Pogue on Foxconn: hey, at least it's not rice farming or prostitution!

A job seeker yawns as he queues outside Foxconn recruitment center in Shenzhen, Guangdong province February 22, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Tan

New York Times tech columnist David Pogue sure has an interesting take on the Foxconn/worker's rights debacle.

One point I agree with: it's a mistake to focus solely on Apple. Many, many Western technology companies work with Foxconn, and with factories where conditions are worse. From the January 25 NYT piece on Foxconn:

Foxconn Technology [is] China’s largest exporter and one of the nation’s biggest employers, with 1.2 million workers. The company has plants throughout China, and assembles an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics, including for customers like Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Nokia and Samsung.

Let that sink in. Foxconn outputs nearly half of all the world's consumer electronics.

Few tech companies have taken the kinds of early steps Apple has to try and improve matters, and share information about the process.

And while Pogue doesn't explicitly address this point, I'll throw it out there: cheap overseas labor in rotten conditions with poor labor law standards are part of what keeps gadget prices where they are. If we mean what we say about wanting better lives for the men and women who make our consumer electronics, are we willing to change consumer culture, and pay more? I'm not optimistic.

What do you think? And is there *any* reality-based model that could lead to some of those manufacturing jobs coming back to the US (or, name your labor-friendly nation here) in our lifetimes? Again, I'm not optimistic.

Edit: Here's an Economist item about the Pogue column, and reactions focused in the study of global economics. Economics consultant Adam Ozimek has a thoughtful reaction to the Pogue column here, focusing on labor laws, and what factors motivate change. And Mike Daisey has quite a rant here. He's the author and monologist behind "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." I'll post other interesting pieces here, pro or con, as they bubble up.

Update: Responding to a portion of this post, Pogue points me to "The Dilemma of Cheap Electronics," another recent column in which he addressed the "why our gadgets are cheap" issue relative to labor costs and standards. Snip:

That Chinese workers are paid less than American workers is no big shock. We’ve known that forever. That’s why everybody outsources to China in the first place. There’s a long list of Chinese manufacturing costs that are lower than American manufacturing costs: hourly employee rates, worker benefits, taxes, the cost of power, buildings and equipment, and more.

Bringing workplace standards and pay in Chinese factories up to American levels would, of course, raise the price of our electronics. How much is hard to say, but a financial analyst for an outsourcing company figures a $200 iPhone might cost $350 if it were built here.

Do we care enough about Chinese factory conditions to pay nearly twice as much for our phones, tablets, cameras, TVs, computers, GPS units, camcorders, music players, DVD players, DVRs, networking gear and stereo equipment?

Not everybody will say yes.

But suppose they did. How would we get there? Which electronics brand would jump first?

Related viewing: This ABC Nightline episode, inside Foxconn.


  1. This is a tough one, considering that the computer I’m typing this on and what most people are reading this on, and the servers that make it available to the Internet in general, were probably all built in the same or worse conditions in China.

    How can we force Apple and others to allow Chinese workers to organize for better conditions? Can we, at all? Probably not.

    How can we force the Chinese government to at least provide somewhat better conditions, via Apple? Probably the best and only option is switching to other countries that presumably treat their workers better – South Korea, perhaps?

    Or we could have the stuff made in the US. I’d be willing to pay more for that – but I may be a rarity as I don’t buy new gear all the time.

    1.  A fair amount of stuff is made in South Korea (including gadgets and things you’d normally expect to come from China) but their standard of living is closer to Japan than China, and so costs of manufacturing most things are enormous compared to China.

    1. In this “iFactory” exposé from ABC News, they ask the top guy at Foxconn about doubling the worker’s pay.  The answer he gives may very well surprise you.

      Here’s the entire episode:

      I bet it would be a very minimal increase in the individual cost of an iPad or cut minimally into all the billions Apple is hoarding like scrooge-ass gold mongers.

      I do feel like there’s some mindless Apple bashing going on instead of focusing on the bigger picture, but I’m very happy that Americans are finally (FINALLY!) showing more interest in how our products are made.

      If you are a successful American, you are not a self-made person.  You were helped along the way by the labor of the poor from other countries.  If this fact makes you uncomfortable… GOOD.  Or, if this fact pisses you off, you’re probably a conservative.

          1. You know, how just being born in the US gives you this magical privilege above people that were born in other countries; even though you can end up just as poor as them.

          2. I challenge you to find a job in the USA that pays less than two dollars an hour without tips, etc. – And, to be without work in the USA certainly doesn’t always mean certain death like it does in other parts of the world.

            I don’t think being born in the USA automatically makes you a “bad person”, but you should definitely appreciate what you have nonetheless. And, even if all you have is very little, it’s still made possible by the sweat and tears from people in other lands. I’m sorry if the truth hurts, but we all should face it.

            I’d like to see American society evolve where most of us become more self-aware of our surroundings and our place in this world. At this point, all of humanity’s survival may depend on it.

  2. One question I haven’t seen asked by anyone yet is this: How much, exactly, of a unit’s cost is represented by the type of assembly work done by Foxconn and other manufacturers? What would that cost be if that work was done by US workers instead, low-but-not-quite-poverty wages (let’s say $10-15/hr)?

      1. Do you have a cite for that?

        A tractor-trailer rig has a max weight of 80,000 pounds in the US.  Let’s assume a 53′ intermodal (doesn’t get any heavier) and you’ve got 11,000 lbs of container weight, 9,000 of chassis weight, and 20,000 lbs of truck weight (assuming double-bunk sleeper).  That leaves 40,000 of product.

        To make the math easier we’ll go with the low-end of long-haul truck fuel economy, 5 mpg.  We’ll also assume the iProducts are traveling a long fricking way, from the port in Oakland, CA to Bangor, ME (3350 miles).

        That’s 670 gallons of fuel.  $3350 at a high diesel price of $5 a gallon.  Add $650 (way high) for driver compensation (which covers vehicle depreciation and maintenance) and we’ve got a high-end price of $4000 for the trip.

        So we’re talking ten cents a pound to move things across the country in the least efficient manner possible.

        So I just don’t see how transportation is anywhere near wages.  A 2lb iPad box costs twenty cents to truck across the USA, and far less than that to cross the ocean (bunker fuel is very cheap and someone with an iPad box will need to measure it, but Apple’s likely paying $20 per cubic meter or less).

        If wages are $2 an hour, and shipping is (rounded up) @0.25 is there really less than 7.5 minutes of human time involved in an iPad creation?  I don’t know but I doubt it.

        1. Truckers make under $650 for driving a distance that would require five eleven-hour days at an average speed of 60 mph?  That would barely make a dent in their Preparation H budget.

