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Apple Takes Bite out of Child Labor
January 26, 2013 9:29 AM   Subscribe

After their annual audit showed a large spike in underage workers, Apple made good on its promise to take more responsibility for its suppliers.
posted by gilrain (65 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awwww, how lovely of them.
posted by fullerine at 9:33 AM on January 26, 2013


So THAT's why their stock price took a hit in spite of record revenues and profits. Exactly the kind of thing Wall Street does not approve of.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2013 [16 favorites]


i know there's going to be a lot of snark because it's apple, but as far as i can tell, this seems like a good step.
posted by nadawi at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think the stock price hit is related to this announcement
posted by mulligan at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


slow clap
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:43 AM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought the stock price drop was due to not meeting projected numbers and being trounced by Samsung.
posted by dobbs at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


How was Apple trounced by Samsung?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damned if they do, damned if they don't. Best just to declare bankruptcy, fold up shop and go home.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:54 AM on January 26, 2013


"When new violations are found, Apple requires its suppliers to return the workers back to a school chosen by the family and finance their education."

This is the awesome part.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2013 [22 favorites]


So, that stuff that Mike Daisy made up is actually true?
posted by 445supermag at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2013


How was Apple trounced by Samsung?

"Samsung, the market leader in smartphones, on Friday said its fourth-quarter profit surged 76% to a record high on the strength of smartphone sales, including its Galaxy S line...

Apple, meanwhile, reignited concerns about demand for its iPhone 5 after reporting flat earnings for the holiday quarter, sending its stock down 14% in the past two days. The stock has also dropped 37% since hitting an all-time high on Sept. 19, just two days before the iPhone 5 launched in stores." Source.
posted by dobbs at 9:59 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


this seems like a good step.

This seems like a good first step. But yeah, good on them.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:00 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Samsung had $8.27 billion in revenue.

Apple had $54.5 billion in revenue.

I supposed trouncing depends on how you look at things, but making almost six times as much in profit looks a helluva lot better from my mountaintop.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know that finding parallells between William Gibson and the 21st century is getting seriously cliche at this point, but "Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co" is a name straight out of Neuromancer.
posted by Scientist at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2013 [22 favorites]


I supposed trouncing depends on how you look at things, but making almost six times as much in profit looks a helluva lot better from my mountaintop.

Confronting a Law Of Limits
"If Apple’s share price grew even 20 percent a year for the next decade, which is far below its current blistering pace, its $500 billion market capitalization would be more than $3 trillion by 2022. That is bigger than the 2011 gross domestic product of France or Brazil.

"Put another way, to increase its revenue by 20 percent, Apple has to generate additional sales of more than $9 billion in its next fourth quarter. A company with $1 billion in sales has to come up with just another $200 million.

"Robert Cihra, an analyst who covers Apple at Evercore Partners, told me this week that the law of large numbers as it applied to Apple had “been a concern for years now.” But, he said, “over the past couple of years, they have actually accelerated revenue growth. I don’t know that can continue indefinitely. If you extrapolate far enough out into the future, to sustain that growth Apple would have to sell an iPhone to every man, woman, child, animal and rock on the planet.” "
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:14 AM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or introduce something you can buy as well as iphones presumably?
posted by biffa at 10:16 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brandon, I think you have your figures mixed up a little. Samsung had about $8 billion in profit and Apple had about $13 billion in profit in the last calendar quarter. Apple is still making a lot more profit, though, especially if you compare just the markets that they compete in, as Samsung is a huge and diverse conglomerate.
posted by snofoam at 10:17 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Immediate Apple vs Samsung derail in child labor thread? Check!
posted by lazaruslong at 10:20 AM on January 26, 2013 [21 favorites]


If you extrapolate far enough out into the future, to sustain that growth Apple would have to sell an iPhone to every man, woman, child, animal and rock on the planet.

Hey, Apple products play rock music. They've always been good at appealing to the igneous population.
posted by Malor at 10:22 AM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Brandon, I think you have your figures mixed up a little. Samsung had about $8 billion in profit and Apple had about $13 billion in profit in the last calendar quarter.

Ah, you're right, I mixing up revenue and profit from the same damn paragraph. Apologies and thanks for the correction.

