The Apple Factory Responds
January 23, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

In a move seemingly inspired by the This American Life episode Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory (previously), Apple has released a list of its suppliers (PDF) around the world and is voluntarily allowing a third party to audit the working conditions at those factories and make the results available to the public. The third party will be the Fair Labor Association, who also monitor Nike, New Balance, and Adidas.
posted by gilrain (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Only the 1% have suppliers!
posted by michaelh at 4:34 PM on January 23, 2012


Seems like the best move of all would be to release a full list not only of the suppliers but also the actual locations of all factories who do work for Apple, and make it so that anyone, anytime, without announcement, can randomly drop in on any of those places around the globe and do their own de facto inspection and assessment of conditions.

I mean, if these audits proceed according to even internal corporate audits of conditions that I've been aware of, the date and time is known beforehand, and the facility being audited works hard to bring everything into compliance in time for the audit, no matter what the actual daily conditions are like.

That's not really a useful assessment, whether it's being done by an American corporation on their own facilities, or being done by a third party of overseas suppliers to a major corporation. It's surprising how many factories have rugs under which things can be swept when needed.
posted by hippybear at 4:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Seems like a re-tread of the same story, but it's worth at least including a link to their "supplier responsibility information. On there you can find the current and previous reports. They've been remarkably forthcoming, as I can't find any other company of their size providing this sort of information, given that every other electronics manufacturer uses Chinese labor.
posted by o0o0o at 4:36 PM on January 23, 2012


This is good news! Even if some feel it does not go far enough. Hopefully other companies will follow.

I have ulterior motives of course. I want to reduce my slavery footprint!
posted by greenhornet at 4:42 PM on January 23, 2012


Seems like the best move of all would be to release a full list not only of the suppliers but also the actual locations of all factories who do work for Apple, and make it so that anyone, anytime, without announcement, can randomly drop in on any of those places around the globe and do their own de facto inspection and assessment of conditions.

I agree it would be nice - but do you think your local supermarket / butcher / cafe / mechanics would let you turn up without announcement and assess the conditions in their back room?
posted by Jimbob at 4:45 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Among those who work for worker rights globally, the Fair Labor Association is considered to be in the pocket of the big brands, while the Worker Rights Consortium is truly independent. For example, a lot of anti-sweatshop activism on college campuses in recent years has focused on affiliating with the WRC instead of the FLA. Of course, something is probably better than nothing.

A couple of other points:
-This isn't just an Apple problem, it's a consumer electronics problem. It's more extreme with consumer electronics where there is pretty much no option to buy products made in countries with higher labor standards (unlike say apparel etc).
-Attacking just Apple, or a few high end (high profit margin) brands may improve conditions in some factories, but there will still be lower cost competitors producing the no-name products for Walmart etc, in deplorable working conditions.

My preferred approach would use international labor standards, especially as promulgated by the International Labor Organization (a UN agency which is actually much older than the UN). Broader ratification and enforcement of the so-called core labor standards would be a good start.
The four ILO core labor standards are:
1. Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
2. Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour.
3. Effective abolition of child labour.
4. Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

These four standards would be a good start.
posted by cushie at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2012 [19 favorites]


I found one essay I liked, To Get Our Economy Back Hold Cheaters, Fraudsters and Exploiters Accountable by Dave Johnson.

Basically it says that substandard working conditions abroad directly impact jobs in the US. American businesses can't compete with factories in China because they're undercutting our labor market by exploiting Chinese workers willing to put up with unsafe conditions. If Chinese factories worked under American labor standards, they would basically cost as much as US labor.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:09 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


And what will Apple actually do if the Fair Labor Association finds anything?

Find another supplier? Raise the prices on its products to cover the cost increases imposed by suppliers who will claim price per unit increases due to the cost of compliance?

What will any of the tech companies actually do? Are we too addicted to cheap shit that we will not countenance paying more for an ipad to rest easy in the knowledge that the person who built it only had to work an eight hour day and lives in humane conditions?