          1. That’s 19 cents a mile on top of fuel cost.  Truckers don’t make much and all my research suggests that is actually on the HIGH end of trucker pay.

            I did fail to account for the other costs of a truck besides fuel and driver, but looking up some other numbers to strengthen the point I don’t see much suggestion of going above $1.50 per mile as a cost. That would make the total cost ~ $5000, still under $0.13 per pound delivered in the least efficient, most expensive manner possible shy of air freight.

          2. I’m wondering where you’re getting your research.  I’m not a trucker and I don’t personally know any, but brief Googling reveals that an owner/operator working under a net-lease contract can expect 60 cents per mile, with all fuel, oil, and licensing costs paid for by the company he drives for.  That’s apparently the high end, since I expect most drivers are company drivers, not owner/operators.  Those rigs can cost six figures when reasonably newish, and a job that pays under $34,000 a year (that would be 52 uninterrupted weeks of driving at least 3,350 miles every week for $0.19/mile, which again would require 56 hours of driving at a (woefully optimistic) average of 60 miles per hour) would be hard-pressed to finance a used Honda Civic, let alone a ten-year-old Mack, unless the driver has no permanent address other than the sleeper behind his cab.  My brief poking around seems to indicate that long-haul truckers usually make between $40k-$50k per year, which would indicate a weekly paycheck of between $800 and $1,000 before taxes.  I guess that’s not bad if you’re living in the truck for weeks on end and have no family or mortgage to support.

            This doesn’t shoot your overall point in the foot, of course.  It’s just that 19 cents per mile comes out to $11.40 per hour at 60 miles per hour, and you’d be better off flipping burgers at In-N-Out for that kind of money.

        2. This sidebar on transportation costs has focused only on domestic logistics. The bulk of transportation costs when manufacturing in China is getting the stuff here, the domestic shipping costs are nothing. Domestic costs only rise when the product lingers in a distribution center too long and is not racking up shelf time in a store. I’ve only manufactured clothes in China and not gadgets, but there are all kinds of overseas shipping costs and especially duty. Duty rates can be up to 30% of your per piece cost, depending on what it is and what duty category it falls into. And that’s going by boat, which is roughly a 30 day transit time. If demand warrants you to expedite your product from China by air, the transportation costs can be astronomical.

  3. People go after Apple on this because it’s the only company on this list with an aspirational image, though maybe some of the others would like to pretend they have one. Perhaps Nintendo. When you’re living the Apple Life (TM) you’re buying into the narrative of Apple as a special visionary company and by association you the user as a special visionary person. That doesn’t go so well with child slavery. If you’re using an HP laptop then who cares?

    1. Child slavery?  You have evidence that child slaves are making Apple products? Do tell!  I look forward to your links/evidence of this heinous, factual accusation.

        1. You’re being self-righteous and that’s not helping anything…

          Another option is to look at wider facts and evidence despite being a rabid Apple hater. Many imported American products are made from basically slave labor (children and otherwise) and I’d love to know what computer and peripherals YOU utilized to make your self-righteous post with. Foxconn is responsible for far more products than just Apple and there’s far worse factories than Foxconn for other imported goods as well.

          It’s been time for a long time for Americans to look in the mirror and that would include YOU, oldtaku. Apple is the current popular punching bag, but what I fear is all the worse atrocities won’t be addressed if and when Apple cleans up its act with Foxconn. Apple is only the small tip of the humongous iceberg.

          There is, indeed, suspicion that Foxconn uses interns as young as 16 years old and it might be compulsory internships where the interns have to intern in order to get their diplomas. There’s also allegations that the interns were hidden away before CBS and the Fair Labor Association inspectors arrived. If this is proven to be true (it hasn’t yet, by the way), then Apple needs to make amends to all these interns and their families to set an example.

          If the FLA doesn’t aggressively investigate these allegations, then we should all completely discount the FLA especially considering they accept money from the corporations they are investigating.

          But at this point, to state unequivocally that Apple uses “child slaves” diminishes the fact that goods imported into the USA are actually already proven to be made by child slaves far under the age of 16 in far worse conditions.

          My point is…

          As Americans, we are ALL “down in it” whether we use Apple products, Dell computers or otherwise. We are all responsible as Americans for creating harm in this world and focusing only on Apple will be a travesty and a LIE. As I’ve said many times before, I’m happy that Americans are finally looking at how our products are made, but these issues aren’t going to be solved by pointing fingers at each other… We need to take those shaky, self-righteous fingers and bend them towards OURSELVES.


          Chastising Apple alone (and being self-righteous towards people that use Apple products) doesn’t cut it. If you truly want to see a smarter, more ethical America then support the OWS movement and keep pushing our country towards real, systemic change: http://occupywallst.org/donate/

          1.  I’m not a rabid Apple hater. I own an iPad. I bought my parents a Mac. But I’m not so invested in the company that I can’t think straight.

            My original post wasn’t even a criticism of Apple, it was a backhanded compliment – that they were the only one of the companies using Foxconn that might even consider the issue a problem. But that doesn’t play into your personal narrative of poor imperiled Apple righteous alone against the evil threatening barbarian hordes like me – in that context their motives and actions have to be unimpeachable, so you leaped to their defense where none was needed, and now you’ve made Apple look far worse than anything I’ve ever said about them did.

            I’d really like you to consider just why you are so invested in a corporation (even a very good one), just what you’re defending here,  and why you are defending it so fanatically. Your reply here is just ridiculously vehement – at least a couple milli-TimeCubes. I’m pretty sure that if this comment system allowed more fonts and multiple underlines they would have been be utilized. Calm down. Think

          2. My original post wasn’t even a criticism of Apple, it was a backhanded compliment

            So the child slavery part was a compliment. Er, ok…

            that they were the only one of the companies using Foxconn that might even consider the issue a problem.

            You didn’t say that

            that doesn’t play into your personal narrative of poor imperiled Apple righteous alone against the evil threatening barbarian hordes like me

            That’s your made-up story, not mine.

            in that context their motives and actions have to be unimpeachable

            You should really calm down and read my posts. I’ve said nor implied anything like that. You’re just making shit up at this point.

            so you leaped to their defense where none was needed, and now you’ve made Apple look far worse than anything I’ve ever said about them did.

            I haven’t made Apple look like anything. They are a separate entity from me and I’m not Tim Cook. Apple’s reputation will stand on its own no matter what I say.

            I’d really like you to consider just why you are so invested in a corporation

            I’d really like you to read my posts in this thread and then ask me again how invested I am in any corporation.

            why you are defending it so fanatically.

            Ironically, it’s you being fanatical, not me. You make dire charges of child slavery without context. I just said that at this point it’s only alleged and not proven. That’s not fanatical, that’s factual.