Still, disagreeing on the 'trounce' though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on January 26, 2013


[Yeah, maybe at this point we can drop the Apple vs Samsung profits derail?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:28 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing. This is a little closer to how business should be conducted as a matter of course. This is news because it's Apple and also because it's unusual, and for that matter Apple is only doing this because they're in the spotlight these days. Don't mistake this for the entire electronics industry having suddenly grown a conscience.

This quote is fairly telling: "These suppliers have apparently told Apple that it's the only company performing such audits." (Emphasis original)

Frequent, reliable audits for things like illegal child labor should be normal, not news. For that matter, they should be conducted by the governments of the countries where the factories are based, but of course we can't trust most governments to do them or to do them honestly. Apple is doing this (and making sure that the tech community hears about the fact that they're doing it) because they know they have a tarnished reputation in this area and they feel they need to polish it up a bit since they depend heavily on the loyalty of their customer base to keep them at the top of the heap.

What this is is an example of how community agitation can translate into policy change -- corporate policy, in this case. Apple has been doing these Supplier Responsibility Reports for the last seven years now. (I guess they just didn't care during the years before that? Well, 2006 is basically ancient history at this point, those people were essentially cavemen. Can't blame someone for being a [corporate] person of their times.) Where was the big news fanfare about this saintly act of corporate self-sacrifice (read: something that any normal human being would see as a matter of basic moral decency) last year, or the year before that?

And yeah, where are the reports from other corporations and government agencies doing aggressive audits and trying to root out child exploitation across the globe? Right, there aren't any because Apple is the only one even doing these kinds of audits. This issue was never really about Apple. Despite all the bickering, it has always been about the complicity of American corporations in a disgusting and vile regime of international exploitation and oppression that remains to this day the status quo of global business.

Apple (alone among corporations in its field) has apparently recently started doing something that should have been a bedrock part of all international business transactions since the dawn of time. Good on them, I'm glad they're doing it. Forgive me for not celebrating yet however, there's a lot more work to do before the tech industry cleans up its act enough to make me see it as anything other than a bunch of modern day robber barons. That's not hyperbole, either -- the term is appropriate. Working conditions and exploitation of labor by capital in the developing world is in a place very similar to where it was here in the U.S. back in the Gilded Age. The only difference is that now our corporations have the sense to do their dirty work far away where their customers don't have to think about it so much.

Nice work Apple, now let's see this become the breaking crest of a sweeping wave of change throughout the entire electronics industry. Do you want to be a real leader, a corporation that actually deserves some of the praise that your rabid fans are so eager to heap upon you? If so, you will make sure that this doesn't end here and will instead use your unparalleled clout to drive sweeping reform throughout your entire industry. Without that kind of follow-through, this report is little more than a marketing gimmick.
posted by Scientist at 10:30 AM on January 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


Phew! Now they are only exploiting adults. That's a relief.
posted by srboisvert at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is very nice, and Apple seems to be genuinely committed to addressing this issue. The problem that remains is that not only the rest of the tech industry, but pretty much the rest of every industry makes stuff in China and other places without this kind of oversight, and few developed world consumers seem to be pushing them on it.
posted by snofoam at 10:37 AM on January 26, 2013


And yeah, where are the reports from other corporations and government agencies doing aggressive audits and trying to root out child exploitation across the globe? Right, there aren't any because Apple is the only one even doing these kinds of audits.

Eliminating child labor is a good thing. It will be good to see Dell, HP, Microsoft, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Amazon, Toshiba, Google, Lenovo, other makers of DIY PC components, et al. following Apple's lead, now that their customers will put pressure on them to do the same.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you want to be a real leader, a corporation that actually deserves some of the praise that your rabid fans are so eager to heap upon you? If so, you will make sure that this doesn't end here and will instead use your unparalleled clout to drive sweeping reform throughout your entire industry. Without that kind of follow-through, this report is little more than a marketing gimmick.

I... What? How do...?

Apple is rolling in cash, and has juicy margins despite the recent stock drop. Many will and have said that those factors give it the luxury of taking these unprofitable steps.

