Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

Summary: A second NYT article on Foxconn' Technology discusses the human cost of assembling iPads and iPhones. Is Apple morally obligated to move assembly jobs back to the U.S.? Can it afford to?

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TOPICS: iPad, Mobility
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Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

On January 21, 2012 The New York Times published an eye-opening story about how it isn't really practical for Apple to manufacture its gadgets in the United States ("How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work.")

The gist of the piece was that offshoring its manufacturing wasn't only about cheap labor (the conventional wisdom), but that it was more about intellectual capital and scale (and to a smaller extent, logistics). The central argument was that the U.S. simply didn't have enough engineers and skilled employees to build iPhones and iPads in the quantities that Apple required.

"What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?"

At a dinner with Silicon Valley CEOs eight months before his death President Obama reportedly asked Steve Jobs "What would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Jobs is rumored to have replied that "those jobs are gone."

A current Apple executive put things even more bluntly, saying:

"We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries, We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible."

On January 25, 2012 The Times published a scathing follow-up to the pro-offshoring article that was much more critical of the practice, focusing on the human cost of manufacturing gadgets overseas ("In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad.")

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records...

But it's not just Apple. According to the first NYT piece Foxconn Technology assembles roughly 40 percent of all consumer electronics, and counts among its clients: Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. There's a better-than-average chance that you're reading this on a machine assembled by Foxconn.

The second NYT article puts a human face on the quasi-anonymous machine that manufactures most of our gadgets "over there." It's an important read that adds much-needed context to human welfare issues that surround the growing tech industry -- and it ups the emotional and physical cost of the gadgets that we increasingly covet.

While not an excuse for poor working conditions or human rights violations it's important to remember that corporations are beholden to their shareholders and obligated to maximize profits. But at what cost?

Should Apple move its manufacturing onshore (back to the U.S.) if it means being less competitive?

Would you pay a premium for an iPad that was "Made in the U.S.A.?" (How much?)

Photo: Wired

Topics: iPad, Mobility

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  • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

    "The central argument was that the U.S. simply didn???t have enough engineers and skilled employees to build iPhones and iPads in the quantities that Apple required."

    Apparently skill isn't really needed, considering the working conditions of China.

    "What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?"

    What? Umm, have they checked unemployment and housing numbers recently? A dorm's better than nothing.

    "We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries, We don???t have an obligation to solve America???s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible."

    Hey, welcome to the standard selfish attitude of big business. My advice is to perhaps look at the top of large businesses for the reason why we're having such issues.

    "it???s important to remember that corporations are beholden to their shareholders and obligated to maximize profits."

    DING DING DING! THAT'S THE PROBLEM!

    We're not a nation driven by consumers. We're a nation driven by the stock market.
    CobraA1
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      @CobraA1 You couldn't have been more on target. Can Apple and others afford it? You bet! The one percenter stockholders might have to give up their third yacht and maybe their fourth home.
      augenj
    • Agree with this 100%

      @CobraA1: nt
      ye
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      @CobraA1 Well said! I fully agree with this.
      athynz
    • Bullseye!

      @CobraA1

      You'll have no argument from me!
      +1
      William Farrel
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      @CobraA1
      Yeah, that's why we need to get rid of regulation! Yeah, right! Well, that's what the Ronald Reagan/Newt Gingrich lead "Republican Revolution" told us, and the TEA partiers still seem to believe.
      Since the secularization of western society, with the application of modern secular humanist philosophy in all our universities, considering we live in a so-called "democracy" comprised of such individuals (imbued with this method of thinking), what would one expect?
      retmico
      • They didn't say get rid of all regulation.

        @retmico: [i]Yeah, that's why we need to get rid of regulation! Yeah, right! Well, that's what the Ronald Reagan/Newt Gingrich lead "Republican Revolution" told us, and the TEA partiers still seem to believe.[/i]

        And, to my knowledge, didn't suggest removing many of the regulations which would protect workers from these kinds of working conditions. So your post is nothing but a strawman.
        ye
      • And what is your alternative?

