other states wouldn't be very interested in doing so. This is especially problematic in the senate, where even states with a few hundred thousand people get two votes, just like California and NY.
posted by delmoi at 4:30 PM on February 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


To demand that Foxconn implement Western standards in their factories is to tell their workers that we know what's best for them. "Head back to the rice paddies where there's no hope for your future."

Chinese standards. The point being made (and it's a clincher for me) was that Foxconn's conditions didn't even match Chinese labour standards, and is on likelihood, illegal. This from Apple's own reviews, as I understood it.

The even broader point being made here is that there's a massive gulf between asking Foxconn to stick to Chinese labour law and sending everyone back to penury. If labour costs are only $6/device, there's a lot that can be done before things start becoming uncomfortable for either consumers or the workers' continued employment.
posted by the cydonian at 4:34 PM on February 24, 2012


I'm actually surprised the company isn't gouging them on housing. I would have thought they'd be charging something like $100/month. I sure wouldn't want to sleep in the same room as 6-8 other people, but I wouldn't mind if I could pay for a month's rent with less than a day's wages, even if it is shitty factory work.
posted by desjardins at 4:37 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


They just announced closing down Salo factory, but many of the more expensive Nokia phones have been manufactured in Finland (factory tour from 2009, picture tour of Lumia phones from 2011). Same challenges in manufacturing chain as with iPhones. Since iPhone, smart phone competition has been a race to the bottom lead by Apple. It is now the only company in position to change the trend.
posted by Free word order! at 4:46 PM on February 24, 2012


Apple, and other companies using foxconn, are thinking fairly short term here. They should be investing in automated and environmentally conscious manufacturing techniques that could be implemented here in the US.

They will not have this labor army forever.

In fact, I would not be surprised if several companies were not already working on this.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:47 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who here wouldn't want to have Pogue's job? Sit on your ass, play with every important gadget for free and usually in advance of the public, and then write easy-to-read reviews! It's the perfect day job. Why is it his responsibility to be some sort of bastion of ethics? He reviews gadgets.
posted by ReeMonster at 4:56 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Levi's are available made in the USA for $198 & made somewhere else for $58-$64.

An American Standard Stratocaster is $1000, non-US is $500

There's some cachet attached to the US versions and there might be materials differences, but I'd love to see other examples.
They're more expensive because they are premium versions. Clothes are one of the easiest things to outsource to poor countries, But American Apparel makes t-shirts in the U.S (very high quality, for a t-shirt) that are only a about $2-3 more expensive then regular t-shirts.

Also, keep in mind that shipping isn't free. Toyota and Honda and some European makers (including Mercedes Benz) make cars here in the U.S. now, rather then shipping them. Something like an MRI machine or a wind turbine or whatever, that stuff is expensive to ship.

On the other hand, something like an iPhone or a CPU is perfect for shipping. It has a very high dollar per value per ounce and per cubic centimeter.

Also there are two separate issues here, the working conditions in China (which there is no excuse for, certainly not the excuse that treating them fairly would make the iProducts unfordable, on the contrary, it would barely make a dent in the final retail price)

The other issue is U.S. jobs. The problem there is that there actually is a ton of manufacturing done here. More then any other country in the world. Definitely more then China. But we use far fewer workers. I think about 18 million.

Here are some statistics: As of January, 2012 there were 11,862,000 manufacturing employees in the U.S That's up from 11,777,000 in October, btw. in 2009 we manufactured $2,333,728,479,982 worth of stuff.

That means in the U.S, $196,740 worth of stuff is produced per manufacturing employee

(assuming manufacturing output in jan, 2012)*12 ~= manufacturing output in 2009, which was the height of the recession, btw)
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


My editor, John, recently visited Foxconn city. He reported on the trip for us here. I wrote about Daisey's crusade here and the recent Foxconn flare-up here.

I for one am getting tired of hearing and saying the same things over and over again. Daisey is, as someone pointed out upstream, phenomenally naive and his revelation is unoriginal and incomplete. Pogue I don't care about, and neither should you.

And making an iPhone in the US would add more than $65 to the cost. Unless we're talking about just the final stage of assembly or something, and then it's pointless to talk about in the first place. China has invested hundreds of billions, probably more, to become the heart of manufacturing. We're not going to catch up.

The jobs in Foxconn are coveted and China is a strange and totally different place from the US and the west, in many ways we can barely comprehend. Every argument about ethical iPhones and labor conditions is happening under false pretenses.

Things are going to continue just as they have for the last 30 years, but they will get gradually better for the Chinese worker. Apple isn't going to change it, the US isn't going to change it, and sanctimonious iPhone boycotters aren't going to change it. People just have to understand and accept that if they're even the target market for the iPhone, they're already treading on the backs of the oppressed. But the alternative is inconvenience, and that's a greater threat to our happiness.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:07 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apple, and other companies using foxconn, are thinking fairly short term here. They should be investing in automated and environmentally conscious manufacturing techniques that could be implemented here in the US.
Well, it depends. If their goal is to be a patriotic American and help build our economy, then yeah. If their goal is to maximize wealth for the people who run the company* Then they Are doing a good job. Apple's value is it's brand. Mac loyalists go on and on about the quality of the hardware, but obviously it isn't anything Foxconn couldn't produce for any other customers. (actually Apple uses a different subcontractor for macbooks, Quanta)

What matters is the brand. All those massive profits go to the brand, not Foxconn or Quanta. Sure, it's bad for America in general, but that just means cheaper personal servants for those executives. Apple Sells products all over the world. As long as the economies in Canada, Japan, and the EU do OK, they'll be able to sell phones. And because they're not that expensive they'll still be able to sell phones in developing countries like Brazil, and, er, declining countries like the current former soviet union and in the possible future, America.

*(as opposed to 'shareholders', who don't have exactly the same interests, by the way)
posted by delmoi at 5:11 PM on February 24, 2012


Didn't Steve Jobs say exactly that to Obama?

And also tried to cure his cancer with woo.
posted by MikeKD at 5:12 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Didn't Steve Jobs say exactly that to Obama?

And also tried to cure his cancer with woo.
The problem with bringing jobs to the U.S. is the political climate. No one wants to do stimulus, everyone wants to cut budgets.