            Calm down. Think

            Quit projecting.

            Earlier you said:

            When you’re living the Apple Life (TM) you’re buying into the narrative of Apple as a special visionary company and by association you the user as a special visionary person.

            You see, I don’t live the Apple Life (TM) and so I don’t buy into any narrative that I’m a special, visionary person because of the computer I use. You seem to want to paint fictional narratives of people and then when confronted with facts, you want to jump on them like a crutch.

            You’re actually talking to someone who has been trying to switch to Linux for years – how does that fit into your narrative?

            Look, you missed my point. You should go back and read what I said. My point isn’t to defend Apple, as a matter of fact I helped to bring this Foxconn shit to the public in the early stages by joining petitions against Apple. My point, once again, is that all this vitriol for Apple isn’t going to do jack shit if we don’t ALSO look at the bigger picture and work for systemic change in how we interact with the rest of the world.

            Once again, go back and read what I’ve said throughout this thread and please… think.

    2. “When you’re living the Apple Life (TM) you’re buying into the narrative of Apple as a special visionary company and by association you the user as a special visionary person. That doesn’t go so well with child slavery. ”

      VERY GOOD. If you are a propagandist, and you want to discredit and destroy Apple, then you want to attack the bond between the customer and Apple. That bond, for some, is the feeling that Apple is more than just another corporation. That there is a spiritual vision directing the company. That is what is under attack, by very professional people. 

      1.  A bond? Between a person and a brand?

        You may as well surrender your free will while you’re at it. You are not the brands you buy. Don’t ever forget that. Say it to yourself a few times if you must. But don’t ever forget it.

      2.  I don’t see this as outcry some conspiracy against Apple. I think the earlier poster was quite right about Apple being the company who’s aspirational image is most at odds with the ugly reality of current global capitalism.

        It IS an ugly contrast. And it is something we can and will make better.

  4. I say forget about these issue about workers rights (it is after all in another country), it is a non-issue, what is the real problem facing Tim Cook, is how to spend that $98Bn cash pile Apple has accumulated.

    7 billion ice cream cone, for every person on this planet, happiest place in the galaxy earth will make.

  5. Yes.  Yes I am willing to pay more for a product that is made under better conditions. The extra cost, by the way, comes not from the increase in salary because most of these people’s pay is already so low. Rather the extra cost comes in enforcing the standards. After all, it is easier to charge more an pocket it than it is to enforce better working conditions.

  6. Pogue’s message, as far as I can tell, is that it’s overly simplistic to look at something like manufacturing in China without considering the overall context of the society in which it’s happening.

    So let’s play some what-ifs. What if–overnight–we pulled all manufacturing out of China, and back to western countries with proper worker’s rights etc.? Sure, stuff would cost more. Ignoring that, what would happen in China? Would the lives of those people who were working in these now empty factories improve?

    Obviously, it’s not an all-or-nothing situation like that. Ideally, as western consumers we use publicity and public pressure to try to force as many improvements as possible in the country in which our goods are being produced. All that money is a lever with which to try to create some real and lasting improvements in people’s lives.

  7. I suspect this is an ethics-related Astro-Turf campaign on Apple.  I am sure Nike, Starbucks, and the action-figure “industrial complex” are sinners too whether it be Chocolate slaves in Africa, shoe factories in Malaysia, and poly-vinyl-chloride smokestacks in some area of China I cannot pronounce.

    Paul Krugman said this about sweatshops: “…While fat-cat capitalists might benefit from globalization, the biggest beneficiaries are, yes, Third World workers. […] And yet, wherever the new export industries have grown, there has been measurable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. …”  — Slate Magazine:   

    Yes, they are summarily slaves, but so were the South Koreans and the Japanese 50-years ago and they rose up out of the slums.

    1. re: “Yes, they are summarily slaves, but so were the South Koreans and the Japanese 50-years ago and they rose up out of the slums.”

      Mark my words, in 50 years Africa will be the new China and it will lead to the most stability the continent has ever seen.

      1.  If so, that has the potential to be truly beautiful in the longer run of 50 years…that is going to be uncomfortably close to slavery for a while though.

    2. That time frame would be about 100 years (give or take) for Japan, which is when the reforms of the Meiji restoration went into full effect and Japan became an industrialized country. Of course WW2 was disastrous but the same is true for much of Europe and you wouldn’t have called them “slaves” back then…

    3. Chinese mortality actually fell a great deal under Maoism, even with all the damage it caused. I suspect many would take this more as a sign that sometimes things are so bad anything will improve them, and less that Maoism was a good way to treat people. I’m not sure the sweatshops raising wages isn’t the same thing.

      Krugman is right in this: sweatshop labor can be a positive when there are no realistic alternatives. But in cases where that involves leaving people in such poor conditions they routinely die from them, maybe we could be at least a little concerned about helping make alternatives more realistic? And I’m not sure companies doing all they can to exploit cheap workers are necessarily encouraging that.

      In the link Daisey notes “workers choices in a broken system with very little personal freedom, and very restrictive economic choices, are not excuses for corporate malfeasance.” It bears repeating.

      1. I wish we would export our traditions and morals when we export jobs but I suppose the whole purpose of outsourcing to another country is to render any and all ethics null and void and replace both with dollars and cents.

        1. I wish we would export our traditions and morals when we export jobs

          Honestly, I think we did.  The preacher at my church likes to point out that everyone who buys something that’s too cheap to have been built without pollution and slave labor knows exactly what they are sponsoring, they are just choosing not to think about it.  That is our moral framework, right there.

  8. While callouse – the guy has a point. These people are making more money than they would doing anything else around them. Is it a good wage? Probably not. Does the work suck? Probably. Whose job doesn’t suck? Are there other less-sucky jobs? No, or they’d be working there.

    At any rate, lets say you doubled everyone’s salary. Now your Ipod costs $50 more. (or what ever gadget/price you think of). The factory down the street will laugh at you, shake their heads, and move in on their market by under cutting them.

    We are a bit spoiled here in the west. Well, a lot spoiled. Even the drudgery of working at Walmart pales in comparison. But if they worked like we did – what would be the benefit of shipping shit out of China? None. China knows this as well, which is why the gov. hasn’t made them raise salaries etc. If a guy in China makes “X” amount of dollars, it becomes cheaper and easier to just have what ever widget they are making made here. That would be a good thing for us, bad for China, and bad for the poor as everything costs much more.

    1.  I think one of the reasons people target Apple specifically is because Apple products are perceived by many to be overpriced, and that the people who buy them aren’t that concerned about the price. I don’t think that’s true (I bought my macbook pro because it was the best machine available and wholly worth the cost… and I had to fret over the price quite a bit) but it is true that someone who is choosing a computer or gadget with price as their primary concern will essentially never choose Apple.