I am not optimistic - that said, I do think we should try and force our Western companies to hold their suppliers in Asia to the same labour standards we expect at home.
posted by awfurby at 5:12 PM on January 23, 2012


This is Ira Glass's finest hour since he launched Starlee Kine's career by mocking a sad old Hungarian lady.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


We're not addicted to cheap stuff, really. I mean, iPhones and other electronic stuff costs quite a bit, and there's a lot of profit being made. If it was about cheap stuff and cheap stuff only, people wouldn't pay the Apple premium.
posted by maxwelton at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Among those who work for worker rights globally, the Fair Labor Association is considered to be in the pocket of the big brands, while the Worker Rights Consortium is truly independent. For example, a lot of anti-sweatshop activism on college campuses in recent years has focused on affiliating with the WRC instead of the FLA. Of course, something is probably better than nothing.

I was quite involved in such things a decade ago and what I recall is that the view among activists was that being in the FLA was actually worse than nothing. It gave the appearance of dealing with workers' rights but didn't actually accomplish anything. My university, which had a huge contract with Nike, was willing to do just about anything to stay in the FLA and not get involved with the WRC.
posted by williampratt at 5:27 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, it's more than the other computer companies exploiting Chinese labor are doing. Good for Apple.
posted by JHarris at 5:29 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, I imagine this is actually in response to this New York Times Magazine story or perhaps the combined bad press.

I found the NYTM piece infuriating because of its apparent insinuation that Americans are lazy because they refuse to work 12 hour days and live in dorms. Shouldn't the complaint be that China doesn't protect its workers from abuse and indeed subsidizes these factories so that America is less competitive? Or that Apple uses slave-like labor to impose its insane deadlines on people for no reason other than it decided that these are the deadlines?

Shouldn't the outrage be that for a mere $65 more per already expensive product (most of it going to profit for the 1%, not to the production of the thing), we could have these jobs here and that by failing to impose decent labor standards as a requirement for American companies wherever they operate, we are exploiting foreign workers and simultaneously creating a race to the bottom that will ultimately destroy our own economy?
posted by Maias at 5:31 PM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


I agree it would be nice - but do you think your local supermarket / butcher / cafe / mechanics would let you turn up without announcement and assess the conditions in their back room?

A more realistic analogy would be whether my supermarket would give me the names of the product and animal farms from which they get what goes in their cases so I could drive out and take a look at conditions there.

Anyway, it's totally easy to look at the back room of a supermarket. You walk through those swinging doors and wander around. I've done it any number of times at a variety of places. People hardly ever say anything. They say even less if you have a clipboard in hand and look like you know where you're going. (It's the "the deliveryman is always invisible" syndrome. Great for wandering around office buildings, even ones under construction, no questions asked.)
posted by hippybear at 5:46 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is Ira Glass's finest hour since he launched Starlee Kine's career by mocking a sad old Hungarian lady.

"Sad old lady". You mean the one that was viciously spreading the lie that Starlee Klein was a drug dealer in an attempt to get her kicked out of her apartment?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2012


One fact I learned reading Apple's Supplier Responsibility page is that workers at supplier factories only have to work 10 hours a day 6 days a week....unless there are "emergency or unusual circumstances". I don't know exactly how or when it happened, but we didn't have to send manufacturing jobs to totalitarian states, it was a choice that was made.
posted by chrismc at 6:42 PM on January 23, 2012


I don't know exactly how or when it happened, but we didn't have to send manufacturing jobs to totalitarian states, it was a choice that was made.

Because Unions are Evil and Wrong. Period, full stop.
posted by eriko at 7:02 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Again with this nationalistic framing of the issue. Some if you seem to think the whole problem would be fixed if the jobs came back to America and those Chinese went back to their dirt poor villages where they belong. How dare they want US manufacturing jobs, right, don't they know white people need them?

Agitate for humane labor standards, yes. But dont run this lie that these exploited Foxconn workers would be better off without jobs at all.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:21 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given the fact that anything is even being made about it, it seems a fairly safe (and perhaps disappointing) assumption that Apple is among the better, if not the best, manufacturers who have stuff made in China, at least as far as this kind of thing is concerned. You don't really hear about, say, Microsoft's response to the Xbox assembly line workers threatening mass suicide or anything like that. It's important to remember that we aren't talking about just one company, but rather nearly every electronics company, when we talk about factory conditions in China. Apple's just the most prominent brand, because nobody's going to say "oh man Dell we expected better of you."