But lets say that the political situation changes and people decide they want infrastructure and stimulus spending and investments in principle

In practice, it's not so easy. If the leader in China says "Build a giant industrial city in some random fishing village in guandong next to Kong Kong" it happens. If the U.S president said "Build a giant industrial city in San Rafael, CA" people would freak out. First of all, there would be a huge case of NIMBYism. Not that that's necessarily terrible, I'm sure San Rafael is lovely (I have a friend who lived there for a while) So lets say they find some piece of land near S.F. where they could drop this thing. Well, if that happens, senators and politicians from the other 50 states will freak out. They won't agree to it unless they are larded up with pork as well. The space shuttle program famously used parts made in all 50 sates (or so I've heard)

The federal government going to build a supercolider even bigger then the at CERN in Texas at one point. 80 trillion electron volts. (The Large Hadron collider at CERN is only 8 TeV now and will be upgraded to 14 in 2014) Congress authorized the project in 1987 and construction was over 14 miles of tunnels were actually excavated. In 1993 congress just changed it's mind and canceled the project (there were some budget overruns as well) Part of that probably had to do with the fact that, for a supercolider all the economic benefit is concentrated in one location. And Texas isn't always the most popular state, (especially with people who might like funding science in general)

But anyway. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously the environment in the U.S. is much better in China, because it's something voters care about.
posted by delmoi at 5:34 PM on February 24, 2012


Arguments about how to move manufacturing back to the US might make sense if we had anybody who could do the work. Did you read the other day about the 600,000 machinist jobs going begging in the heart of the Rust Belt, Michigan or Ohio or someplace, that they can't fill because there's no one available with the skills? Americans are fat and lazy, and the only jobs they're qualified to do is watch TV and drive their electric scooters around Wal-Mart.

Me. I have the skills. I was a machinist for about 20 years. Here's why I stopped doing that for a living: Nobody outside of a union shop would pay what the work was worth. It was considered manual labor, in spite of the fact that it takes years to learn and is exacting, hazardous, and unforgiving of any mistakes. Plus, you have to buy your own very expensive tools. I guarantee those jobs in "Michigan or Ohio or someplace" are not paying high wages. My reasons for changing careers are the same reasons so few kids want to go into machining - it doesn't pay. Slamming American workers like you do (you aren't one of us, are you?) sounds just like John McCain claiming that Americans wouldn't do farm work for $50 an hour. He was wrong, and you're wrong.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:34 PM on February 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


If their goal is to maximize wealth for the people who run the company*

Their goal should be to maximize wealth as well as ensure the long term sustainability of the company. I think the huge glut of semi-skilled manual laborers will not last forever. They need a plan in place for 20 or 30 or 50 years down the line. Invest in automated manufacturing now and have an option for when chinese workers start demanding rights and protections we get here.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2012


It's strange that the two most popular "solutions" are usually: a) improve working conditions for Chinese workers, and b) fire all the Chinese workers and give those jobs to Americans.
posted by designbot at 5:48 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two Cheers for Sweat Shops.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 PM on February 24, 2012


The crazy thing is that this has been in the news since August 2006 when there was an article "The stark reality of iPod's Chinese factories" (iPhones didn't exist yet). And Apple puts out their report every year since that says 90% of workers only work 12 hour days 6 days a week, and that almost all the child labor is stopped now and it's really just never going to really change anything except the biggest abuses.
posted by smackfu at 6:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like Mike Daisey has turned over a rock the size of planet earth and is screaming "this shit is FUCCCKED UPPPP" when he sees all of humanity underneath it in a twisted mesh of technology, desire and passion.

But this is how we know he's one of the good guys.
posted by compartment at 6:21 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


mrzarquon: "It's still weird how all of this is marketed as an Apple specific issue, even when it's been shown they are leading the industry in a way of (at least on paper) responsibility. I'm not saying the situation is right or justified, but I'd want to find a cellphone made in better working conditions than Apple's."

1) The reason it's an "Apple specific issue" is because a huge amount of hip trendy liberal users these days are Apple fans. People expect MS to be evil, but Apple is the big liberal thing. Show the liberals that Apple products are tainted and they'll be more likely to rise up and say something (at least, when they're not getting all defensive and whining about how people are calling it an "Apple specific issue").

2) Do you really think that if Steve Jobs hadn't died anything would have been done to change it? Despite the image of Jobs as some huge Buddhist, the man had no fucking heart for the others. It all mattered how things looked to him in detail right here in his space, but he could give two shits about the people making the products, and if he did, he'd justify it like the Apple fans who whine about it also being a Microsoft, Dell, Acer, etc... problem.

3) We knew this shit for years re: Foxconn, and the suicides were happening before Jobs died. Once he died, Tim Cook decides to change things. Is he sincere? Is the FLA a really legit organization? Will this really change things? I honestly don't know. But Jobs was holding Apple back from moral responsibility. If Tim Cook taking over and calling for the FLA to review things, and ends up having FoxConn paying people more and even if it's just a PR stunt, that's at least *something* that wasn't happening under Steve Jobs' rule.

The only reason they're "leading the way" is because the media and people are pushing the issue in the first place. And again - this was shit brought up time and again when Jobs was alive and NOTHING WAS DONE.

So fuck Steve Jobs. Fuck his supposed "Buddhism" (which was nothing of the sort except apparently some westernized thing to make him feel better about his assholery or something). Good for Tim Cook for doing something at least quasi-good.

Now let's hope FoxConn can do more, and it starts a trend in China. Let's hope other US companies can start to follow suit, now that Apple leadership has stepped up (after intense pressure and the death of Jobs).
posted by symbioid at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


The focus on Apple is probably an attempt by people to control what is in their mind, a terrible situation. As has been noted throughout this thread, most of the products we use have been made in a fashion similar to those made by Foxconn. The only choice is go off the grid and very few people are willing to do that.

But if they can get Apple to change or at least hold out the possibility of forcing Apple to do "something", then one can feel redeemed, as if something was done. They don't have to give up all their gadgets or their way of life, they can rest easy knowing that this one particular company changed.

The problem won't be solved, but at least they'll feel better. And in the end, for most people that is what's most important.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's still weird how all of this is marketed as an Apple specific issue, even when it's been shown they are leading the industry in a way of (at least on paper) responsibility. I'm not saying the situation is right or justified, but I'd want to find a cellphone made in better working conditions than Apple's. -- mrzarquon
It's because Apple is most valuable brand in the world. People have an emotional response to it that you don't get with HP or Motorola. Nokia and Sony used to have something like that, but no where near the same level.

And also, Apple is a large company. They're not only the largest tech company. By market capitalization, they are the largest publicly traded company in the entire world.

Here's the thing. Apple doesn't sell their products as being more technically tech-y. They sell them as fashion items. They want people to spend a lot of time talking about their brand. They put a lot of time and effort into getting people to spend their time talking about their brand and their new fall and spring lineups 'innovations'. And it's paid dividends for them for a long time. But now that's coming back to bite them in the ass.