      Every one of their competitors (essentially) makes things based on how cheap they are to manufacture, and so they don’t have any room to increase factory wages or improve conditions because they’ll lose their price-focused customers – to whichever company doesn’t care about working conditions and thus can charge less.

      So Apple is in a unique position to do something about this, and by doing so they can help push better practices as an industry standard. Since everyone copies Apple (exaggeration), they’ll eventually be forced by the market to copy Apple’s better manufacturing practices as well.

    2. At any rate, lets say you doubled everyone’s salary. Now your Ipod costs $50 more.

      Citation needed.  Judging by material already posted on this thread this is an order of magnitude higher than in real life.

  9. “What do you think? And is there *any* reality-based model that could lead to some of those manufacturing jobs coming back to the US (or, name your labor-friendly nation here) in our lifetimes? Again, I’m not optimistic.”

    I agree with the article.  Hate to be very cynical, but I think for some people this seemingly unsolvable problem is an endless source of publicity.

  10. I don’t think one can fairly call Mike Daisey’s response to David Pogue a “rant.”  It’s a rebuttal.  He’s exasperated, but he’s not shouting or name-calling or cursing out Pogue.  Instead, Daisey calmly takes apart some of the unstated assumptions in Pogue’s column.  It’s worth reading.

      1. I totally get that, and I too am pro-rant.  :-)   I just feel the specific post you linked was not a rant.  A rant, to me, is full of invective and emotion and rhetoric, this was more point by point dismantling of an argument.  My comment was intended along the lines of “It’s an error to describe this as an oil painting, I believe it’s actually a watercolor.”

    1. estragon wrote: “Instead, Daisey calmly takes apart some of the unstated assumptions in Pogue’s column.”
      Mike Daisy wrote:
      “Apple knew about supply-chain violations for years and did nothing about them, so don’t congratulate them now.”

      Mike, How do you know they “did nothing about them”. You don’t. 
      This makes it clear to me that you will say just about anything to discredit Apple. 

  11. It’s absolutely not a mistake to go after Apple. Going after every electronics manufacturer loses focus and everyone walks away. Going after the most prominent brand, and the company that relies more upon image than any other is the only effective way to effect change. It also has the happy byproduct of letting a small bit of smug pressure out of the apple cultstomers inflated sense of the righteousness of all things Apple, and especially those touched by St. Steven of Jobs.

      1. Focussing solely on Apple may be unfair, but I don’t think it’s wrong, because focussing on Apple is more likely to achieve results: Apple is the industry leader, and as far as profitability goes, in the smartphone and tablet sectors it is the industry period, so let’s make Apple lead.

        I say pile all the blame on to Apple and then let the hidden hand and trickle-down theory work their magic: Tim Cook has that ridiculously strong brand image to protect and can’t hide behind platitudes that competitors would use such as “our margins are already razor thin” or “we’re just doing what everyone else does”.

        If the pressure keeps up for a while, Apple will move beyond PR fixes and start to address the issue, either forcing up costs industry-wide (which enhances Apple’s competitive advantage) or showering their competitors in shit for not following their lead (which enhances Apple’s brand advantage).

    1. It also has the happy byproduct of letting a small bit of smug pressure out of the apple cultstomers inflated sense of the righteousness of all things Apple, and especially those touched by St. Steven of Jobs.

      You should come out of the closet and get a Mac already.

    2. “It also has the happy byproduct of letting a small bit of smug pressure out of the apple cultstomers inflated sense of the righteousness of all things Apple”

      So I guess the smug pressure had transferred into people opposed to anything Apple? :)

  12. If Foxconn has their way most of those 1.2 million emoloyees will be unemployed in three to five years because they’re currently working on building ONE MILLION ROBOTS, roughly doubling the predicted number of industrial bots in the world by 2015. This unprecedented level of automation is going to make it diffiicult for anyone in the future to find work not just Chinese factory workers. I’m not against safer factories or productivity gains but these robots are not going to be creating wealth and abundance for any but the super rich. I think nimble crowdfunded, collaborative, and cooperative companies who democratic ownership and environmental effects are the only thing that may stand in the way of techno-fascist dystopian future. Some of you may know the film I Robot with Will Smith. In that film the company US Robotics is depicted as a economic juggernaut, the Apple of the future. Well sadly, at least for the US there will not be such a company in our future, instead there will be Hon Hai Precision Ltd the parent company of Foxconn. The Tawainese headquartered Hon Hai recently made headlines for making the top ten list of US patents filed for 2011. The interesting thing is that competion in certain circumstances can also promote cooperation…..I guess we will see.

    1. Ahem… what about Japan, formerly famous for large-scale automated industrial production (that’s right, robots!) and low unemployment?

      (That being said, many things in Japan are super inefficient and labor intensive — service sector mostly — making you wonder what would happen if those people weren’t employed in ultimately pointless jobs, but industry isn’t one of those things.)

      So… why can’t China become the new Japan or Korea; former producer of cheap crap, future innovative superpower with a high standard of living and low unemployment?

      1. It’s a very good question and I guess we will see…
        It’s going to be quite a jump and this amount of automation is completely unprecedented, but beneficial outcomes and the so call ripening of the information age could also happen, let’s hope we can all adapt.

  13. Our electric chotskies all have a price. For all of its power and speed, an electric pane won’t make an unstudied person any smarter. For those with a green concerns think of the server farms that cover many acres and consume millions of watts of electricity.
    Your electric pane was born in misery and its use makes massive waste.
    Not making a living wage occurs elsewhere. Check out any fast food joint or department store or food picking or processing.  
    We have plenty of denial going on. Calling  packed warehouses with massive air conditioners “The Cloud” is the dumbest one to date.

  14. How much does the average person spend on tech over their life time?
    How about a system like this: pay a certain (big) amount of money and X technology company will make sure that you have working, ethical, up-to-date tech, for as long as you maintain your membership?
    What would you be willing to pay to know that you will always have the tech you want?

    1. Interesting, I had a similar thought in regards to our economic system in general. For all our sophistication we have a massively inefficient economy which relies on sustained physical consumption and reconsumption to thrive; buy cheap new crap to replace old cheap crap. But we have the massive informational infrastructure in place now, why not switch to a system where we enroll in services for goods: pay this much monthly and we’ll provide you with this tier of computers and provide annual maintenance/upgrades. Given smart planning, producers could make just as much while improving the quality of their products (or service, as this implies), and everyone would be for the better.