Would be really cool if they could figure out a way to bring the manufacturing to the US, though. Would require a huge amount of infrastructure being laid out but if any company's got the cash to do it it's Apple (and then the fans would have every right to act legitimately smug as hard as they wanted to, at least for a while).
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:31 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


But dont run this lie that these exploited Foxconn workers would be better off without jobs at all.

I just think that products sold in the US, especially ones that used to be made here, should have to be made under standards that reasonably match US health, safety and environmental protection laws. Otherwise US workers aren't competing on a level playing field. Suggesting that people are saying foxconn workers would be better off with no jobs at all seems like a red strawman.
posted by chrismc at 7:32 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shouldn't the complaint be that China doesn't protect its workers from abuse and indeed subsidizes these factories so that America is less competitive?

I'd've thought the complaint would be that those work practices are terrible for the employees. I've no idea why American competitiveness would come into the question. If Apple were forced to improve working conditions, I expect they've a laundry-list of countries they'd move production to before considering the US.
posted by pompomtom at 7:32 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agitate for humane labor standards, yes. But dont run this lie that these exploited Foxconn workers would be better off without jobs at all.

The issue is not that Americans want Chinese people to have a lower standard of living. The issue is that major corporations want everyone to have a lower standard of living so they can push up their profit margins. According to an article last year in the Atlantic, an iPad 2 manufactured in the United States would land roughly at $620 for the model that sells for $729. But when it's made in China, Apple sees a profit margin of 50%. If it was made in America it would be about 15%. (Again, these numbers could be completely off, but they seem reasonable enough given that Apple has a hundred billion dollars sitting in a bank, doing nothing.)

What's funny about that is that 8-12% is the absolute maximum you can make as a reseller of Apple products, excluding their AppleCare warranties. So while they tell small private businesses that a 10% margin is plenty, they don't settle for less than 40-50% of most of the products they sell. They could raise the price by $100 for each iPad, have them made in a country that mostly respects worker rights, the environment, and freedom of expression, and still have enough margin for resellers, and still be making billions of dollars in profit every year. But it's not enough for them. And technically, when it comes to either providing a better working environment for their employees or making a profit, they are bound to protect shareholder value unless they can make a convincing case that doing so would be more harmful to the bottom line in the long run.

(I'm talking about Apple because I used to work for a reseller and that's who the thread is about. It seems that pretty much every American electronics company suffers from the same shortcomings.)
posted by deanklear at 8:23 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


odinsdream, that was my point. Every one of these stories has been framed as "the Apple factory," not the "everything-you-own-that-runs-on-DC-power factory," which is far, far more accurate a portrayal.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:34 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Agitate for humane labor standards, yes. But dont run this lie that these exploited Foxconn workers would be better off without jobs at all.

American jobs shifting back here (if they even did so - I suspect that even with improved workplace standards Chinese labor would remain cheaper) to the US would barely fucking constitute a blip on the Chinese economy's steady rise. The growing domestic market comprised of their emerging middle class, as well as the wider East Asian consumer economy, would continue to provide solid employment for Chinese labor. The idea that the only choice is between shitty Foxconn sweatshops or "back to the dirt poor villages" is ridiculous.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:39 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The FLA is not an independent third party. The definition of "independent" excludes a group that is funded by the industry itself.
posted by latkes at 10:23 PM on January 23, 2012


I found the NYTM piece infuriating because of its apparent insinuation that Americans are lazy because they refuse to work 12 hour days and live in dorms. Shouldn't the complaint be that China doesn't protect its workers from abuse and indeed subsidizes these factories so that America is less competitive? Or that Apple uses slave-like labor to impose its insane deadlines on people for no reason other than it decided that these are the deadlines?

Not to mention the articles ridiculous rebranding of line managers to 'engineers' and just gliding past the inexplicable hiring requirement that they have more than high school and less than a degree. No shit the US can't provide 9000 people with arbitrary qualifications enabling them to do a specific job at the precise price point their corporate goldilockean overloads want them at.