Here's the thing, in order for people to buy stuff as fashion items They have to be fashionable. You know what's not fashionable? People getting poisoned by cleaning your cell phone screen with n-hexane, or deplorable working conditions in general.
Two points: 1. They are going to continue manufacturing in countries where the labor is cheap, and that is probably not going to be the U.S. -- mcstayinskool
As I said earlier, it's not all about labor costs. I just did some googling on Nokia and read that they is closing a plant in Romania and opening one in South Korea I'm doubting they'll pay lower wages. They're doing it to get a shorter supply chain since all the parts are made in that region.
it kind of seems like Daisey is being a little axe-grindy. Sure, he's been to China more times than I have, but once again, is he really an expert on Chinese factory conditions? --KokuRyu
Yeah, imagine someone who actually saw human suffering first hand might be 'ax-grindy'. And how exactly do you go about becoming an 'expert' in Chinese factory conditions without actually running a Chinese factory? China is a totalitarian autocracy. There's no free speech. You can't operate as an investigative journalist there the way you can here. Upton Sinclair didn't have to worry about 'harmonization'. The Chinese Upton Sinclair is in Chinese Jail. That’s why Mike Daisy is doing it.
But thats the thing, Apple sold 37 million iPhones last quarter, great. But Nokia sold 110 million [pdf] cellphones, and while not all smartphones, Apple definitely is not the company getting the largest number of electronic devices assembled in China. -- mrzarquon
People who own dumbphones don't spend time talking about them online.
Nobody's going to buy an iPhone that costs $3,000. People might say they will, but when push comes to shove they will not.

Especially not an iPhone where the glass falls out of the front after three months.
-- Fnarf
First of all, what's with the bizarre assumption that stuff made in the U.S. will fall apart? It makes no sense at all. Most of the Toyotas and Hondas you see driving down the streets in the U.S. are made in the U.S. As other people mentioned, the cost increase of increasing wages at foxconn plants to US levels. Would be more like $60 or so, which is less then the profit apple makes on them.

Building all the infrastructure here in the U.S. would be difficult, and the cost of actually making the factory might actually increase costs a lot.

But that's not even the point. the point is: why not demand that foxconn pay workers well and treat them humanely?
That said, these people have alternatives. They could starve. Or toil in even worse conditions for even less money. To demand that Foxconn implement Western standards in their factories is to tell their workers that we know what's best for them. "Head back to the rice paddies where there's no hope for your future." -- Phreesh
That's complete bullshit. People go on and on about how Apple products are beautifully designed and high quality. One way to cut corners is to use cheaper materials, but Foxconn doesn't do that because that's not what's in the contract. Apple pays for the materials, they get high quality materials. They pay for precision construction, they get high quality construction. Foxconn is happy to make cheap low quality crap for other customers, if that's what they pay for.

But what's not happening is that Apple is not telling Foxconn that they want labor standards that are has high quality as the materials and construction. If they said "We want you to pay your workers $10/hr, here is the money to do that" Foxconn would be more then happy to do it. If Apple paid them enough, Foxconn would let Apple manage HR and hire their own employees to work in Foxconns facilities making the phones, allowing them to individually ensure that each employee is treated correctly.

The thing is, Apple can, and does, change suppliers. So if Foxconns doesn't do what they want (what they actually ask for behind closed doors, not what they say in press releases) they'll lose the contract. Which would be devastating for them.

Apple is getting what they ask for. They ask for precision made phones with expensive materials and they get them. It would be cheaper for Foxconn to use cheap materials and cheap tools but they don't, because that's not what apple asked them to do. They're treating their employees like shit because it's cheaper and because apple isn't paying them not too (and it would not be very expensive).
Their goal should be to maximize wealth as well as ensure the long term sustainability of the company. -- Ad hominem
The goal of a company is the goal of whoever is running it. Could be money, could be power, could be prestige, the desire for legacy, or maybe to make the world a better place. They care about shareholders to the extent that they are shareholders, balanced by other possible perks (like salary, or maybe blowing however many billion dollars on a super swank luxury office building with curved glass windows in a large green space in the one of most expensive real-estate market in the world or something)

(average cost of a 1-story building office building per square foot in the bay area is $200. The apple building will have 2.8m square feet, so if they were a bland generic set of 1-story buildings it would cost half a billion. But it's 4 stories, will have it's own power plant providing full-time power generation and curved glass windows. That money could go back to stockholders, but it's not. The money is being spent so apple's U.S. can work in luxury while designing products for foxconn workers who work in 12 hour shifts and sleep in bunkbeds to make)

---
My editor, John, recently visited Foxconn city. He reported on the trip for us here. I wrote about Daisey's crusade here and the recent Foxconn flare-up here. -- BlackLeotardFront
From your article:
Now, I’m not going to get all Das Kapital on you. The idea here is simpler and closer to home than some grand idea of political and economic metatheory. The basic fact is this: an “ethical” iPhone would be too expensive. That’s literally all there is to it (replace iPhone with your device of choice). Everything follows from our own unwillingness to pay for the true cost of a device. People want a better world, but they don’t want to pay for it. Nothing new there, really.
Seriously dude, as has been pointed out over and over again in this thread. That's just false. It's a lie. You could make an iPhone clone in South Korea or Taiwan and sell it for less then an iPhone and still make a 'standard' 10% profit.

Apple is a fashion brand. It doesn't cost much to make an iPhone, and it doesn't much to make a Louis Vitton or Prada handbag. You pay for the brand. Everyone understands that labor is a tiny fraction of the cost of a Prada bag, and that they would never need to be made in sweatshops. prada bags are made in China but literally everyone they understands that Prada bags could (and were) be made in Italy without increasing the retail price.

There is an issue involving the turnaround time, but that has nothing to do with wages and working conditions.

People need to understand the same thing is true about Apple.
2) Do you really think that if Steve Jobs hadn't died anything would have been done to change it? Despite the image of Jobs as some huge Buddhist, the man had no fucking heart for the others. It all mattered how things looked to him in detail right here in his space, but he could give two shits about the people making the products, and if he did, he'd justify it like the Apple fans who whine about it also being a Microsoft, Dell, Acer, etc... problem. -- symbiod
People forget just how long Jobs was not at Apple. He left apple in 1985. Sculley took over as CEO in 1983. He came back in 1996. 11 years, but practically a lifetime in the personal computer industry. A hell of a lot more happened between 1985 and 1996 then has happened from 2002 to 2012.

But here's the thing. In his first round as CEO and corporate leader, he built factories in America (of course at the time, that's where all the high tech stuff was made at the time. Chips came from Intel, Motorola, MOS and Texas Instruments). The second time around, he closed them.

(Also wow, I made a lot of typos in this comment)
The problem won't be solved, but at least they'll feel better. And in the end, for most people that is what's most important.
*yawn* Apple defender 'defends' Apple. Except it's not even really much of a defense "it's really all of our fault!" Obviously if Apple products were not made in these conditions, people would have at least one supplier they could buy something from that weren't made that way. So the problem of their own culpability would be solved.

Also, as far as cellphones are concerned, the majority of Nokias are still made in Europe, as far as I can tell. The exception seems to be some of the new windows phones, and that seems to have had more to do with revving up quickly enough rather then prices or wages.

