Foxconn and Apple.
April 12, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

This is an article which contains several interesting links about Foxconn's factories.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (34 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
But, I wanted scenes of exploited workers with machine-gnarled hands pawing in awe at reporters' iPads that they had never seen fully assembled!
posted by Burhanistan at 12:22 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the first comment there has something--not that I think Foxconn is evil just because it's a factory in China or whatever all else, but the guided tour is just never the real picture of a place, is it? Whether it's North Korea, which is obviously really egregious in how it stages its whole capital to look better to foreigners and then won't let anybody elsewhere, or for that matter just the way that universities cater to new students and show them all the shiny bits and omit the part where the wireless network is iffy and all the classrooms in that particular building are a thousand degrees all summer.

I'm very glad to know it's not nearly as bad as a lot of us once thought, but I'm also not really willing to see it as quite as good as it's painted here, either. The unsupervised talking to people outside seemed like the closest to the truth, to me. Not tennis courts, not misery, just "better than the way our grandparents lived".
posted by gracedissolved at 12:26 PM on April 12, 2012


Surprise, surprise: an officially sanctioned, PR tour given to a journalist by the people who run the factory ended up making the factory look good. Gee, I wouldn't expect it to work that way. What an important news event. My faith in Apple--hell, capitalism itself--is restored now.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Long story short: Foxconn isn't a paradise and isn't a burning inferno. There are many worse factories in China, but that shouldn't be anyone's excuse, Apple, Dell, or otherwise, for not continuing to push reform.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


1800: Whitewashing
1986: Greenwashing
2012: iWashing?
posted by Big_B at 12:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honey, does this make me look fat?
posted by Bovine Love at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2012


In the sixth paragraph of the full article, the reporter discusses the days he spent interviewing workers outside the factory, unsupervised by the company, prior to touring the grounds.

In the second and third paragraphs, he discusses how the company installed anti-suicide nets around all its buildings, which prevented one of the two subsequent attempts.
posted by Diablevert at 12:35 PM on April 12, 2012


While Apple is Criticized for Foxconn, Other Companies Are Silent.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:37 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


There’s a main drag lined on both sides with fast-food restaurants, banks, cafes, grocery stores, a wedding photo shop, and an automated library. There are basketball courts, tennis courts, a gym, two enormous swimming pools, and a bright green astroturf soccer stadium smack-dab in the middle of campus. There’s a radio station -- Voice of Foxconn -- and a television news station. Longhua even has its own fire department, located right on main street.

The fact that this is advertised as a good thing disgusts me and raises my suspicions. When a place of employment starts to emulate what your supposed life outside work looks like I find that disturbing. I imagine that what it is hoping to sell is the idea that "working here is not so bad...look at all the things you can do" I take it to mean "you don't ever have to leave" I don't want my work to feel like home because it's not home.

I see this sort of thing to a lesser extent in the US. I work across from a Google office in soCal and they have a large ostentatious climbing wall on the side of the building. I NEVER see anyone on it...EVER. Day in, day out...the wall sits there empty. It exists solely to pay lip service to a blurred line between work and play, to cater to the fiction that work can somehow be as fulfilling to us as our time off. I see the whole thing is being tied to work with lace handcuffs...sure it's nice...but you're still stuck there.
posted by jnnla at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


> When a place of employment starts to emulate what your supposed life outside work looks like I find that disturbing.

Well, did you see the part about the factory being these people's actual home since they're mostly migrant workers who traveled hundreds of miles or more to get there?
posted by Burhanistan at 12:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The 500 people a day who want a job shows a deeper trauma at work in Chinese society. The suicides are part of a bigger picture beyond Foxconn. For one, if you're 20 years old and land a premier job making iPad's, the best job you can expect to get, and you discover it requires the brains of a monkey - you may have an existential crisis - is this all there is? In China, the wealth and opportunity is reserved for an elite few connected with the Party while the vast majority are like these people with limited opportunity. It's easy to blame Foxconn, convenient even for the elites, but it misses the bigger problem of China's version of Capitalism that is essentially favoring a small class of insiders. Perhaps China will transition to a consumer economy like the US is now, but won't do so until it opens up and reforms.
posted by stbalbach at 1:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want to see an interesting company town, check out the history of Pullman. At work, so not pulling together links, but you can start with the wikipedia page I linked...and I'm sure someone could pull together a nice FPP if they were in the mood.