How, exactly, is Apple supposed to "drive" its competitors in any way other than publicizing what's being done? And how is this series of steps "just a marketing gimmick" if the entire industry doesn't follow?
posted by verb at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2013


Verb: How, exactly, is Apple supposed to "drive" its competitors in any way other than publicizing what's being done?

Well, they could do it through corporate pacts and alliances to stamp out child labor, by exerting lobbying pressure on governments both at home and abroad to make the kinds of measures they are taking mandatory, by expanding their work into a true fair labor policy and prominently branding their merchandise as such, by using their media access to publicly shame corporations that do not take similar steps, and I'm sure many many other means.

I don't really see how that's so difficult a question. The steps they are taking are a "marketing gimmick" if the only lasting change they create is to assuage the guilty consciences of a few thousand hardcore Apple fans so that they will feel more comfortable continuing to evangelize Apple's products for them. The actions in this report are a drop in the bucket compared to the scope of the global problem in this industry, and if Apple is truly committed to ethical business then they will see to it that the ripples spread. They have tens of billions of dollars and an army of extremely intelligent and motivated employees with which to make that happen, if it is something they really care about.
posted by Scientist at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scientist, maybe it's only a marketing gimmick to you, but from what the article said about how the children are treated, I doubt it's a marketing gimmick to them.

When new violations are found, Apple requires its suppliers to return the workers back to a school chosen by the family and finance their education. "In addition, the children must continue to receive income matching what they received when they were employed. We also follow up regularly to ensure that the children remain in school and that the suppliers continue to uphold their financial commitment," wrote Apple in its latest report.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:16 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to hear that an effort is made to take care of the children that are freed from labor. I had a conversation with a professor who worked on child labor issues, and was shocked at his opinion that some international child labor laws have caused more harm than good. Both because children unable to work would face starvation in places facing extreme poverty, and because it was severely disrupting in cultures or societies where children traditionally stay with and work along side their family and community and where traditional schooling and education is lacking. He actually went as far as saying that some of these communities were possibly healthier than our own strict separation of labor and education from everyday family life. It seems that child labor law enforcement needs to insure that children freed from labor are provided with basic needs (food, clothing, and education), are not pulled away from their families as a result, and that as we insert ourselves into the inner workings of an unfamiliar society we aren't infecting them with our own parasitic cultural bullshit.

Should Child Labor Be Eliminated? An HRD (Human Resource Development) Perspective
Child labor, especially in developing countries, has been an increasing target for social reformers. Although there are many suggested solutions for the eradication of child labor, many are simplistic and create more problems than they cure. Suggested reforms are explored and analyzed. Additional recommendations, especially from a human resource development perspective, are explored.
But this was written in 2004. It seems that there has been a significant reduction in poverty since then, so maybe the complete elimination of child labor is a more appropriate goal now.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2013


I think this is good news, and it would be great if Apple could incorporate this into their marketing somehow. Maybe it would help stamp out child labour for good.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


When new violations are found, Apple requires its suppliers to return the workers back to a school chosen by the family and finance their education.

In other news, Apple announces the grand opening of its Soldering, Assembly and Packaging Training Center for Adolescents.
posted by orme at 12:19 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eliminating child labor is a good thing. It will be good to see Dell, HP, Microsoft, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Amazon, Toshiba, Google, Lenovo, other makers of DIY PC components, et al. following Apple's lead, now that their customers will put pressure on them to do the same.
Perhaps Apple should be thinking differently?
posted by fullerine at 12:20 PM on January 26, 2013


When new violations are found, Apple requires its suppliers to return the workers back to a school chosen by the family and finance their education. "In addition, the children must continue to receive income matching what they received when they were employed.

The cynic in me says that this might serve as an incentive for families to send their kids off to work with the specific goal of getting caught, then enjoying the free education and continued salary.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:20 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


i don't see the problem in that, really - because either a) kid gets free education or b) companies stop trying to hire people they suspect are kids because the burden of the free loaders is too much.
posted by nadawi at 1:28 PM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]



Eliminating child labor is a good thing. It will be good to see Dell, HP, Microsoft, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Amazon, Toshiba, Google, Lenovo, other makers of DIY PC components, et al. following Apple's lead, now that their customers will put pressure on them to do the same.