It would be interesting to see which phones are made in which countries by which subcontractors, but the idea that foxconn makes every single cellphone in Foxconn is not true.

And has been demonstrated, it is simply false to say that the current prices we pay require the use of cheap labor. The cost savings gained are minuscule. It's like the price difference between using high fructose corn Syurp in soft drinks instead of sucrose. The savings are so negligible that when they do sell pop with sucrose (like Pepsi throwback) they don't even bother to raise the price. It costs exactly the same at retail.

posted by delmoi at 7:55 PM on February 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


(Hmm, that link looked fine in live preview)
posted by delmoi at 7:56 PM on February 24, 2012


The problem won't be solved, but at least they'll feel better. And in the end, for most people that is what's most important.
Ironically, this is the same motivation for the "b-b-but everyone does it" squealing from the Apple Fanboys.posted by fullerine at 8:02 PM on February 24, 2012


How is Apple a fashion brand? This time you just expect to sell that same tired argument that they charge a premium for the logo to idiots?
posted by Wood at 8:02 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


BlackLeotardFront, I read the articles you linked and I'm confused. Why are they talking about some untenably high price to better labor conditions, when apparently the labor costs on tech gadgets are almost trivial?

I dunno, I read Mike Daisey's piece and was impressed. He wasn't advocating to move manufacturing out of China. He says that we die-hard consumers pay $6 on an iPhone and, since we're so die-hard, would probably an extra $3 or $6 just as easily, and that therefore the cost argument is disingenuous. I don't think that's naive.

Expecting China to enforce its own labor laws might be naive, but that's a very different story than "what do you want, we're all addicted to our gadgets."
posted by trig at 8:21 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The weirdest thing about the meda coverage of the Apple (etc.) / Foxconn China labor rights scandal is that generally no one -Daisey touches on the illegality of trade unions that are not controlled by The Party but that's about it in his play I think - talks much about the role and responsibility of the Chinese government/ruling class in all this. It's as if the story was about Western (and other ...Foxconn is a Taiwanese multinational)companies behaving badly in a weak, desperate country rather than in the country of a hugely influential emerging(supposedly socialist/communist) superpower with the worlds largest foreign currency reserves and perhaps largest/most powerful/dynamic economies.
posted by Bwithh at 8:30 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


meda= media
posted by Bwithh at 8:31 PM on February 24, 2012


...that should be "consumers pay $6 in labor costs on an iPhone"
posted by trig at 8:39 PM on February 24, 2012


Oh, by the way I finally watched the Nightline video. It was actually really interesting. They followed along on an Audit. Obviously, they were getting the dog and pony show, but they were up front that that's what they were getting. They interviewed an executive, and they straight up asked "If apple said they wanted everyone who touched an iPad to get paid twice as much, could you do it?" And the Foxconn exec said "Sure, that would be great!" I mean obviously he's not going to say "fuck no I like being evil!" but at the same time it proves my point. Foxconn is willing to pay it's employees whatever Apple wants them to be paid to work on Apple products.

The funniest bit of that video, btw. Was when the FLA guy was explaining how they look at worker body language as a cue. If they don't look up from their jobs, make eye-contact, when walk by, that's bad. As he's saying this they're walking passed a row of workers hunched over and avoiding eye contact.
How is Apple a fashion brand? This time you just expect to sell that same tired argument that they charge a premium for the logo to idiots?
How is not a fashion brand? People carry it around. They show it off. People see you use it. It's functional, but so is a watch. Everyone understands that any watch that costs more then maybe $20 is a fashion statement. People buy preposterous spring driven mechanical watches when a dirt cheap quartz watch would be much more accurate (gaining or losing a minute over six years, apparently). Sometimes bedazzled with Jems, sometimes with extra mechanical 'complications' that serve no purpose at all.

That's not to say you're not getting a quality product when you buy an expensive watch. An iPhone might cost be made with stainless steel and gorilla glass, but those watches are made from titanium and sapphire. They are made with more mechanical precision then any other consumer product in the world.

But it's all completely superfluous to the watch's function of telling you what time it is. something like this works just as well.

Once the decision to buy a smartphone has been made, People buy iPhones because they want to be seen as the kind of person who uses an iPhone. People buy Android phones because they want to be seen as the kind of person who doesn't buy an iPhone. No one buys windows phones (at least not for image sake, unless maybe they really love Nokia or something).

Look at the picture the CEO of Path attached to his 'apology' for invading people's privacy. His iPhone takes up 1/4th as many pixels as his face (by rough bounding box).

It's really all about image. These phones all basically do the same thing. There's no real technical reason to choose one over the other other then the way it looks. Back in the 90s when it was Macs vs. PC there were real differences between what software you could get, peripheral support, ease of use, cost, performance and so on. But iPhones and Android phones both do the same things, work the same way and have overlapping price ranges. And few people do any 'work' on their phone other then just talking to people on it and texting.

So it's really all about personal choice, design, style, and ultimately self-expression. (And Mac vs. PC is largely all about style now anyway. Windows runs on macs, and you can get Mac OS to run on a lot of PCs. Windows 7 is much easier to use then windows 3.1.)

In fact, before the iPhone cellphones were even more about making fashion statements. Ironically Nokia was totally at the forefront of this. Pushing the style and image aspects of their phones. Now they're shipping windows phones. That's just untrendy as hell.
Expecting China to enforce its own labor laws might be naive, but that's a very different story than "what do you want, we're all addicted to our gadgets."
You don't even need them to do that. Since cellphones are all about fashion, you just have to make sure that only phones that are made with good labor standards are fashionable. Shoes are obviously a fashion item, and that's what killed Nike. But if the company was making air conditioners, or tires, or NYC manhole covers or whatever. no one would care. It's only due to the emotional attachment, and people's of brands as part of the identity they project to the world (i.e. a fashion item) that anyone cares at all.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bickering about the details and pointing fingers at Apple loses the forest for the trees. The real issue is something Daisey briefly discussed early in his This American Life piece: everything we own is made this way.

And nothing is going to change with the current system. There’s all kinds of talk of how companies should pay more, or move jobs, or whatever, as if they’re in business to do the right thing and make life good for people. We have a system that says they have to make as much money as they can. I can’t see how it’s optional for Apple or anyone else to purposely reduce their profits.

I also don’t understand the obsession with Apple here, people keep trying to justify it, but it still doesn’t make any sense. Everything is like this, this is our system. One of the companies that operates in this system is Apple. Quit acting like we just need them to change, it’s a copout.
posted by bongo_x at 9:12 PM on February 24, 2012


It's really all about image. These phones all basically do the same thing. There's no real technical reason to choose one over the other other then the way it looks.