  15. Reading the comments makes me wish that people would stop being defeatist and cynical about this and really think creatively about what can be done. There is another way and someday soon there will be another big revolution in China, but political power for the workers may come at the steep price of human lives and extreme economic disruption. I feel co-ops which have been growing dramatically are the way forward and 2012 is the international year if the co-op. We can crowdfund new innovative business structures and tackle worker pay and conditions, we just need to not give up and to quote Apple “think different”.

  16. What do I think? I think if Foxconn were a manufacturer of football gear the effluence would hit the fan among “activists.” But it’s the beloved equipment. As for miniscule action on my part, and I mean super-miniscule, I never buy Nike anything. But I keep buying Apple crap.

  17. “And is there *any* reality-based model that could lead to some of those manufacturing jobs coming back to the US (or, name your labor-friendly nation here) in our lifetimes?”


    I have never understood this logic at all. The jobs aren’t wanted here, and they’re needed in China. Why on earth should we bring them back?

    I suppose the idea is that things will never get better in China unless they’re forced to improve when companies start pulling out. Which also seems blatantly wrong on the face of it, to me. You’d just end up with another North Korea, or pre-invasion Iraq. When has starving a country ever helped that country?

    I watched some of a documentary a year or two back talking about former Nike factories in Vietnam, the same ones I heard about endlessly (and tut-tutted about myself), the target of angry documentaries and Doonesbury jokes for most of the 90’s. They’ve been abandoned by Nike (labour costs got too high–typical heartless corporation!). But the locals didn’t roll over and die. They now had a community of skilled workers, managers, metalworkers and welders, electricians and machinists, and a whole community of restaurants and stores and workshops that had sprung up around the factories. They were selling shoes locally, and trying to break into the Chinese market (which is huge, because the Chinese are making money). They had themselves a bustling local economy.

    Of course they did. Why wouldn’t they? They’re not freaking children. I felt ashamed, watching this, that I’d ever thought of them that way.

    So now when I heard people talking about ‘saving’ these people by dragging jobs back to America, my skin crawls. It’s patronizing, illogical, and can seem downright disingenuous. Oh, you want to pass laws to keep your local wages artificially high? Huh, isn’t that interesting.

    Over time, worldwide wages will stabilize and rise together, continuing to raise the standard of living across the board, the way it has for decades, if only do-gooders can resist the temptation to jam their fingers in the gears.

    1. Why on earth should we bring them back?

      Because we no longer have a manufacturing base and the world isn’t going to keep paying first-worlders to push numbers around anymore.

      1. Too bad we don’t actually have the skills to support the manufacturing jobs here in the United States. There seems to be a disconnect in the fact that American workers just aren’t as skilled compared to their Chinese counterparts. College might not be the right choice for everyone in this country but the idea of vocational or technical schools are looked down at, when the fact is we need these institutions to provide specialized technical skill training.

        1. The only advantage China has is sheer numbers and low wages, that’s why your iphones are built by hand with people doing the same backbreaking, repetitive tasks, all day, every day. The country also invests in manufacturing, infrastructure and so on…..imagine that?  The (100 year old + ) company I work for didn’t move half of manufacturing to China for any ‘skills’, it did it because thanks to neoliberal “free trade” it had to do it to keep prices comparable to competitors already manufacturing in China.

          when the fact is we need these institutions to provide specialized technical skill training.
          Agree 100%

          Our country has demonized workers, while lionizing the non-productive work of moving assets real (and imagined) around.

        2. My kids will be expert plumbers and electricians before they leave the house.  They can split wood and gap sparkplugs, too.

          Be the change!

      2. Ah – but we do have a manufacturing base. We just manufacture more higher end stuff, and not plastic bath toys. I was suprised to learn this too, but last year was the first year China beat us on manufacturing revenue. I would have thought we were long since eclipsed.

    2. This is a funny post, you act as if aggressive outsourcing, neoliberal trade policy, and years of religious and rabid anti-labor policy are a matter of course.  The U.S. has demonized and completely divested our workforce from any social partnership.  China only overtook Germany as the world’s largest exporter a couple years ago, and according to your reasoning, Germany should only be able to have such massive output thanks to sweatshops and victorian era labor standards.  In fact the opposite is the case.

      1.  the following is a little off-side, but: well not exactly. Germany has prospered in recent years largely by adopting (what many germans believe to be) american labour structures, outsourcing thousands of jobs to so called “leiharbeitsfirmen” (companies subcontracting labour), effectively reducing the wage factor in production costs (thus eroding a formerly pretty decently functioning social security system, since these “new” jobs weren’t contributing as much in taxes, payable by the company, anymore).
        But the main profits were made by shoving their goods down the throats of the affiliated european community countries, made affordable to them with financing supplied by major german credit institutes. Greece, the country that is now being heavily bullied by german press, has some of the largest top notch military equipment manufactured by: guess who. They kept buying (or were made to do so) new jetfighters and even submarines during the dispute over the first “rettungsschirm” (financial rescue package) worth over 100 billion euros. Germany is just milking all the other european economies.

  18. At some point we need to stop allowing ruling classes to define the possible for the rest of us.

    According to neoliberal ideology, it’s impossible for working people to have human rights, and only possible to have slightly-better treatment, it’s impossible to stop overfishing, it’s impossible to stop climate change, and the ruling class seems determined to try to make it impossible. If we keep going along this course, it may soon be impossible to prevent our extinction.

    And, whether or not wage ‘stabilization’ between America and China is inevitable, I don’t know, but perhaps ‘stabilization’ between the underclasses and the ruling class is necessary. Because it’s the ruling classes that have ensured wage stagnation, rising unemployment, and the criminalization of the poor here in America.

    1. “…perhaps ‘stabilization’ between the underclasses and the ruling class is necessary.”

      And what if there’s no such thing as “stable equilibrium” in this context? IMHO class war never ends, but in the USA only one side is fighting, and the other side was either sold out or just gave up way back in the Eighties, when Reagan broke the unions.

      But in China the underclasses are really in a state of rebellion all the time, with more than 200,000 riots per annum year after year, almost none of them reported in China or the Western press, except at the margins.

      Meanwhile one little story or another about Apple and Foxconn occasionally surfaces in the liberal blogosphere, but nothing ever changes, and the workers’ so-called “lives” are exactly the same as I described them 18 months ago, in “The Suicide Nets at Foxconn.”

    1. You mean letting the proletar…I mean working class own the means of production? Pish posh. They wouldn’t know how to manage it. They’d run it into the ground after giving themselves large raises and expect the rest of the country to bail them out.

  19. I’ve said it before but, what Apple is doing to “improve” life at Foxconn is not new. It’s not even designed to improve the life of the workers, really. It’s what companies have done for the past 20 years when they get bad PR about how they treat their third world workers. Hire an easily manipulated outside party to make an assessment, publish some recommendations, and brand the parent company ethical.

