There’s a lot going on right now in the world of Apple. Specifically, having to do with the technology giant’s main supplier, Foxconn. With the expectation of more shiny new iProducts to be in our hands in the coming months, now more than ever is the time to know exactly where they come from, and how they’re made.
This entire article is inspired by this past week’s “This American Life,” episode 454 in which Mike Daisey journeys to China, to Foxconn, and takes us along for the enlightening ride. Daisey ventured where tech journalists don’t dare go, and where even Siri fears to tread — go on, ask her where she was manufactured.
You don’t have to listen to the episode to read this article, though, I highly suggest you do. Not only do I think it’s important for us to hear, as Apple worshippers and technology lovers alike, but Daisey is a superb story teller. Please be aware that this article will both summarize and discuss things talked about in “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” So, if you plan to listen (it’s only about 50 minutes long), do so now. I can wait.
Mike Daisey is a technophile, he loves technology and, when it comes to Apple products, he can’t put them down. This sounds like a lot of you, I bet; it definitely sounds like me.
I don’t know about you, but I marvel at the design of my iPhone on a regular basis. I sometimes remove it from its case and just twirl it around in my hand, admiring its beauty. And then, before too long, I begin to get nervous about its exposed state and slide it safely back into its case. We can all relate; we all love our technology. Mr. Daisey is no different.
Mike Daisey was a self-proclaimed “worshipper in the cult of Mac.” Then he saw some photos from a new iPhone, taken by workers at the factory where it was made. Mike wondered: Who makes all my crap? He traveled to China to find out.
So, Daisey became an impromptu journalist. He headed to China, got himself a translator, and took a taxi straight to the main gate of the Foxconn plant. The gate is protected heavily by guards … with guns.
Foxconn is a factory in the city of Shenzhen. Once a small city, Shenzhen is now home to some 14 million, making it the third largest city in all of China. Nearly all of our devices comes from Shenzhen. But I bet you didn’t know its name, did you?
We all know most of our stuff is made in China. Not just our Apple devices, but other big name devices from companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Amazon. Even some of our American flags are made in China. We may not be fully aware of the conditions under which these things are made, but we have at least heard about the terrible working conditions in such factories before. Whether that’s a reality to us or not: it is real.
Have you ever really thought about how that iDevice you’re reading this on right now was made? These things are assembled by people — not machines, not robots. It is reported that those who make our beloved Apple products work long hours, are paid very little, and do so under poor conditions.
Foxconn is a massive factory, which I am sure you’re beginning to imagine. It is home to about 430,000 workers. To Daisey’s surprise, as he stood outside the gate, workers began lining up outside of the factory to talk to him and the interpreter. One right after the other they told their story.
These workers clean your technology by hand. They piece it together by hand. They physically test each camera by hand. That iPad you’re holding? That thing is legitimately handmade, my friend.
If you go to Foxconn, it won’t be the hum of machinery you’ll hear, but the constant movement of people. Hands shuffling as fast as they can, sometimes for 14 hours a day, to make sure you get that iPad 3 on release day.
The irony here? There are no iPads in China. They are all made there, and shipped away. To us.
One woman told Daisey she went to the labor board about her issues with Foxconn working conditions. The result? They put her name on the blacklist and they fired her. The blacklist bluntly states, “The following is a list of trouble makers, if any of them are found in your employ dismiss them immediately.” In China, they don’t beat around the bush.
Daisey met workers who were 13-years-old. He also met those who were injured, and in fear of losing their jobs because of it. That’s what we do to things that are flawed, Daisey said, throw them away. And that’s exactly what Foxconn is said to do to its employees who get injured: fire them.
In 2010, 12 Foxconn workers jumped from the building and killed themselves, publicly. There are now nets around parts of the factory. These nets are Foxconn’s idea of suicide prevention, I guess.
You hear stories, but you just don’t think it’s going to be so much.
I’m sure most of you have heard about the many suicide attempts at the Foxconn plant, especially the recent attempts this year. To be fair, you should know that China’s suicide rate is much higher, 88 per 400,000 compared to the 12 reported at Foxconn.
Do you really think Apple doesn’t know? In a company obsessed with the details? Are they just doing what we’re all doing? Do they just see what they want to see?
Is it just the “out of sight, out of mind” mindset? Shouldn’t we care about how these people are being treated, just as our country has taught us to treat our own workers, our own people? Perhaps they could at least rotate the workers to meet basic labor standards — the very standards we fought to improve in our own countries. No. Instead we export these jobs and they don’t get the same protection and benefits.
Apple claims to be 100 percent transparent on these matters. Even though they refused to come on air to respond to Daisey’s findings, “This American Life” later
Each year, since 2007, Apple has published supplier reports and posted them, publicly, on their website. They have a code of conduct that suppliers must submit to before they do business with them. The suppliers are audited and, if they don’t stick to these guidelines, Apple ceases to do business with them. They even help educate these suppliers on recruitment practices, and aid in the installation of some sort of moral system. Sadly, though, most companies do not do this.
Just recently, Apple also joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and a company-wide email from Tim Cook was sent, explaining Apple’s efforts to set the standard for better working environments. They seems to be making more of an effort to show that they are indeed striving to improve factory conditions.
It is worth noting, however, that there seems to be a domino effect here: Mike Daisey’s story on “This American Life,” more suicide attempts at Foxconn, Tim Cook’s letter, and Apple joining the FLA. It’s an intriguing set of events, to say the least.
Some of you are probably saying, “all companies care about is money anyway.” You’re right. But some of us thought, or wanted to think, that Apple was different; because they showed a difference here, at our own stores. Or is that changing too?
How much responsibility lies with China, and how much with Apple? Some argue that that’s just how it is in China, that we shouldn’t feel guilty.
It is the indirect and unintended result of the actions of soulless multinationals and rapacious local entrepreneurs, it is not an edifying spectacle but no matter how base the motives of those involved the result has been to move hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty to something [still] awful but nonetheless significantly better. —Paul Krugman, The New York Times
All of this is unfortunate, yes. But Apple is telling us to trust them, that they’re doing their best.