OK, well I guess we'll agree to disagree then.
posted by Wood at 9:13 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


DAVID POGUE IS ONLY COMPETENT TO REVIEW GADGETS

No, he isn't. I stopped reading his articles a long time ago, and this actually pinpoints the problem I have with his writing in general.

A true, discriminating connoisseur does not so easily disregard ethical and related issues surrounding innovations. It's about integrity. The foodie revolution has encountered this; it seems that mainstream IT has yet to develop this kind of sensitivity but it needs to if it's goal to make the world a better place isn't just a concept.
posted by polymodus at 9:13 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look, if this is specific to Apple that fact would be deeply important because it would be the obvious place to start looking for a solution. As in: what is different about Apple that causes this problem and how do we make them more like other, better, companies.
posted by Wood at 9:23 PM on February 24, 2012


It's strange that the two most popular "solutions" are usually: a) improve working conditions for Chinese workers, and b) fire all the Chinese workers and give those jobs to Americans.

Could you elaborate a bit about what you mean about this being strange? Option a) sounds pretty good to me. What do you recommend?
posted by naoko at 10:59 PM on February 24, 2012


I feel that this whole debate over working conditions is really just a proxy for the conflict between short-term and long-term thinking.

In short-term thinking, we of course have the responsibility to ask for better conditions for our fellow human beings who just happen to have been born in China and work in difficult conditions making gadgets for our pockets and purses. We like to care for our neighbors, and would demand that Apple (or whoever) should spend an extra few of its (or our) dollars to make the lives of 1 million Chinese people better.

In long-term thinking, we have the responsibility to ask for better conditions for, say, all 1 billion people in China. Immediately making all the Foxconn employees in China better will do nothing at all to help the other 99.9% of the population. However, buying Apple products made by Chinese workers working jobs they're willing to take will help create snow-ball effects of growing the middle class, taking people off back-breaking sustenance farm work and into cities and industries, and eventually help them become consumers and not just producers of these very gadgets.

It's unfortunate that people are not ready to accept that the long-term thinking is far more important, since its effects should (if history is our guide) lift huge amounts of the population out of poverty and harsh manual labor. Those focused on the short-term are unable to accept that gradual but constant pressure to improve working conditions incrementally will likely have a more profound effect, on average, than (say) a sudden jump in working conditions in a small number of Apple suppliers.

Long-term thinking does not require us to accept pain and suffering. It forces us to find the best way to improve conditions in the long term, which means that right now our time could be better spent not hounding Apple about Foxconn, but (say) hounding the US government about addressing this issue with the Chinese government. Or in asking every other gadget maker to publish their supplier lists or inspect their supplier lines for violations.

Daisey complains that what Apple is doing is not enough. He wants more drastic and permanent change. I think it's a waste of time. Even a minimal inspection regime is likely to be improving conditions. Perhaps they get improved only by 5% a year. But now imagine other companies doing the same thing. And imagine 15 years pass. At 5% constant improvement in conditions etc we'd end up improving conditions two-fold. Except we'd done so sustainably (both for consumers in the US, and for factories in China), and got people on both sides of the equation to accept this change and expect the new conditions -- rather than look upon them as an aberration.

For evidence, look at the US in the 1880s. City and factory life was so horrible (due to lack of standards, regulation, etc) that life expectancy was in the teens. But by passing through the gauntlet of that time, our society managed internally realize the need to keep its own population alive, and internally imposed regulation to prevent bad working conditions. We're all the better for it now. We did not, however, have a paternalistic consumer from a better-off land come and force our workers to have the best possible set of conditions. And yet, we survived enough to now consider our conditions some of the best in the world -- enough to be the standard to which others should look.

Long-term thinking must win over the illusion of short-term improvements.
posted by haykinson at 11:01 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Trickle down...really?
posted by maxwelton at 11:14 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Daisey was a guest on KCRW's To The Point on February 13th, 2012. After the bulk of the discussion, the host Warren Olney straight out asked Daisey if he had, or would be, giving up his own iPhone.

Daisey got defensive and said that he wouldn't—basically saying, why should he have to after he already spent money on it, after all he needs a phone!

Daiseys TAL piece was eye-opening and I'm glad he did it, but his not backing up his words with the smallest personal boycott seems a little too "No more! ('cause I already got mine!)".
posted by blueberry at 1:23 AM on February 25, 2012


"So it's really all about personal choice, design, style, and ultimately self-expression. (And Mac vs. PC is largely all about style now anyway. Windows runs on macs, and you can get Mac OS to run on a lot of PCs. Windows 7 is much easier to use then windows 3.1.)"

Delmoi, not really true. Yes, you can run windows on macs, and yes, you can build a hackintosh, but if you do you are in danger of having to work to keep it running well, or having updates break it or have third party compatibility issues. I still think using Mac is the best way to run OSX.

Also, at the moment, if you edit video for a living and you want to use your thunderbolt raid to serve HD footage at a decent bandwidth to your laptop, then really, its only mac that allow this. And a fully kitted out Mac Pro can be matched by a nice HP workstation, but the combination of the Mac hardware and the OS and the additional software does still work the best in my experience

I've used macs since g3 imac and before that Macintosh II, so its weird to see the iDevice thing, and I can't stand/won't go into a Apple retail store for the wankery customers and lack of basic things like Snow Leopard disks. Still, macs are not always used as a fashion choice.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:30 AM on February 25, 2012


Apple, and other companies using foxconn, are thinking fairly short term here. They should be investing in automated and environmentally conscious manufacturing techniques that could be implemented here in the US.

Foxconn is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in developing next generation robotic assembly technologies, they're doing a great deal of this research in-house too, so they'll own the IP for it.
posted by atrazine at 4:19 AM on February 25, 2012


It's really all about image. These phones all basically do the same thing. There's no real technical reason to choose one over the other other then the way it looks.

Nah, iTunes, that super large distributor of music, works only with iPhones. That's one technical difference right there, there are probably others.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on February 25, 2012


Even a minimal inspection regime is likely to be improving conditions. Perhaps they get improved only by 5% a year. But now imagine other companies doing the same thing. And imagine 15 years pass. At 5% constant improvement in conditions etc we'd end up improving conditions two-fold.

The funny thing is, you probably think these numbers you pulled directly from your ass mean something.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:39 AM on February 25, 2012


Just as a thought exercise.

What would the difference in standard of living be for a hypothetical manufacturing worker in SF working for $10/hr versus the same person in Shenzhen at $2/hr?
posted by Talez at 8:26 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


San Francisco on $10/hr, is that even possible?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:28 AM on February 25, 2012


I'm shocked that Pogue didn't respond to a person on the internet with a weblog that thought he was wrong with 24 hours. I'm mean the vast majority of writers reply to everyone that wants to talk to them about any of their stories within a day, especially the ones that are mad at them. Right?