I can't speak to the others off-hand, but HP is very serious about ethical supply chain work, and has been for a good long while.

A sample from wikipedia:
In 2008, HP released its supply chain emissions data — an industry first.
In September 2009, Newsweek ranked HP No.1 on its 2009 Green Rankings of America's 500 largest corporations.

HP took the top spot on Corporate Responsibility Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens List for 2010.

Fortune magazine named HP one of the World's Most Admired Companies in 2010, placing it No. 2 in the computer industry and No. 32 overall in its list of the top 50. This year in the computer industry HP was ranked No. 1 in social responsibility, long-term investment, global competitiveness, and use of corporate assets.

In May 2010, HP was named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Institute. This is the second year in a row HP has made the list. Ethisphere reviewed, researched and analyzed thousands of nominations in more than 100 countries and 35 industries to create the 2010 list. HP was one of only 100 companies to earn the distinction of top winner and was the only computer hardware vendor to be recognized.

After winning nine straight annual "Most Respected Company in China" awards from the Economic Observer and Peking University, HP China has added the "10 Year Contribution" award to its list of prestigious accolades. The award aims to identify companies doing business in China with outstanding and sustained performance in business operations, development and corporate social responsibility.
So no, Apple is not the leader on ethical or sustainable behaviour in the tech industry by any stretch.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:31 PM on January 26, 2013


I don't see any mention of child labor whatsoever in that post, Arkhan. They certainly seem to be doing good things, but what about child labor? I'm sure it's all "fanboy" of me, but it does rather seem like Apple - literally - cant do anything good in some eyes.

If someone had posted that text in defense of Apple during last year's controversy, MeFi would've shredded them as Steve-worshiping corporate shills who cared more about iThings than children.
posted by verb at 2:00 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The steps they are taking are a "marketing gimmick" if the only lasting change they create is to assuage the guilty consciences of a few thousand hardcore Apple fans so that they will feel more comfortable continuing to evangelize Apple's products for them.

1990 is calling -- it wants your DOS rant back.
posted by verb at 2:16 PM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


verb, HP has a zero-tolerance policy for child labour and had no cases of nonconformance in their most recent audits. But it's great that Apple is doing this work, too. Every company should be praised for doing this kind of work when governments are apparently willing to turn a blind eye.

Of course, the nature of the markets is such that there will always be some competitors willing to exploit labour to maximize profits without government regulation and enforcement. But this is better than nothing.
posted by mek at 2:24 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


verb, HP has a zero-tolerance policy for child labour and had no cases of nonconformance in their most recent audits. But it's great that Apple is doing this work, too. Every company should be praised for doing this kind of work when governments are apparently willing to turn a blind eye.

Thanks, mek. That's definitely great to hear. What staggers me is the "this is pointless and self-serving unless they get their competitors to do the same thing" reaction. HP is doing good, and that isn't nullified by the fact that they haven't managed to strong arm Dell into taking the same steps.

Walmart has crap labor policies and I don't shop there; their move to use energy efficient trucks for their shipping, though? Still a good thing, and one that I will praise happily. Walmart is actually a useful example: their power isn't in their ability to get competitors to do good things -- I worked in the grocery industry and watched the threat of Walmart drive companies to much LESS ethical and sustainable behavior to avoid getting steamrolled. Walmart's positive contributions come in the form of the requirements it puts on its own suppliers, who want to work with it rather than against it.
posted by verb at 3:02 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think we’ve established here many times that, as a person or other entity, it doesn’t matter if you do good things or change for the better. Unless you were always perfect you will always be evil, and all of your faults, past and present, must be pointed out if anyone tries to say otherwise.

Rules of the internet people, I don’t make them up.
posted by bongo_x at 4:17 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is very nice, and Apple seems to be genuinely committed to addressing this issue. The problem that remains is that not only the rest of the tech industry, but pretty much the rest of every industry makes stuff in China and other places without this kind of oversight, and few developed world consumers seem to be pushing them on it.

The problem is nobody really cares unless Apple's name is attached to it. Look at this very thread. Several sarcastic comments that probably spring from disappointment that this isn't another 'bash apple' thread.