In my what-if-I-win-the-lottery moments, I think about buying the entirety of Pullman's housing, building a monorail to downtown Chicago, and setting it up as an "insourcing" town.
posted by davejay at 1:39 PM on April 12, 2012


Apple got singled out for their reliance on Chinese labor because they've profited so immensely from it. But yeah, it's far from just them, it's a systemic problem, that when people who are able to solve it are confronted with it seem a lot more likely to shrug and say "Wat ya gonna do" than actually bite the bullet and make a change that might slightly harm them economically. This is completely a failure of capitalism, and the kind of thing it's governments' role to step in -- unfortunately China doesn't see anything wrong, Obama's pretty toothless, and the Republicans say that government's role is to do nothing, ever, about anything.
posted by JHarris at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2012


I tell Louis how depressing [the nets] look, just suspended up there, waiting to catch someone. “I don’t care how they look,” he tells me, “if we can save one life with these nets, they’re completely worth it.”

Wow. Louis was either extensively coached or has internalized the situation so thoroughly that he's probably incapable of saying anything that doesn't in some way benefit Foxconn.
posted by JHarris at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


IHS iSuppli, a research firm in the tech industry, thinks that the Foxconn investigations might be the beginnings of some of the same types of reforms that happened in the footwear and apparel industry in the 1990s. And if you are interested in this issue, the FLA (Fair Labor Association) report on Foxconn is available for anyone to read.
posted by gemmy at 1:55 PM on April 12, 2012


It's a kind of magic!
posted by The Deej at 2:54 PM on April 12, 2012


The 500 people a day who want a job shows a deeper trauma at work in Chinese society. The suicides are part of a bigger picture beyond Foxconn. For one, if you're 20 years old and land a premier job making iPad's, the best job you can expect to get, and you discover it requires the brains of a monkey - you may have an existential crisis - is this all there is? In China, the wealth and opportunity is reserved for an elite few connected with the Party while the vast majority are like these people with limited opportunity.
It's not as straightforward as that. That factory job is only the best job they can get at the moment but they know very well that it's not the pinnacle of their career. For many of these workers, they're simply following the paths of their parents and aunts and uncles who made similar treks to the city twenty years ago when the markets first open. And they follow those same paths with the belief that they can do better and make a difference for themselves.

That deadend assembly job is simply a step in their social mobility ladder. Some will jump factory to factory and never move off of the assembly floor, and return to their village with a tidy sum for marriage. Some take evening classes on the "off season" to learn English (and the vocabulary to appear more trained and specialised than they really are) and do jump into an office role. Some will break out even further and start their own little operations. Some will return home with little to show for their time. Some will never return home.

Class inequality is very real but on the other hand, the rags to riches stories are real too. A factory job, especially for young women, is often a gateway to opportunities that a life in the village would never offer. It's a very different perspective than what some in the American media have portrayed (though some journalists have captured this nuance well, mind).

If you want to read more about this other perspective, check out Leslie Chang's Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China.
posted by tksh at 2:55 PM on April 12, 2012


the beginnings of some of the same types of reforms that happened in the footwear and apparel industry in the 1990s.

You mean there were reforms after that outcry? I thought we all just stopped worrying and learned to love nike with all its flaws...
posted by Chuckles at 3:15 PM on April 12, 2012


The suicides are part of a bigger picture beyond Foxconn.

If you want to see suicides, you should go out to the countryside and see how the starving peasants, who will do almost anything to gain a foothold in urban China, feel if those efforts fail.

The suicide rate at Foxconn is lower than for China as a whole. For good reason; it's not a dead end.

if you're 20 years old and land a premier job making iPad's, the best job you can expect to get

This is so far from the reality of who works for Foxconn, or thousands of other companies, or why, or what they expect from the future, and the various pressures that are on them, that I can barely describe it.

Chinese factory work is not a destination employment. It is a means to acquire enough assets to move oneself or ones children from one kind of living to another. China has a billion peasants they've been moving out of unimaginable poverty of collective farm life into the modern urban world for the past twenty years. Foxconn is an infinitesimal part of that process. There are problems with Foxconn, but they are bigger than Foxconn, and relate more to the conditions of Shenzen's response to the modernization of China's economy compared with other cities that are, perhaps doing a better job -- but probably with worse factories.

Foxconn is a pretty good job to get in China, but people will always want more. The process by which more comes about is hugely complex. But people desperately want those jobs, because they're good ones.
posted by Fnarf at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


tksh, you say what I said in much better words.