    And two years later, there’ll be another follow-up news story which will discover that conditions haven’t changed much at all and most of the recommendations were ignored. Why? Because it’s a 12 year prison sentence for Chinese employees to unionize, that’s why. They have absolutely no bargaining power, other than taking their own lives. If Apple valued happy workers in a safe environment, they wouldn’t look outside their own country where they’d be held to those standards to manufacture their product.

    It’s all a sideshow. Apple customers will feel better about buying more iPhones because of this (because at least they got a shiny third party piece of meaningless paper that pretends to care, unlike those uncaring HP / Amazon / Dell guys who didn’t bother), when really, nothing has changed.

  20. Wouldn’t it be cool if one, just one, patriotic  “American” company decided to take in just a little bit less profit and build some factories back in America again? Apple, Dell, Nike, whomever. Maybe Americans would be more willing to pay a bit more for their stuff if they had decent jobs and wages to pay the extra money.

    1. This. Exactly. When are we going to address the outrageous greed? When all the shoe manufacturing went away, Nike, etc., all increased in price. Why do people who don’t work get paid? (so-called stockholders) The fact no one ever really questions why corporate profits are turned over to people who don’t produce anything, only trade little pieces of paper really bothers me. I believe labor deserves WAY more of its share, in all industries.

    2. Master Lock brought around 100 factory jobs back to the US over the past couple of years. Union jobs. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

    3. Thing is, Americans aren’t the only market worth going for.  Those 80 million iPhones, for example, didn’t sell in the US.  The vast majority sold elsewhere, even though the American market is still a large and attractive one.  But one companies increasingly can do w/out. 

    4. The answer to your question is another question:  Why should an American company act more “patriotically” than American consumers? 

      US manufacturing didn’t disappear overnight, it took a couple of decades.  During this time consumers made their desires very clear when they bought the cheaper shoe, clothing, TV, car, computer, etc.  A “Made in the USA” label did not translate into sales, a lower price did.  Dell doesn’t make their computers in the US anymore because they couldn’t compete on price, not because they hate America.

      Off-topic alert.  Frankly, expecting any corporation to put “patriotism” ahead of profits is terribly naive.  The US is a proud capitalist country where socialism is a dirty word.  (I will ignore the irony and hypocrisy of this for the moment.)  Corporations exist only to make money — not to help you or make your life better or help the country or support a cause or hug a puppy.  If a corporation does any of those things it is only a marketing tool to increase profits.  I agree that the middle class has suffered greatly for over 20 years (oh no, class warfare) but that is only the most recent change.  Long before this recession, free trade agreements made it possible for those jobs to be shipped overseas and a war against unions allowed the job-creators to blame overpaid union workers.  Okay, now I’m way off topic.

      Any US company that acted “patriotically” as you wish would be savaged by investors when their revenues dropped.  And their revenues definitely will drop because, no matter what the reason, only a tiny fraction of American consumers will pay a premuin price for a “Made in the USA” label.

  21. As one of the first-world pencil pushers in this field, I can say that physical conditions are not as bad as the low pay, incomprehensible hours, living on facility, overcrowding, fascist overlord managers, government cover-ups, and corporate culture of China. Working long hours in a facility doing a repetitive task repeatedly is nothing new for the working class anywhere, but working around the clock (except for two holidays a year) only to go home to a cramped dorm after having a few beers is dark ages shit. Add in a lack of individual accountability of the managers who demand devotion to the crummy job means the workers get the blame, and the corporate success fuels the government’s need to keep Foxconn growing an in full power and turn a blind eye to anything and everything.

    Even when the US was a manufacturing powerhouse, we have pretty much 100% usable geography to expand onto and allow for sprawling homes that are cheap enough for a meager salary to buy. Even when we had a fascist Henry Ford examining the private lives of his workers they still had their own property, ample holidays, weekends off, and enough money to do more than survive.

  22. I thought the main reason this stuff was made there was access to materials and engineering expertise? 

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html — scroll down to “I want a glass screen.” 

    It has very little to do with labor costs, as there isn’t that much labor: it has far more to do with high tech components and the precision tooling/expertise to make them. The upshot of all this is that the industrial base has been shipped overseas. You can obviously match what is made there on a small scale but the investment required to do what China can do with a command economy (read: Communism) isn’t forthcoming. I don’t see Mitt Romney or his plutocrat friends lining up to open new factories, when they haven’t yet finished picking over the old ones (why was he opposed to the auto bailout? Because those companies were worth more to him dead than alive.).  

    And this isn’t new. This — China figuring out to source materials and make products for overseas markets — was going on the 1500s, before Jamestown or the Pilgrims. Globalization isn’t a new thing. 

  23. Resist the urge to indulge in sophomoric hand-wringing about putting the globalization djinn back in the lamp. There is no inherent contradiction between wanting improved labor conditions for employees of Apple’s Chinese suppliers and seeing globalization as a (nasty, harsh) net good.

    Foxconn and Apple could keep wages and hours basically where they are and still make immense improvements to the quality of life of the people who assembled our Macbook Pros.

    Here are a few thoughts. Rather than firing and blacklisting employees who complain about unpaid overtime, Foxconn could actually honor their own contracts. They could implement rock-bottom safety standards so that people do not die in batches from exposure to toxic chemicals. They could allow their workers to take breaks at reasonable intervals so that they aren’t standing in the same position for so long that their vertebrae begin to fuse together.

    “Oh, but globalization is a net good” is not a justification for any of that shit.

    On the issue of price, please keep in mind that “labor costs related to Chinese iPhone 4G manufacturing is currently $6.54 dollars“.

    1. Sensible and well put: thank you. 

      (As an aside: the whole idea that these are rightfully US jobs seems weird to me. Growing manufacturing again in the US seems like a perfectly good thing to do. Improving working conditions in Apple factories seems like a perfectly good thing to do. The idea that jobs should migrate from China to the US to effect these two perfectly good aims, that I don’t really get.

      But then I am not from the US. Maybe I’m missing something?)

  24. we need to pay more for electronics so that people in China will not suffer. Why wouldn’t we do that? Are we such arrogant, spoiled assholes that we don’t care how others suffer while making products we use? I don’t care if the costs double. We all need to push ourselves away from the compute, ipad, cell phone, etc. and start living. You remember living, don’t you?

    1. Hmm, but to some of us, pushing computers away is basically throwing away our life and livelihoods.  What some people consider to be “nature” is another way of saying how we were in the past, and human artifacts were almost always involved as far as we can remember.  Technology *is* part of what we are as humanity, don’t you agree?

  25. We’re witnessing an industrial revolution in China. I, for one, am proud to be lifting the Chinese out of poverty by buying the great things that are made there.