This thread and the discussion would have gone much better had the company been called Mystery Company X instead of Apple. Then the discussion could have concentrated on the topic rather than the love/hate relationship people have with Apple.
posted by justgary at 4:45 PM on January 26, 2013


I think this is good news, and it would be great if Apple could incorporate this into their marketing somehow. Maybe it would help stamp out child labour for good.

Marketing could help reduce it, sure, especially by putting the onus on consumers: You have the choice between something made with a documented history of being as child-labor-free as possibly measurable (with serious consequences for offenders) or a generic computer, tablet, game console, etc. where you don't know where it was made or by whom. It will be interesting to see how consumers valuate the reduced cost of a computer made with child labor. How will people choose, now that they can't wipe their hands clean by blaming company X? Will lost sales push all the other technology companies to enforce the same standards? Or will Westerners still go with the cheaper option, which lets the other companies off the hook? I liken it to the choice between, say American Apparel and no-name t-shirts — the AA CEO is skeezy, sure, but at least the shirts aren't made in sweatshops, so it's understood to the consumer where the added expense goes, to some degree, compared with buying a three-pack from the dollar store, made by a 12-year old whose health is at risk from unregulated work conditions, who shouldn't even be in a factory in the first place.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:12 PM on January 26, 2013


I think we’ve established here many times that, as a person or other entity, it doesn’t matter if you do good things or change for the better. Unless you were always perfect you will always be evil, and all of your faults, past and present, must be pointed out if anyone tries to say otherwise.


I feel like that's a bit of an exaggeration. There may be a lot of critical comments here, but it is difficult to argue that Apple deserves a round of applause for simply not being harmful to people.
Here's my own exaggeration: If my neighbor continually let's his dog shit on my lawn and doesn't clean it up, I'm not going to give him a high-five if he finally cleans it up after I yell at him in front of everyone.
That said, it's also fair to say that corporations are like little children who need to be rewarded to encourage good behavior. The media is pretty much rewarding Apple now by running this story. Hopefully, this encourages other companies to stop harming people as well.
Many of us on Metafilter don't feel like rewarding corporations for not shitting on people's lawns, even though it doesn't exactly matter to the companies what we say about them. That's how I see it, at least.
posted by orme at 5:56 PM on January 26, 2013


Marketing could help reduce it, sure, especially by putting the onus on consumers

Fair Trade seems like a great idea to me. When it comes to child labor the focus may be better directed on agriculture where the worst child labor situations and general working conditions seem to exist - and on ways to address poverty in general.

Fair Trade and Child Labor
Agriculture is among the most dangerous industries in which children work.36 The National Center for Farmworker Health noted that children are often exposed to many risks in agriculture, such as ““long hours in scorching heat, hauling heavy loads, exposure to toxic pesticides and injury from sharp knives and other dangerous tools.””37
[...]
The cocoa industry, which is also a highly labor intensive agricultural industry,51 provides another troubling example of uses of the worst forms of child labor.52 A 2002 study estimated that over 600,000 children were involved in cocoa farming in Côte d’’Ivoire, the world’’s largest cocoa producer.53
[...]
Child labor decreased in Vietnam by 30 percent between 1993 and 1997 as the country’’s GDP grew by an average of 9 percent per year

Wikipedia:
Jeffrey Sachs: "My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops, but that there are too few."[29]

After the Child Labor Deterrence Act was introduced in the US, an estimated 50,000 children were dismissed from their garment industry jobs in Asia, leaving many to resort to jobs such as "stone-crushing, street hustling, and prostitution." UNICEF's 1997 State of the World's Children study found these alternative jobs "more hazardous and exploitative than garment production."[31]

Johan Norberg wrote, "But when I talk to a young Vietnamese woman, Tsi-Chi, at the factory, it is not the wages she is most happy about. Sure, she makes five times more than she did, she earns more than her husband, and she can now afford to build an extension to her house. But the most important thing, she says, is that she doesn't have to work outdoors on a farm any more... Farming means 10 to 14 hours a day in the burning sun or the intensive rain... The most persistent demand Nike hears from the workers is for an expansion of the factories so that their relatives can be offered a job as well."[35]
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:13 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like that's a bit of an exaggeration. There may be a lot of critical comments here, but it is difficult to argue that Apple deserves a round of applause for simply not being harmful to people.