        @retmico <br>You really can't have a democracy unless citizens are free to discuss public policy and advocate what they want. The problem with "freedom for progressive speech only" is that someone has to decide which ideas are acceptable and which are not, and in practice, this always turns out to be a self-apponted cadre of Platonic guardians who end up allowing very little freedom of speech (or anything else) at all.<br><br>Response to Ye:<br><br>I haven't heard any mainstream politicians openly advocate sweatshops either. That said, there appear to be lots of libertarians and ultraconservatives who believe that an unregulated market makes abuse of workers impossible, together with some Randians who believe that poor people are lazy good-for-nothings who deserve what they get.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

        @retmico

        Clinton oversaw massive outsourcing and Glass-Steagall was repealed under his administration. This isn't a partisan thing. Everyone over there is corrupt. Reform is needed. Companies didn't move over there because it was cheaper to simply let your lab explode than to vacuum out the particulates left from the "glass" polishing. Increasing the minimum wage didn't fix anything either. Both sides are wasting time and money which are both increasingly in short supply.
        tkejlboom
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      @CobraA1 The corporation is a sovereign entity beholden unto itself and it's own interests. The shareholder is just another consumer to be exploited. The real problem lies with Washington's laisse-faire attitude and willlfull neglect of the law because they don't want to bite the hand that feeds them. Whatever corporations want they get , so long as they are willing to bribe who ever it takes to act in their interests and ignore what ever violations of any kind occur. Slavery is not dead , it's just been out-sourced. Apple tries to put a happy face on this, they have John Lennon smiling down at you at ever Apple Store.
      Apelles
    • Agreed

      @CobraA1

      I really liked the comment the CBS Sunday Morning Show had about the same story. Essentially, they said Apple was complaining about being in the spotlight on this... but they're in the spotlight because the general public sees them as [b]the[/b] leading manufacturer of consumer electronics. Kind of like how Microsoft was targeted years ago by the DoJ because they were the "leading" producer of PC operating systems, Apple is the leader in consumer electronics...and the leader is the one that has to deal with all of the crap before anyone else does.

      Not to mention that only 38% of Apple's suppliers met the standards that Apple supposedly "requires" of them when it comes to labor requirements (i.e. maximum hours worked per week, minimum age of workers, etc.). Yet they didn't include in their report any statement to the effect of, "The remaining 62% have either been dropped from our supplier list, or are being told we won't pay them until they shape up".
      spdragoo
      • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

        @spdragoo@... Apple is complaining...about the problem. They put it in the spotlight. They do reports at least twice a year indicating what problems still exist and their efforts to curb it (higher wages, no child labor, etc.). They publish their list of suppliers and encourage third party investigations, along with their own.<br><br>So please. If Microsoft acted half as diligently as Apple does they would not have been abandoned by the consumers and could rake in the money instead of begging enterprises to 'please don't go!'.
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      [i]Apparently skill isn't really needed, considering the working conditions of China.[/i]

      Sure, if you can find somebody here willing to work for $2 an hour. Then you'll compete.

      [i]What? Umm, have they checked unemployment and housing numbers recently? A dorm's better than nothing.[/i]

      I'm sure importing cheap, illegal aliens in from Mexico can do the job. After all, our sweatshops are better than their sweatshops. Right?

      [i]Hey, welcome to the standard selfish attitude of big business. My advice is to perhaps look at the top of large businesses for the reason why we're having such issues.[/i]

      You can ask Microsoft all about those H1B workers they import on the cheap. We don't want to give programmers [b]too much[/b] money now do we...

      [i]DING DING DING! THAT'S THE PROBLEM![/i]

      Does that only apply to Apple or are other [i](cough)[/i] unnamed corporations in it as well?

      [i]We're not a nation driven by consumers. We're a nation driven by the stock market.[/i]

      Well finally! Doh
      ScorpioBlue
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      @CobraA1 All nice on paper. Not Practical. The first is to understand that foxconn is a Chinese business located in China controlled by China. China has a chock full of laws regarding workers housing and hours of work. Something China enforces, not the US, Apple, Dell, Sony etc.. Ever wondered what the wages for those workers be if the returned to the rice fields and the reduced support for their families? Their work ethic are totally different from us. The laws, wages, housing and a host of other interference from Government and Unions had to be dealt with. With higher prices only a few would get it. Just walk around your home or office and see what American made product is there. Check your clothes shoes too. Look closely at the car parts too. Practically nothing. Did I miss something? The new Fancy TVs.
      fairplay500
  • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

    Living in dorms? 17-hour workdays? That's pretty close to slavery.