That piece was the kind of truthiness reach-around that the New York Times is becoming infamous for. Fortunately, they are dumb enough to include the internal contradictions so that a smart reader can smell the pigs living beneath the floorboards.
posted by srboisvert at 1:35 AM on January 24, 2012


Way to go Daisey and This American Life!!!
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:52 AM on January 24, 2012


From the first link:

I ran all this by Mike Daisey, and here’s what he had to say:

"Apple has released a list of its suppliers, but it still hides the companies it audited with anonymity. This makes it impossible to learn anything new about what is going on in Apple's supply chain, to verify anything, or hold anyone responsible. The FLA will audit a tiny percentage of Apple's factories, and also won’t make public which factories they audit.

If Apple would spend less energy finessing its public image, and instead apply its efforts to real transparency and accountability, it could be a true leader for the electronics industry. Apple today is still saying what it said yesterday: trust us, we know best, there's nothing to worry about. They have not earned the trust they are asking for."


redux: Status quo with Apple, now with a dash of PR spin
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:43 AM on January 24, 2012



Because Unions are Evil and Wrong. Period, full stop.


Truth told, the unions had a hand in their own demise, what with the corruption and bad management and just fecklessness over the past couple decades.

Look, I know full well from personal experience what good Unions are capable of.

That said, ideologically, unions should be superfluous. The party that should have come to my father's aid in that situation should have been the state. The company my father worked for broke the law - if he had stolen 20 dollars from them, the state would have prosecuted. That company stole his entire pension and the state's response was "erm, that's a civil matter."

It's a fucked up state of affairs.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:06 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Class Warfare and Revolution (Circa 1850) - "The rise of the capitalist class during the Industrial Revolution is well known... But less considered is the other tail of the distribution, the downward spiral of what today might be termed the middle class. The story of the steel-driver John Henry's race with the steam hammer is a type for the plight of English laborers overrun by the Industrial Revolution. Labor was caught in the sea-change of new technologies and economic organization. Hand work could not compete with the machines... Obviously, the Industrial Revolution ultimately increased prosperity, but for a time it made a wide swath of the populace worse off... the plight of the farmers and hand laborers descended with a vengeance on their children. Many landed in parish poorhouses, and it didn't take long before the factories discovered this fresh new source of labor. They began taking the poorhouse children as 'apprentices', signing indentures with their stewards... The actual working hours in the factories in the earlier part of the 19th century were a technology-assisted twelve to fourteen hours a day; gas lights illuminated the factories and steam power worked without tiring. When the factory was running at full capacity the children were employed in two shifts, one in the day and another in the night. It was said that 'their beds never got cold', one shift climbing into bed as the other got out. There was no effort to provide them with any training, nor education, nor time for recreation... The job creators, with the prosperity of England no doubt foremost in their minds, lobbied against the hand of regulation and labor reform. Their points were three-fold: First, that abolishing child labor would harm those who promoted job creation and productivity. Manufacturers opposed the child labor laws as an unjust interference with their business, an unnecessary and burdensome obstacle to their success, and a threat of ruin to the class who provided employment to so many laborers and created the productive engine that was the source of commerce for the country. Second, that if child labor were restricted England would be placed at a competitive disadvantage. This would not only affect the capitalist class, but affect the size of the pie to be distributed, and thus ultimately trickle down to affect the working class itself. Third, that at a more fundamental level government regulation should be broadly cast aside because it was detrimental to competition and essential freedoms: freedom of labor, freedom of capital, and freedom of contract. If the employer and the employee were both satisfied with the conditions of their labor, why should the government interfere?"
posted by kliuless at 9:05 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


anyone, anytime, without announcement, can randomly drop in on any of those places around the globe and do their own de facto inspection and assessment of conditions.

This would never ever happen because of the risk of corporate espionage. The company I work for, which designs equipment for industrial applications, is locked down specifically for this reason. Woe is the employee that leaves their security badge on their nightstand.
posted by desjardins at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2012


In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad (NYT)
posted by MegoSteve at 4:56 AM on January 26, 2012


More evidence that there needs to be better (enforced) comprehensive regulation- people are lining up to work for Foxconn as the hiring season starts. This implies that they are considered a good employer, providing desirable jobs.
posted by cushie at 1:25 PM on January 31, 2012


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