In previous threads, the point was made many times that Apple should be held to a higher standard than everyone else in the industry because of their disproportionate influence on the supply chain, and their deeper profit margins. (ie, their ability to afford spending money on the problem rather than just shrugging and blaming tight margins). Predictably, now that they've started taking concrete steps in this regard it's dismissed as meaningless, pointless, just a "stunt," and unlikely to change anything other than the egos of "a few thousand Apple Fans."

I'd take those "never enough" folks more seriously if they started writing angry posts about Microsoft and Amazon now, instead of complaining that Apple should also change Amazon and Microsoft's behavior. I'm not suggesting they should wave palm fronds at Apple -- just pointing out the ridiculousness of the specific criticisms that have been leveled in this thread.


Here's my own exaggeration: If my neighbor continually let's his dog shit on my lawn and doesn't clean it up, I'm not going to give him a high-five if he finally cleans it up after I yell at him in front of everyone.

Well, an even bigger problem is that letting dogs shit on your lawn is standard practice for dog owners everywhere. There are a handful of people who go out of their way to avoid it, but it is -- effectively -- normative. In that environment, the guy down the street with fifty dogs putting up a fence and announcing that he's taking a bunch of deliberate steps to stop the practice is, at the very least, worth encouraging.

Or, you could yell at him for not cleaning up everyone else's dogs while he's at it.


That said, it's also fair to say that corporations are like little children who need to be rewarded to encourage good behavior. The media is pretty much rewarding Apple now by running this story. Hopefully, this encourages other companies to stop harming people as well.

Not necessarily. The Guardian, for example, is running the breaking news that "CHILD LABOR FOUND IN APPLE'S SUPPLY CHAIN!" and only mentioning in the fourth paragraph that Apple was the one that found it as part of its ongoing audit process, and that it was stopped.
posted by verb at 6:56 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


In previous threads, the point was made many times that Apple should be held to a higher standard than everyone else in the industry ...

Manufacture different.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:08 PM on January 26, 2013


Manufacture different.

Snark different.
posted by verb at 7:09 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


All right, I'll be explicit about what I'm saying. I'm glad to see Apple doing this, and hope others follow, either through a sense of corporate responsibility or consumer pressure. What bugs me is folks who are pro-Apple getting defensive about being held to higher standards than other companies. When you put Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi on your ads, claim them as your inspiration and ideal, you can't turn around and complain if people hold you to it.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:52 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


All right, I'll be explicit about what I'm saying. I'm glad to see Apple doing this, and hope others follow, either through a sense of corporate responsibility or consumer pressure. What bugs me is folks who are pro-Apple getting defensive about being held to higher standards than other companies. When you put Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi on your ads, claim them as your inspiration and ideal, you can't turn around and complain if people hold you to it.

I guess I've never found that kind of reasoning terribly convincing: it's the Ad Hominem Tu Quoque. While it might embarrass the odd fan whose personal identity is tied up in the business practices of their computer's manufacturer, it's too fluffy to support a real moral argument.

For example, Apple hasn't run the Think Different ads in more than a decade -- just a year after the iPod's introduction. Should they no longer be held to high standards, now that they're selling their products with appeals to fun and simplicity, rather than inspirational figures? I think Apple should be held to higher standards for simple, concrete reasons: their deeper margins, disproportionate influence in the supply chain, and premium brand perception give them breathing room and leverage that many other companies lack.

How far does that higher standard extend, though? What would constitute "going above and beyond" for Apple? What would be enough to "balance" things to the point that other tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon, operating on slimmer margins, should be called to the carpet as well? Because frankly, those companies aren't taking anywhere near the heat that Apple has. Fair or unfair, that's undeniable. It'd be ironic if Apple-hate kept attention focused on one company, ignoring the practices that many industry players benefit from. I mean, in this thread we've seen people insist that Apple is actually not accomplishing anything unless they get all of their competitors to change their business practices. Can't the same kind of consumer ire that was focused on Apple be brought to bear on those companies, too?
posted by verb at 9:10 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eh, kudos to apple for taking a stand and for taking more responsibility for its actions. Shame on the govt/congress for turning a blind eye to a real humanitarian problem made possible by what it allows. If it can track/enforce anti dumping measures, it should be able to atleast explore ways to curb this.
posted by asra at 9:18 PM on January 26, 2013


The idea that we should "hold companies to standards" through customer disapproval and that’s going to be our system is some sort of Libertarian daydream. I’m not saying we shouldn’t voice our disapproval, but let’s not pretend like it’s a system that works or makes sense.