    I believe in real free-market capitalism, and I fully understand that corporations exist to make profits, but in a free market, consumers have the ability to refuse to buy products for any reason whatsoever. While Apple is not obligated to solve America's problems, Americans are. While I would prefer to see manufacturing in the USA, I draw the line at companies that are using contract manufacturers that treat their workers as slaves. My cheaper gadget isn't worth causing human misery. Yes, I will pay more--even much more--if I know that the people who are working to make it are working by choice and not force, are working in safe conditions and are allowed to sleep and see their families.

    So next time I buy a gadget, I will make sure it's not manufactured by Foxconn. That is, unless and until these huge companies, Apple, Amazon, etc., force Foxconn to abide by humanitarian standards in the workplace.
    vpcfo
    • The sad thing is Apple is not passing the savings on to you.

      @vpcfo: [i]Yes, I will pay more--even much more--if I know that the people who are working to make it are working by choice and not force, are working in safe conditions and are allowed to sleep and see their families.[/i]
      ye
      • I think you missed the boat... Yet again...

        @ye <br><br>By saying they are willing to pay more if a product is manufactured in this the US, they are by omission stating that Apple has already "passed the savings"... Sometimes I wish you would read what you write...<br><br>Those workers choose to work at FOXCONN. They can walk away at any time, they are not required to be there. It's low-end assembly line work and anyone can be trained to do it. They are willing to do it cheep and that is why 40% of consumer electronics are made by Foxconn and the remaining 60% are made by their local competition (in China).<br><br>I suspect that the majority of Foxconn workers don't have a lot of skills or options and would be flipping burgers otherwise. If you are willing to take a low paying job and live in a dorm, then I would say your options are not that great. We are also talking about a culture that throws away female infants. The men don't have much in the way of finding a date (unless you are a gay male), so it's no wonder they are depressed. <br><br>But acting all indignant and saying that you don't want an american company to try to be sucessful is ridiculous. If anyone of you invented something tomorrow that could make you a billion dollars, but it would only be possible if it was made in China, you would all jump at the chance. <br><br>Name one company that makes consumer electronics devices in the US... Didn't think so...<br><br>Why does it matter where electronic devices are assembled? All the parts are made in China, why not assemble them over there as well? You all think Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung and Sony should go out of business overnight by shipping low paying assembly jobs to the US? Dream on... LOL!!!

        Some day they will unionize and assembly will move to the next cheapest country... But until then, it will stay in China, (where they want it bad enough to make it work).
        i8thecat4
    • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

      @vpcfo [b]Living in dorms? 17-hour workdays? That's pretty close to slavery.[/b]

      No that's not slavery or even close. IF it was slavery then they would not be allowed to leave those dorms except to work, entire families would be working those lines from children old enough to walk to elderly who are able to walk. These people do have the freedom to walk out and try to find a job somewhere else if they so choose.

      I'm not defending the working conditions there - from what I have read IMHO they are horrible - but calling it slavery is inaccurate.
      athynz
      • That's why he qualified it with "pretty close to".

        @Pete "athynz" Athens: [i]m not defending the working conditions there - from what I have read IMHO they are horrible - but calling it slavery is inaccurate.[/i]
        ye
      • RE: Foxconn: Dangerous sweatshop or caring employer?

        @ye<br><br>Except that it is not "pretty close to" slavery. It's absolutely nothing like slavery. Slavery is about control. Some slaves lived lives of luxury but still had no control over their own lives. <br><br>They have the choice to quit and move on. They own property. There are no walls, barriers, chains, or slave-catchers. <br><br>What it IS similar to is the crappy conditions of pre-union industrialized nations.
        SlithyTove