Have you read Arrival City by Doug Saunders? He talks at length about the village-to-urban transition in China, and the role that factory work plays, and how some cities in China (and elsewhere) do a better job than others, and what lessons these differences teach us -- mainly "stop bulldozing shantytowns". "China" is not monolithic; Shenzen operates very differently than Chongqing, for instance, and conditions are changing rapidly even in different areas of Chongqing.
posted by Fnarf at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2012


This is completely a failure of capitalism, and the kind of thing it's governments' role to step in -- unfortunately China doesn't see anything wrong,

I look at this whole episode and conclude that, if anything, it seems to be a triumph of capitalism, where your and my demands for electronic geegaws are providing thousands an opportunity at upward mobility that they would not otherwise have. To the point that thousands more look to Foxconn every week for a similar opportunity. Not only that, free capitalist markets also create advocates in the West for improving the lot of these very workers, creating demands on manufacturers on behalf of the people they employ.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:47 PM on April 12, 2012


I look at this whole episode and conclude that, if anything, it seems to be a triumph of capitalism, where your and my demands for electronic geegaws are providing thousands an opportunity at upward mobility that they would not otherwise have. To the point that thousands more look to Foxconn every week for a similar opportunity. Not only that, free capitalist markets also create advocates in the West for improving the lot of these very workers, creating demands on manufacturers on behalf of the people they employ.

When you buy an iPad, you help pay for suicide fences that save lives! Hooray capitalism!
posted by Big_B at 4:02 PM on April 12, 2012


When you buy an iPad, you help pay for suicide fences that save lives! Hooray capitalism!

No, when you buy an iPad, you help pay for wages that help prevent suicide, and improve the lives of the Chinese lucky enough to receive them.

This "Foxconn is so horrible that the workers commit suicide" idea has to go away.
posted by Fnarf at 4:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


...where your and my demands for electronic geegaws are providing thousands an opportunity at upward mobility that they would not otherwise have...

This was basically the same argument used by Milton Friedman in Free to Choose - and it's often sold by conservative economists in such a way as to insinuate that all these folks will be running their own company one day, or at the very least will "climb the ladder" to a better relative position. I think the reality is that a very small percentage of individuals will find their way into a better life while the vast majority will remain a part of the "cheap labor class" or stuck in one of China's intellectual slums.

Recent history suggests that Capitalism isn't necessarily always "the tide that lifts all boats." Relative social mobility in the US has stagnated, and if China is aspiring to reach US levels of mobility its people will be sorely disappointed.

Even still, some studies have suggested that, despite a burgeoning middle class, social mobility is on a downward trend in China. Largely due to a stratified (pdf link) society that tends to show more upward mobility in agriculture than it does in tech / factory work.

Even career success in China is no guarantee of a great life, and as the Chinese middle class grows and its material standard of living increases - research confirms the inevitable conondrum of Capitalism...that a material standard in living beyond essentials does not make people happier.

The very economic premise that a continued improvement in a persons standard of living is linked in a linear fashion to their well being is demonstrably false.

I certainly hope places like Foxconn can lift people out of abject poverty - but I tend to think that most of them are simply responding to a siren song and chasing a carrot on a stick.
posted by jnnla at 4:36 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know it's not the same thing at all, but I used to work at a factory way out in an industrial estate somewhere about an hour away from civilization (not doing manual labour though, white collar). Sometimes I'd wish there were bunks in the top level of the office so I could just work till midnight, go to sleep, and wake up the next day for work again. And maybe a small kitchenette so I could cook something simple.

But then that was when I was living alone in a foreign country anyway so driving an hour home to an empty apartment wasn't much more appealing. What Foxconn is doing - setting up entire communities on factory premises - makes a lot more sense in this context.

---

Given that something like $400 out of the $800 you pay for an iPad is all markup and taken by Apple as profit - I wonder sometimes if given the choice of manufacturing location (made in China vs made in a 1st world country) whether I would rather the other $400 go to peasants in China or $400 go to unionized factory workers in the 1st world country.
posted by xdvesper at 4:42 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Class inequality is very real but on the other hand, the rags to riches stories are real too.

Class inequality, in terms of raw numbers, is several orders of magnitude more real than are rags-to-riches stories.
posted by JHarris at 5:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


While Apple is Criticized for Foxconn, Other Companies Are Silent.
Seems similar to the reasons Nike got all that flack in the 1990s. They have the most well-known brand, and a lot of the value of their products come from the fact that the brand is fashionable. Apple in this case has the largest market cap of any company in the world.
Given that something like $400 out of the $800 you pay for an iPad is all markup and taken by Apple as profit - I wonder sometimes if given the choice of manufacturing location (made in China vs made in a 1st world country) whether I would rather the other $400 go to peasants in China or $400 go to unionized factory workers in the 1st world country.
Something like $8 actually goes to manufacturing labor. Paying people American style wages wouldn't even put much of a dent in the price. The problem with moving the factories to the U.S, though, is that you just don't have the infrastructure in place. If you're in China, you can get chips from tons of different suppliers nearby as soon as you need them.