Corporations make profits, products are a side effect, good deeds are completely optional. They don’t have any incentive, not should they be expected to do anything that isn’t completely related to making profits. Voicing disapproval to affect profits is a band-aid solution, like bribing an official. You may have to some places, and it may get the desired result sometimes, but isn’t what we should be shooting for or accept. We need to have laws that limit how corporations operate and enforce them. Not wait and see if people give them dirty looks.

I’m not going to hold Apple more responsible because they’re more successful. Everybody is supposed to follow the rules.
posted by bongo_x at 9:59 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Because frankly, those companies aren't taking anywhere near the heat that Apple has. Fair or unfair, that's undeniable.

Do you mean on a regulatory level? Only, it feels like this thread is now turning into a discussion about whether well-off consumers in the global north and west might be thinking harmful things about a particular device choice, rather than about child labor.

And, while casting a weather eye over comments on the Internet and concluding that people are being disproportionately mean to a given brand is certainly a thing that can be done, I don't think it's the same as gauging what regulations apply to companies and how effectively and rigorously they are being applied.

If Apple alone is taking action to combat the use of child labor* - whether because only Apple has the margins to be able to, or because only Apple is under pressure to do so, or indeed because only Apple cares enough about the children of the world - and the use of child labor by companies supplying Apple and other device sellers is widespread, and regulation lax enough that only optional auditing by the end sellers will uncover it, then the system is clearly broken. That is what should be addressed.

The complicity of individual companies' lobbying or practices in creating or perpetuating such a broken system is a complex issue, but it's also probably a level down from there.


*Which it is not, but let's roll with that worldview.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:40 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


They can't really do anything else; the story would otherwise be "Apple acknowledge use of child labour".
posted by jaduncan at 3:26 AM on January 27, 2013


people are being disproportionately mean to a given brand

The idea that consumers can take a bit more of an active role in their purchasing decisions shouldn't be controversial, no matter how much a certain group of people obsesses over hating company X. If consumers have no agency then the system is broken in more ways than one.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:08 AM on January 27, 2013


Let me get this straight. If Apple finds a child is working at one of their factories they make the factory release the child from working. They then pay for that child's education and continues to pay the child's salary.

??

So where is the incentive to reduce the number of children being forced to work in the factories. Seems such a deal would be a HUGE incentive to increase the number of children working. The factory hires the kid. Gets work done by inexpensive labor force, the benefit of small hands,etc. When and if Apple finds out (and if Apple takes too long, you just send off an anonymous tip) the family has just hit the lottery. No doubt the factory requires the family to agree to pay them a part of those lottery winnings when they hire the kid in the first place.

Am I missing something here?
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2013


Am I missing something here?

Yeah. The factory is best placed to stop child labour, and they are financially losing out so that it's no longer the cheapest option. They are probably not exactly teacher's pet at contract renewal either, having just internationally embarrassed their client. If they do it again they'll probably be left hoping they can sell the tooling to the new contractor.
posted by jaduncan at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apple requires the supplier to pay for the child's education and salary. In this particular instance they fired the supplier altogether and reported them to the labor agency.

Foxconn is one of the largest contract manufacturers of consumer electronics (and according to wikipedia the largest private-sector employer in China), and along with Quanta they probably assemble a huge percentage of all consumer electronics. They are Taiwanese based companies. If Apple is helping to install these practices universally at Foxconn and Quanta it could have a big impact on the industry overall. It is a bit disappointing that Apple is the only company doing the audits.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2013


It is a bit disappointing that Apple is the only company doing the audits.

I wonder why.