    1. No we’re financing Chinese economic fascism. Apart from that you’re right. No benefits for workers. No unions. No enforced environmental standards. Cheap resources strip mined in occupied territories. Sounds like an industrial revolution alright.

      It’s interesting , the U.S. used to have to bully other nations into keep living standards and human rights as low as possible in order to keep manufacturing prices low. But nowadays the Chinese govt does it for them.

      When a company has their employees sign statements that they are not allowed to commit suicide you know there is something badly wrong. Most slave owners at least knew that if they let their slaves fall into misery productivity would suffer and so they cared for them. They were property after all. Workers in the industrial revolution scenario have it a lot worse. The employer is not responsible for their well-being at all. Just pay them the minimal wage, provide a few bunks (which they have to share) — and be done with it. If they complain, fire them.

      1. They’re not slaves. They don’t have to work there. The fact that there are other workers lined up to replace those that quit should tell you about the demand for work.

        1. Yeah… just as reality show contestants aren’t being exploited, as it’s their choice?
          Miners aren’t being exploited in Africa and China, because it’s their choice?
          Victims of child pornography aren’t being exploited because it’s their choice?

          In these and many other examples, the people involved are not slaves. They make a decision, usually based upon sheer ignorance and a motive of potential for advancement or improvement (and sometimes just because someone in a position of authority says it’s OK). Does this mean they’re not exploited?

  26. Frankly I have long argued for an ‘Ehthical product’ sticker for exactly this purpose.
    We have the choice of buying ethical foods why not ethical products too?

    1. I think some clothing companies are going for that approach (sweatshop-free clothes).  Although I’m sure there  are some people who will be swayed by this, I kind of doubt it will have a sweeping impact on the market as a whole.  I’d like to know if there was any study on the impact of such labels, though.

  27. The (few) people seriously intimating that the Foxconn exposes are a giant orchestrated attack on Apple by Them are scaring me. We do say ‘Cult of Apple (nervous ha ha)’ but at that point it becomes more truth than joke. This sort of thing is why people make fun of Apple fans.

    It’s the same thing the right wing nuts purposely ignore – you don’t need a conspiracy when all it takes are hungry (but mostly too lazy to do their own investigations) journalists who’ve caught the scent of a big juicy scandal from a big fat target thrashing around in the water once one of them does draw blood.

  28. Let’s not forget the billion dollar drug trade, a mixture of meth and caffeine,  these workers rely on to work interminable shifts. Most of them buy it from their managers too.

    Maybe “slavery” isn’t alive and well in China, but indentured servitude is.

  29. Xeni… THANK YOU !!

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head.. This is NOT just Apple, although the US media would like to think that made you think it was. BUT, this narrow light beam exposes AMERICAN ignornance / arrogance about anything outside most people’s zip code… It’s just appalling how little Americans know / understand / discuss / think about / or care about other cultures, peoples, places, situations -public or private – institutional issues or environmental nightmares…

    Still today, stories abound about folks that live within 50 miles of major metropolitan areas here in the US and have never been to that city. And, don’t want to go !! THAT’S terrifying…

  30. This debate is being let down by exaggerated claims on both sides of the argument. The “realists” seem to be saying that, because globalisation and the existence of Foxconn-like factories are a net positive for the Chinese people, that the actual way they go about their business is somehow above criticism. This is bizarre. The other side of argument, however, seems to want to boycott Apple, shut down the Chinese factories and move them all back to the US. Totally unrealistic and much worse for Chinese workers.

    The actual battleground here is much smaller. Apple: you have $98bn in the bank. Just buy some chairs for the people on the assembly lines. Just so they can sit down during their 12-hour shifts.

    1. Small changes that would cost Foxconn almost nothing are exactly what Daisey suggested in his story.  Simple things to make the workers slightly more comfortable.  It would not kill Foxconn to switch up some of these assembly tasks so that workers don’t go completely insane and fatigued from repetitive piece work.

  31. Come and produce in Taiwan! 

    Nothing like China is described in this piece here. But expect to pay a bit more for labor and overhead. On the other side you get skilled and reliable labor, high productivity, with a decent salary, and benefits on a country with rule of law. There are standard in food production calling for ethical standards and quality of the products being it meat, poultry, fish and vegetables. How come we don’t set equal ethical standards on the treatment of people?This Foxconn thing has been floating around for years. That said – Chinese are tricky an they are internet savvy and know an opportunity when they see one. The Foxconn Apple run has caused great opportunity and I see they use it for what it is worth.So, conclusion is – China is a strange place, there are alternatives and – we could not do without it. What a predicament.Best regards,Taipei

    1. But of course, Foxconn IS a Taiwanese company, and they themselves are setting up shop in China.  I’m with Pogue on this one that China is better off with these foreign companies operating there, and curious how this influences the country’s policies in the future.  I’m also wondering, though, what is the impact of Taiwanese companies moving jobs to China for Taiwanese economy in the long-run?

  32. I’ve thought for a while now that Apple was putting things in place and “softening up the market” for an attempt to push “locally made” products. Essentially, an iPad would still start at $499, but for an extra $100 you can get one US-made.

  33. is there *any* reality-based model that could lead to some of those manufacturing jobs coming back to the US in our lifetimes?

    “Economies of scale” has got to evolve. The old meaning still has some value, there will always be some benefit to tooling up for quantity. But up-sizing also lets you externalize costs so they appear on someone else’s books, and that’s not really any sort of benefit, it’s an accounting trick. This is the kind of philosophical error that destroys civilizations.

    At this level of industrialization, it’s a mistake to think of it as a job. It’s a process- human will giving shape to raw material. I don’t think we really *want* those processes coming back here in that particular form.

    _The Diamond Age_ is what comes to mind, 3-D printing allowing us to get exactly what we want for the purposes that we want, without having to stockpile, inventory and ship massive quantities of dead weight.

    When I look at my own vast collection of stuff, the stuff belonging to my friends, and all the self storage units that have sprung up like mushrooms, add that to the glut of buildings that this country has, it’s pretty clear we’re in a crisis of addiction. Getting healthy after centuries of colonialism would free us up to pay the true costs for things- and that would make for a better world all around.

    -but I imagine that’s not exactly what you meant by a ‘reality-based model’….

  34. Wow, Mike Daisey sure has a Jones for David Pogue. I thought Pogue’s article was reasonable, informative and intelligent. Obviously Daisey is so enraged with anything Pogue writes these days that HIS senses of reason, fairness and balance have abandoned him. The least he could do is allow a place on his blog for ripostes to his foam-flecked bombast.

  35. Funny thing about those pushing “globalization”, they seem to think it should only apply to capital and products, but not workers.  Wealth is free to cross borders as it pleases, but workers and their labor often are not.