Also, while the 'factory town' thing is open to abuse, it does seem like it would be a much more efficient way to arrange labor. Essentially, you remove the landlord from the equation. If you know you need to house X number of people, you can build in a way that doesn't cost nearly as much per unit. The employee would end up with a lot more disposable income. The problem, though is that obviously the companies have an incentive to build shitty/cheap housing.
posted by delmoi at 6:00 PM on April 12, 2012


This is slightly tangential, but the topic of poverty in rural China often comes up in these discussions, and I have no conception of what it might actually be like. Are there any photo essays out there that document the kinds of villages where these workers might come from?
posted by archagon at 6:09 PM on April 12, 2012


Class inequality, in terms of raw numbers, is several orders of magnitude more real than are rags-to-riches stories.

Neither "class inequality" or "rags-to-riches stories" are remotely relevant to what is happening in China.

What is relevant is gaining a foothold in urban society. That foothold can be tenuous, and it can be temporary; it is commonplace for people to move back and forth from village to city several times before that foothold is secured, for them or for their offspring. Sometimes they never make it. But hundreds of millions do.

This is the only thing that matters: not "capitalism", not Western handwringing, not really even Chinese central planning (which is often counterproductive, even actively destroying the achievements of the people, by bulldozing their "unapproved" ad hoc communities, for instance); gaining a foothold in the modern world.

What the Chinese people need most is not Westerners telling them what to do; they need their own government to provide them with the infrastructure of urban success: water, sewers, electricity, roads, transit, and perhaps most importantly an ownership stake in their own society. They're doing a pretty amazing job of it for the most part.
posted by Fnarf at 6:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there any photo essays out there that document the kinds of villages where these workers might come from?

The Atlantic's In Focus photo blog has a few relevant galleries, none exclusively to do with rural China but all having a few relevant images.

A Look Inside China

Rising Protests In China

21st Century China


Scenes From China
posted by Diablevert at 6:34 PM on April 12, 2012


Sorry, I was the one who bought up class equality and rags to riches. It was partly in response to the suggestion of someone landing an assembly line job only to enter an existential crisis, realising wealth and opportunity are limited to the chosen elite and wondering what's the point of it all.

It was to say that plenty of millionaires and billionaires in China today come from humble beginnings and it goes a long way to support the narrative of possibilities and opportunities for the millions of migrants who leave their hometown for better work (or just for work) and continued self-improvement.

One thing to note, is that these are not the offspring of the working class trying to move higher into the middle class through better education (only to be met by low paying jobs upon graduation), those of the so called 'ant tribe' or even the post-90 generation. Factories workers are very often the children of rural families who could not afford continued education after middle school, for academic or financial reasons, or an older sibling looking for a way to support their younger sibling who does have a chance of getting into university.

We're talking about young men and women with meager job opportunities moving into the city with nothing on their back and maybe the name of a relative of a friend type of deal and earning income for themselves. Income that inverts the relationship between themselves and their parents, and actually allow them to support their family back home and have more say in the running of the family (think about filial piety in the Confucian context).

Even the coming of age aspect alone, away from all their overbearing village relatives and neighbours, allowing them (perhaps only the perception of) freedom to choose their own destiny, to date from a larger pool of like-minded people, a taste of city life, of having their own cell phone, and all, is a significant piece of these people's lives and their reasons for working in these factories.

I'm rambling and getting off-topic, and I don't want to give the impression that I am rah-rah, factories are good, labour laws are bad, no one gets hurt but I do wish to point out that it's a complex situation with strong social forces behind it.

BTW, this is the correct link for the PDF in jnnla's post, which I might add, is based on 1996 data.
posted by tksh at 7:33 PM on April 12, 2012


Wow, some of the comments in this thread are unreal.

Apple moves some of its production to the even worse Pegatron.

More on the dust explosion.

"In addition, the FLA do not appear to do much investigating in their investigations. Whilst investigating a Nike supplier, the FLA failed to uncover that 600,000 hours of overtime (worth $950,000) accumulated over a 2 year period and owed to 4,500 workers had gone unpaid. In a separate incident, T-shirt manufacturer Gildan fired dozens of workers after they tried to form a trade union. As a follow up, Gildan then closed the plant entirely. The FLA recognised that Gildan’s actions were illegal, yet allowed them to stay as an affiliated member of the FLA".

And to hear people saying how good it is that the company provides everything for its employees, like shops and housing... well, that was the way it was here in Victorian times and if you think that was a good time, full of social mobility, well...

Apple fanbois - No evil is enough to dissuade them.
posted by marienbad at 1:18 AM on April 13, 2012


Well, I'm not so sure those Apple people actually got wood, it isn't that great of a product. Well, maybe not many of them, anyway.

I take it you never buy anything from China, marienbad?
posted by Bovine Love at 6:53 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you Diablevert — that's exactly what I was looking for.
posted by archagon at 12:48 PM on April 13, 2012


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