What's happening at Foxconn is no different than every other manufacturing industry through history and today. The complete focus on minimizing the cost of production by using whatever means necessary. Technology, labor costs, environmental laws, subsidies all come into play.

Whether it fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, clothing, shoes, electronics, flowers, help desks, toys, gems, coffee beans, or pretty much anything you buy at a store, there is a story of low paid workers in poor conditions being to pushed to the limits of laws that protect them.

It is naive to think that this is an issue about consumer electronics. This is what a market economy brings, optimization. There aren't other alternatives that work better, from what history shows. There may be Economy 2.0 waiting around a corner, but for now we are stuck with what has been proven to work over the last few thousand years.

Nothing wrong with being concerned with the conditions at Foxconn as long as you don't lose sight of the fact that pretty much all the clothes you wear and food you eat involves people working in similar if not worse conditions.

This is why things like minimum wages, collective bargaining, and workplace safety laws were invented. What workers need are those things, delivered in a way that way that provides them with a better life but doesn't create a situation that puts them out of a job as well.
posted by Argyle at 8:38 AM on February 25, 2012


The funny thing is, you probably think these numbers you pulled directly from your ass mean something.

The specifics were indeed the weak part of my argument; I was merely intending to illustrate compounding.

However, it is a useful exercise. Assume we define "working conditions" as hours and wage. Improving hours from 12 hrs to 8rs would be, say, a 33% improvement in working conditions. Wage improvement is also easy to put into numbers. I think that slow but steady improvement is not impossible.
posted by haykinson at 8:42 AM on February 25, 2012


Daisey was a guest on KCRW's To The Point on February 13th, 2012. After the bulk of the discussion, the host Warren Olney straight out asked Daisey if he had, or would be, giving up his own iPhone.

Daisey got defensive and said that he wouldn't—basically saying, why should he have to after he already spent money on it, after all he needs a phone!


So, he's a hypocrite, or at the very least, and example the problem isn't just Foxconn or its customers, but the consumers who crave the devices.

Mike, if you want a phone, there's any number of options. Why an iPhone? Are there even any ethically made phones, is there any information on that?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:58 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


San Francisco on $10/hr, is that even possible?

Hence my point.
posted by Talez at 9:16 AM on February 25, 2012


Nah, iTunes, that super large distributor of music, works only with iPhones.

Music from the iTunes Music Store been drm free for about the last 2.5 years. It'll play on anything that can play MP4/M4A format and, if it doesn't, you can transcode to MP3.
posted by nathan_teske at 10:15 AM on February 25, 2012


(Crap screwed that link.)
posted by nathan_teske at 10:15 AM on February 25, 2012


Yes, but you can't use the iTunes store on any other mobile device.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2012


Daisey was a guest on KCRW's To The Point on February 13th, 2012. After the bulk of the discussion, the host Warren Olney straight out asked Daisey if he had, or would be, giving up his own iPhone.

Daisey got defensive and said that he wouldn't—basically saying, why should he have to after he already spent money on it, after all he needs a phone!

Daiseys TAL piece was eye-opening and I'm glad he did it, but his not backing up his words with the smallest personal boycott seems a little too "No more! ('cause I already got mine!)".


If everyone here who has an iPhone/Pod/Pad gave them up it wouldn't make a lick of difference, not because they've already been made, but because nearly anything in your house that plugs in has gone through a Foxconn-like place, if not Foxconn itself, as well as most of the things in your house that don't plug in. Apple is the popular whipping boy for this but the fact is, it's so pervasive that nothing short of going Amish is likely to make any kind of difference.

The problem is not that this Apple product is made under these circumstances, it's that America, after fighting to get workers treated decently, have had their efforts rewarded by having manufacturing move to dirt-poor communities where all the progress of the past 100 years or so has been stripped away, and they're cool with it because hey, it sure beats starving! And what's worse, we then pat ourselves on the back for bringing these "opportunities" to these people and just shrug and go, "eh, what can you do?" when confronted with the working conditions.

But hey, as long as Mike Daisey and Legomancer don't give up their iPhones and iPads, we can laugh and go FAIL and continue surrounding ourselves with disposable plastic electronic bullshit that other people suffer to make and continue to not worry about it.
posted by Legomancer at 10:49 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]




I think that slow but steady improvement is not impossible.

Not impossible at all, but we don't really have any reason to believe it's just going to happen. On the other hand, I don't think anyone will be surprised if these people are all replaced by robots within 10 years.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:00 PM on February 25, 2012


some weeks it's "apple plant", some weeks it's "microsoft plant", some times it's another technology company.
posted by nadawi at 3:52 PM


You're wrong. It's always Apple. It's never Samsung, or Microsoft (or very rarely). People aren't interested in those companies. No one will read those articles. The only company that can generate the attention Apple does is Google, and they sell advertising. No sweatshop needed.

A while back it was greenpeace that chose Apple as the poster boy for tech gadgets that were bad for the environment. They received a lot of press. Would they have gotten the same while using Dell? No. Apple is often chosen for the attention the name garners. I don't find how this is even arguable. Hell, if this was Samsung I doubt we'd even have a post on metafilter on the subject.

So this is marketed as an Apple problem because that's how you can guarantee attention. Anyone that believes this hasn't been marketed as an Apple problem is in denial or hasn't paid attention. Look no further than yoink, who upthread comically decided to rename foxconn as 'Apple factories', or Delmoi, who wouldn't write 5000 words in this thread if the headline didn't include the word Apple.

Somehow the fact that out of work people are desperate enough to want to work there (or anywhere) is some kind of proof that it's not a sweatshop.
posted by octothorpe at 4:07 PM


No, it's not. It's proof that the problems in China go way beyond Foxconn and Apple.

For Apple, yes, cash could solve the problem. You take all that cash and you build a factory in California--or, say, northern Ohio, if anybody's looking for ideas. You hire a bunch of people for $10/hour instead of $2/hour, and you work them in eight hour shifts, and you put them on the health insurance plan and you give them a lunch break and you comply with OSHA. That's how cash can solve the problem. You use the money to pay for better production and then you splash it everywhere: Look, not only are our gadgets awesome, but they are helping the communities they're made in. And then your competitors look shitty until they start doing the same.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:47 PM


You forgot the shipping of all parts to the states. I have no idea what markup would be on macbook pros, iPads and iPhones, but it would be there. So now Apple, who is in a fight with Android in the smartphone market, has to add 65 dollars to the price of their phone.

So you'd have a small percentage that decides to stay Apple products. You'd have a very small percentage of non-Apple users switching to Apple, and you'd have a large segment of Apple users that will move on to other products. Apple is already a company that gets accused of having high prices, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. But the idea that people will flock to Apple for doing the right thing is nothing but a fantasy.