      1. Anarchis of Tyre (I think?) told Solon the Lawgiver that “laws are like spider’s webs – the mighty break through them with impunity, and the least slip between the strands without notice; only the middle-sized are caught”.

  36. Doubling the money available for workers would add about 6 dollars to the retail cost of an iPhone. That means 6 hours a day instead of 12 hours a day. That’s means double pay and 90% less debilitating injuries.

    The idea that no one would pay the cost of improving labor conditions is a complete lie. Not a single consumer would make the decision not to buy an iPhone over a 6 dollar price increase, not one.

    You could double the money spent on tech labor and 99.8% of consumers wouldn’t even be able to tell it happened.

  37. I would personally be willing pay the real price of gadgets not made by slave labour.

    I think one way to go would be to ban imports of stuff made under conditions not acceptable in your own country. Well, not very likely, though. The US has been actively lobbying China NOT to improve worker’s conditions. But they should impose such a ban.

  38. According to the New York Times article, “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work”, manufacturing an iPhone in the U.S. would add $65 to the expense of each phone. According to Bernstein Research’s Toni Sacconaghi (via Philip Elmer-DeWitt, @philliped), the average profit on an iPhone is about $364. So, manufacturing an iPhone in the U.S. would reduce Apple’s profit on each one by 17%.

    This suggests to me that cheap labor in China is not what drives the price of an iPhone. The large profits Apple makes on their products  is driven by the premium their customers place on Apple’s products, and Apple’s ability to set their price point. Manufacturing iPhones in the U.S., or making them with better-compensated labor elsewhere, would cut into Apple’s profit. Unless Apple was able to raise prices to maintain their profits — which seems unlikely, or else the prices would be higher already — it would probably not affect the prices of their phones.

  39. Apple and other companies pre the passage of the North American Free Trade Act manufactured most products either in the US or in Countries that have very similar labor practices as the US. Yet, these companies as a whole were highly profitable. The eighties are a testament to this where more millionaires were made than any other time in history. Moreover, when you adjust the cost of most of these products, including Apple’s products that existed in the eighties, the cost of the products have not dropped. For instance, Apple’s iMacs, Mac Pros, and regular MacBooks cost about the same today as they did in the eighties. To the extent they are cheaper has more to do with Apple going to the Intel platform and using standardized components. 

    Workers in Countries like the US can’t compete fairly with China because China 1) subsidizes the cost of its labor force and materials, and 2) the Chinese don’t value the same ideals as Western Countries do. It used to be import taxes leveled the playing field and protected Western workers from having to compete against a system that undervalued it’s own. NAFTA, however, allows Chinese products to pass freely through the Canadian and Mexican borders without an import tax. 

    The only way to change things in China (a place where they kill dissidents) is to create incentives to manufacture else place. Do away with agreements like NAFTA. Western workers shouldn’t have to compete against Chinese workers. The Chinese system is destroying the rest of the world’s economic systems just so companies like Apple can increase their margins. 

  40. Interestingly, on the argument that if you have labor in the US, things would be more expensive… even at US minimum wage, the money that you pay to the US workers gets put right back into the US economy, funding more manufacturing jobs, meaning more people here can afford stuff, meaning that even though the dollar value may be higher, everybody should still be able to afford it.

    In fact, that holds true EVEN IF YOU KEEP A CHINESE-LEVEL SLAVE CLASS AROUND, but have them in the US.

    Exporting that labor to China (or ANY foreign country that doesn’t import from the US as much as they export to the US, regardless of labor standards) ends up exporting money, too, and it weakens the US economy.

    As for the argument that “these jobs are better than the other jobs there”… well, it’s not our responsibility to give them jobs. If they want good jobs, and the Chinese government isn’t providing them, they can come here.

  41. There are really only two questions to ask:

    1. Do the activities of these companies (Apple, Foxconn, etc.) improve the lives of the people implicated in these activities?
    2. Can the activities be redesigned to improve the lives of said people more?

    It is not about whether something is good or bad in some idealised, context-free sense. It is about whether it is better or worse than actually possible alternatives. The key observation here is that there is a maximum rate at which quality of life can improve in a sustainable manner – transplanting a San community overnight, say, into Monaco villas will end badly for everyone (an extreme example for the purposes of illustration). The responsible thing to do, therefore, is to make sure that companies do their part to keep the communities they affect at this optimal rate of improvement – not some static, one-size-fits-all global standard, but a dynamic improvement rate.

    This is by no means to say that Apple should not be criticised. It is just to point out that if we really care about making the world a better place (as opposed to merely stroking our ego with our righteousness), we should be sure to criticise Apple (and other multinationals) at the right time and for the right things. If we do not, we will skew incentives for these companies towards worse outcomes.

  42. If you have visited southern China, where most of the stuff is made, you would understand that the key to the Chinese manufacturing “miracle” is logistics and supply chain, not labor cost.   The steel factory, chemical factory, PCB factory, MLCC factory, the injection molding factory, speciality chip factory, aluminum casing factory, etc are all near each other.  Then, they are all relatively close to some sort of massive and highly efficient port.  Foxconn / Hon Hai then uses its scale advantage in conjunction with its customers / partners Apple, Dell etc to negotiate the best prices from these suppliers and assembles the end product.  The Foxconn piece cannot be moved to the US without moving the whole supply chain, which will is virtually impossible to replicate at this stage. 

  43. The problem is that to talk about Apple’s “early” measures implies some level of surprise at the revelation of FoxConn labor practices. Now that the company is getting bad press, it has taken to murmurring reassuringly. Let us remember the Apple exec who was bragging only last month about the ability to roust its captive labor force in the middle of the night to start a 12 hour shift on a retooled assembly line. The labor conditions might look great to Apple; in the world of natural peoplehood they equate to adding suicide nets to the factory buildings. But that is what Apple was bragging about. From Nightline’s connection to the Apple corp, it is hard to call it information transparency to which they’ve submitted.

    This is not about the specter of manufacturing in the US instead, as though that were the only alternative; it is about whether we think it is OK to accept, in devices like I am writing from now, conditions far worse than what I imagine is typical even from American *prison* labor.

    Compare by contrast the detailed Corporate Responsibility statements from the manufacturing company, Patagonia, for a great example of humane corporate ideology. (And they do source partly in the US.)

    With the issue in focus in the mainstream media, there is an opportunity to hold the company of Enlightened Utopian Genius messaging, ‘anti-1984’ commercials, and Gandhi billboards, with all its mega market- and mind-share, to a higher standard. (Look to the Nike scandal for a promising analogy.) Could be a fine time for us all to tell Apple to Think Different.

    Xeni, I’ve never said so, but huge respect and love.

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