You proactively audit the supply chain, terminate relationships with suppliers that flaunt the rules about child labour and all you get is assholes turning your positive steps into a hit piece.
posted by Talez at 10:48 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, the supplier pays and risks losing the contract. Okay, that makes sense. I assumed Apple paid the fees. Yes, that would dramatically reduce the number of children hired. While from an American point-of-view that is a great and moral thing, I imagine it is looked at far differently from the view of a Chinese family who needs the income the child brings in.


I wonder what would be the reaction in America if China or some other country refused to buy meat/grain from any farm which made use of child labor.
posted by 2manyusernames at 10:51 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine it is looked at far differently from the view of a Chinese family who needs the income the child brings in.

I wonder what would be the reaction in America if China or some other country refused to buy meat/grain from any farm which made use of child labor.


Yes. The point I was trying to make before is I think international child labor law (or just labor law) is a complicated issue and you have to look at the whole picture, and that is the biggest potential problem I see with this. What if working for foxconn actually sets a better life course than the alternatives for some of these children, as well as their families?

As evil as this thought may be, it crosses my mind that if the global economy has a large incentive to use child labor, it may be creating an adverse incentive for some families to have more children, adding to overpopulation. Could child labor partially explain overpopulation in poor populations?

Child Labor Farm Rules Scrapped By White House Under Political Pressure
Facing political pressure from Republicans and farming groups, the White House has decided to scrap rules proposed last year that would have prevented minors from performing certain agricultural work deemed too dangerous for children.

Agricultural groups, including many farm bureaus, said they were worried that the restrictions would discourage youths from getting into the farming business.
The scary thing is if we are allowing agricultural child labor in U.S., imagine how bad child labor conditions may be in Africa and South America and other places that we never hear about.

Also, what happens to all of these workers after the robot apocalypse?
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:40 PM on January 27, 2013


Could child labor partially explain overpopulation in poor populations?

Given the one-child policy it's unlikely to be an issue in China; that said people have kids partly to help with subsistence farming in lots of places.
posted by jaduncan at 12:58 PM on January 27, 2013


Brandon Blatcher: Samsung had $8.27 billion in revenue.

Apple had $54.5 billion in revenue.

I supposed trouncing depends on how you look at things, but making almost six times as much in profit looks a helluva lot better from my mountaintop.
Reminds me of the "Cola Wars"... Somewhere in that period, a Pepsi exec wrote a story for Rolling Stone entitled, "The Other Guy Blinked", which was about Coke's HUMONGOUS marketing fuck-up in changing their original formula, and how Pepsi used that moment of weakness to roar past their ancient foe.

Only problem: Pepsi never roared past anything. Their market share bumped slightly upwards. Never came close to passing Coke's. The entire article was a marketing lie, pawned off as business journalism by Rolling Stone.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:39 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


A brief perusal of those links, or the financial reports on which they are based, or this thread, would show that Brandon was quoting Samsung's Q4 profits as revenues. His numbers are evidently and obviously wrong.

TBH, though, it is probably wise not to use top-line financials - even accurate ones - as either proof or refutation of Brand X "trouncing" Brand Y for anything other than one's own amusement. Margins, market share, unit sales, price per unit and ROCE are all slightly more sensible metrics, but not really relevant in a thread about child labor.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:46 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking of...

As evil as this thought may be, it crosses my mind that if the global economy has a large incentive to use child labor, it may be creating an adverse incentive for some families to have more children, adding to overpopulation. Could child labor partially explain overpopulation in poor populations?

There's a pretty common phenomenon in development studies where infant mortality drops and birth rate remains high for a period in countries with developing economies, creating a bulge in the population and often lowering living standards. Birth rates are related to education, availability of education and contraception and the dire calculation of how many children are expected to make it to adulthood.

However, I think there's a difference, I think, between child labor in subsistence farming (where the children are generally working at or near home to support their families' farming of their smallholdings) and child labor in factories. Apple's response - to demand that the supplier send the child to school - seems very apt, since one danger of child labor is that it perpetuates generations of children without education.

(Which is relevant to the robot apocalypse question - the utopian theory is that the workers move off the shop floor and become robot technicians. The reality is probably that a lot of people are dumped back into the labor market, and the best hope is that support professions around the factories can absorb some of them.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:08 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Ugh. Repetion central. Do not post without sleep or coffee. Or sleep.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:28 AM on January 28, 2013


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