Apple has always marketed themselves as 'different', and as an Apple fan I DO expect Apple to try and do their part in helping change begin. I don't see a problem with expecting more from Apple. But expecting them to sabotage their company while doing what every company is taking advantage of, or believing that because they have so much money they can single handedly change Chinese culture and economics, is nothing less than deluded thinking and in no way based on reality.

Here's the thing. Apple doesn't sell their products as being more technically tech-y. They sell them as fashion items. They want people to spend a lot of time talking about their brand. They put a lot of time and effort into getting people to spend their time talking about their brand and their new fall and spring lineups 'innovations'. And it's paid dividends for them for a long time. But now that's coming back to bite them in the ass.
posted by delmoi at 9:55 PM


As usually delmoi, you don't understand Apple and the average consumer, which is why you've been wrong for so long (or you're letting your hatred of Apple cloud your thinking, pick one).

I guess it's difficult for people now to remember how unfashionable Apple was. They didn't suddenly decide that 'hey, our products sucks, let's become a fashion company'. They changed their products, and made them better. Yes, Apple not only makes great products, they market them better than any other company. So in the end, you have solid products that also are seen as fashionable.

In your mind you see the tech details as super important. You don't buy anything without knowing how fast the CPU is. But you're a dinasaur. Most consumers couldn't care less how fast their HD spins. They only care if the product does what they want it to, and if it looks good, even better.

To believe the iPad was the first successful tablet because it was fashionable, or that Apple became the biggest tech company in the world because they simply sold fashion, is so completely ignorant you should be embarrassed to claim so.

You claim that all this is coming back to bite Apple in the ass. I don't see it that way at all. I see a great opportunity for Apple to lead the way to change. So not only will Apple be able to claim their products 'just work', or sell 'fashion', but they'll be able to sell their company as doing the 'right thing'. Maybe they'll fuck this up, but I'm betting not.
posted by justgary at 1:19 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


In short-term thinking, we of course have the responsibility to ask for better conditions for our fellow human beings who just happen to have been born in China and work in difficult conditions making gadgets for our pockets and purses. We like to care for our neighbors, and would demand that Apple (or whoever) should spend an extra few of its (or our) dollars to make the lives of 1 million Chinese people better.

In long-term thinking, we have the responsibility to ask for better conditions for, say, all 1 billion people in China. Immediately making all the Foxconn employees in China better will do nothing at all to help the other 99.9% of the population. However, buying Apple products made by Chinese workers working jobs they're willing to take will help create snow-ball effects of growing the middle class, taking people off back-breaking sustenance farm work and into cities and industries, and eventually help them become consumers and not just producers of these very gadgets.
--haykinson
Mmmhmm...
No “useful idiots” of the kind who had made the Soviet Union under Stalin appear the savior of humanity emerged from the trip. The parade held in Beijing to mark the fifth anniversary of the People’s Republic reminded the philosopher A. J. Ayer of the Nuremberg Rallies. Though impressed by the “dedicated and dignified” Mao, the trade unionist Sam Watson was dismayed by Chinese talk of the masses as “another brick, another paving stone.
Anyway, that's ridiculous of course. Foxconn workers working 8 hours a day, for higher wages will actually mean even more jobs for Chinese people today and more economic benefits for the country. Which is exactly what the Foxconn exec said in the interview when they asked him about paying higher wages if apple wanted them too.
And again there's just this thing where either the conditions stay just as bad or the work comes to the U.S. There's no thinking about what happens if you simply have labor standards for the workers there.
Furthermore, it's just stupid. Yes, the United States went through a phase where workers were exploited, but labor unions happened, etc. But the problem is that china is not a free country. You can't have this kind of debate there. So it's only natural that it would happen in free countries where people buy their products.

And anyway, there's no guarantee that economic benefits will be widely distributed. That may not have happened in America if it wasn't for FDR and the new deal and labor unions in general. But if there are no labor unions and no "Chinese FDR" how is it ever going to happen?

Simply assuming that economic benefits will be widely distributed isn't "long term" thinking, it's magical thinking.
If everyone here who has an iPhone/Pod/Pad gave them up it wouldn't make a lick of difference, not because they've already been made, but because nearly anything in your house that plugs in has gone through a Foxconn-like place, if not Foxconn itself, as well as most of the things in your house that don't plug in. Apple is the popular whipping boy for this but the fact is, it's so pervasive that nothing short of going Amish is likely to make any kind of difference.
Yeah that's not really true either. Nokia makes some phones in Germany at least. They also made some in Romania. The idea that every phone is made by Foxconn or at least some random Chinese manufacturer is wrong. It would be nice if you could figure out which phones were made where, but I'm betting that even the same model of phone was probably made in multiple factories around the world.
Not impossible at all, but we don't really have any reason to believe it's just going to happen. On the other hand, I don't think anyone will be surprised if these people are all replaced by robots within 10 years.
I'm not sure. Apple today is using people where machines could already be easily used. It seems like a big part of it is flexability the ability to rapidly change designs production steps. It takes time to setup and program all the robots to engage in production. With phones changing and going obsolete in a few months that's a big deal. On the other hand 'dumbphones' and stuff that doesn't change as quickly will be able to be made by robot.

But who knows, 10 we'll have to see what kind of advances are made in 10 years.
You forgot the shipping of all parts to the states. I have no idea what markup would be on macbook pros, iPads and iPhones, but it would be there. So now Apple, who is in a fight with Android in the smartphone market, has to add 65 dollars to the price of their phone.

So you'd have a small percentage that decides to stay Apple products. You'd have a very small percentage of non-Apple users switching to Apple, and you'd have a large segment of Apple users that will move on to other products. Apple is already a company that gets accused of having high prices, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. But the idea that people will flock to Apple for doing the right thing is nothing but a fantasy.
Or it could reduce it's profits by $65. In any event, iPhones are premium product. They already cost more (for the latest rev) then random android phones (unless you're getting a Galaxy Note or something)
---
As usually delmoi, you don't understand Apple and the average consumer, which is why you've been wrong for so long (or you're letting your hatred of Apple cloud your thinking, pick one).
Wrong for so long about what, exactly? Obviously you disagree with me about apple selling fashion -- but it's not exactly clear why that is. I explained the "apple as fashion" in more detail in this comment which you don't seem to have read (since you're not responding to anything I wrote there)
I guess it's difficult for people now to remember how unfashionable Apple was. They didn't suddenly decide that 'hey, our products sucks, let's become a fashion company'. They changed their products, and made them better. Yes, Apple not only makes great products, they market them better than any other company. So in the end, you have solid products that also are seen as fashionable.
Okay, before Jobs came back their systems were pretty ugly and unfashionable, sure. But I'm talking about post-jobs. Clearly the original iMac was all about design. It was absolutely about fashion and style. Technically, it was nothing special. It still ran OS9. But it obviously had a big impact because of it's design, both in terms of sales as well as cultural impact. People talked about it. For a while, everything from blenders to microwaves tried to go for the same 'look'
In your mind you see the tech details as super important. You don't buy anything without knowing how fast the CPU is. But you're a dinasaur. Most consumers couldn't care less how fast their HD spins. They only care if the product does what they want it to, and if it looks good, even better.
How are you even disagreeing with me? That's exactly what I said. Did you even read what I wrote? The very thing you quoted said Apple doesn't sell their products as being more technically tech-y. Now you're saying that -- people don't buy Apple products because they are more technically tech-y. Well duh! That's what I just said! That's the whole point! People buy them because they are pretty and to show that they are the kind of people who buy apple products. Same reason they buy any other fashion item.

But really it's so weird. Saying "In your mind you see the tech details as super important. You don't buy anything without knowing how fast the CPU is. But you're a dinasaur." Is saying the exactly the same thing that I was saying about why people buy apple products. It's because they don't care about the technical details. But you were so amped to insult me that you didn't even think about the implications of what you were saying.

And in any event, your attempt at mind reading was also a failure. I never wrote that I personally care about the CPU speed (or whatever) of a cell phone. So it isn't at all clear why you think I do. (What I actually do care about is the fact that Android is open source)
To believe the iPad was the first successful tablet because it was fashionable, or that Apple became the biggest tech company in the world because they simply sold fashion, is so completely ignorant you should be embarrassed to claim so. -- justgary
Of course you are apparently so sure of this that you're not even bothering to try to argue against it as far as I can tell. So far all you've done is restate what I wrote and then claim that it's the opposite of what I actually did say.

Here's the thing: there is a basic level of competence that computers have now, Macs, PCs, androids or iOS devices. That wasn't true in the 90s. Macs and PCs approached that but they were both deficient in different ways, so the technical stuff mattered. Now all these devices can pretty much do everything a normal user needs - choosing between them is pretty arbitrary (or you have vendor lock-in issues like with the iTunes store)

Seems like some people are butthurt that I pointed out that their love for iOS toys from apple isn't any different then Sex and the City types' love for shoes and designer handbags.
You claim that all this is coming back to bite Apple in the ass. I don't see it that way at all. I see a great opportunity for Apple to lead the way to change. So not only will Apple be able to claim their products 'just work', or sell 'fashion', but they'll be able to sell their company as doing the 'right thing'. Maybe they'll fuck this up, but I'm betting not. -- justgary
It's obviously biting them in the ass at this point in time. Maybe they will fix the issue and 'lead the way'. If they do, that would be a good thing. When did I ever say it wouldn't be a good thing?

I don't think you're reading what I wrote very carefully.
Also, at the moment, if you edit video for a living and you want to use your thunderbolt raid to serve HD footage at a decent bandwidth to your laptop, then really, its only mac that allow this. And a fully kitted out Mac Pro can be matched by a nice HP workstation, but the combination of the Mac hardware and the OS and the additional software does still work the best in my experience -- C.A.S.
I think that's a pretty small subset of people.
posted by delmoi at 4:38 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Arguments about how to move manufacturing back to the US might make sense if we had anybody who could do the work. Did you read the other day about the 600,000 machinist jobs going begging in the heart of the Rust Belt, Michigan or Ohio or someplace, that they can't fill because there's no one available with the skills? Americans are fat and lazy, and the only jobs they're qualified to do is watch TV and drive their electric scooters around Wal-Mart.

First, that's just horseshit.

Second, IF we don't have workers with the right skills, that's a SYMPTOM, not THE DISEASE. Why would we have workers with the skills to do jobs that don't fucking exist? We used to make electronics here. But then we started cutting deals with Asian manufacturers to make the components; the American component manufacturers were shuttered, and the skills to make electronic components were lost/abandoned. Phase 2 just applied the same to assembly. If you kill the jobs, you cannot morally blame the inability to do work here again on the fact that the workers don't have the skills. It's a bullshit "heads I win, tails you lose" argument.

Third, if you make enough profit to bank billions of dollars (be you Apple, or Microsoft, or whoever), paying $2/hr to anyone to do anything in your company is absolutely lower than low.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:37 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You forgot the shipping of all parts to the states.

But there is no reason the components have to be made outside the US, either. There are no impenetrable Asian secrets to making any of those components.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:31 PM on February 25, 2012


Shipping is a red herring, anyway. The separate parts of an iPhone take up, what, twice the volume of the iPhone itself, when shipped? Especially as the individual parts can be more "carelessly" packed since they aren't as fragile, in all likelihood, as the assembled machine.
posted by maxwelton at 12:38 AM on February 26, 2012


But there is no reason the components have to be made outside the US, either. There are no impenetrable Asian secrets to making any of those components.
No, no reason except that's where all the plants are nowadays. It's not that there aren't fabs in the U.S. The super-high end chips are made all over the world anyway (Intel has 7 fabs in the U.S, one in China one in Israel, and one in Ireland. AMD's fab spinoff, Global Foundries has fabs in Germany, NY and several in Singapore)

Anyway, the whole argument that it's all just about cheap labor is kind of a red herring. China and these other countries have built up infrastructure to support this stuff. That's the key. Sure, they do rely on cheap labor (and, apparently the flexibility of cheap labor) but that's just a small part of it. If china decided to start enforcing labor laws, they would just have to deal with it. They couldn't just move the plants and factories over to Vietnam and expect it to work. There would be no way.

Anyway, the problem is the U.S government doesn't want to invest in building up infrastructure or anything else right now. But even then, ultimately what's the point? Work done in China by hand would be done by robots here. It wouldn't really mean good jobs.
Shipping is a red herring, anyway. The separate parts of an iPhone take up, what, twice the volume of the iPhone itself, when shipped? Especially as the individual parts can be more "carelessly" packed since they aren't as fragile, in all likelihood, as the assembled machine.
The problem is the time it takes to ship. If you're in Shenzen you can get parts from multiple suppliers just down the road. If you have to have them shipped to the US, unless you're going to do it by plane, there is going to be long turnaround time. It might be possible to fly the parts in, though. I have no idea what the cost would be.
posted by delmoi at 2:52 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This American Life is posting a retraction of part of the original story:

Regrettably, we have discovered that one of our most popular episodes was partially fabricated. This week, we devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," Mike Daisey’s story about visiting Foxconn, an Apple supplier factory in China. Rob Schmitz, a reporter for Marketplace, raises doubts on much of Daisey's story.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:26 AM on March 16, 2012


Ira Glass's Statement

Mike Daisey's Response. In short: he isn't a journalist and no one should have assumed he was one.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:29 AM on March 16, 2012


New FPP on the retraction.
posted by ericb at 10:56 AM on March 16, 2012


"Whoopsie, my bad!"
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:12 PM on March 17, 2012


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