If you missed last week’s expose in The New York Times about the abysmal conditions in Chinese factories that make Apple products, here’s an excerpt that will shock you. “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, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.”
But that’s not the worst of it. As Change.org notes, “There has been a rash of suicides at the Foxconn plant, and 300 workers recently threatened to jump off the roof over a safety and pay dispute.” Employees of Foxconn, which makes iPhones, iPads and the like, “regularly work sixteen-hour, seven-day work weeks” and “perform repetitive motions on the production line for so long that some permanently lose the use of their hands.”
The critically acclaimed monologist Mike Daisey set out to shed light on the horrible conditions in Chinese factories that manufacture Apple products with his show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which premiered in July 2010. The show begins a run at The Public Theater tomorrow, January 31. (The New York Times did not credit Daisey in their reporting, but CBS has quoted him extensively and interviewed him in their coverage of the subject.) Daisey went to China to prepare his latest monologue and stood outside Foxconn (because they wouldn’t let him in). He says, “In my first two hours of my first day at that gate, I met workers who are 14 years old. I met workers who were 13 years old. I met workers who were 12. Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?”
Exactly. Of course, Apple does know, and in the wake of all the attention this issue is suddenly receiving, Apple CEO Tim Cook emailed his employees on January 26, the day the NYT piece was published, saying:
As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are. For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am. For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts.
On a supplier responsibility page set up by Apple, the company claims they “do not tolerate underage labor” and that their suppliers “must create a safe and healthy work environment.” Additionally, they suggest that suppliers “must use environmentally sound processes, including managing hazardous substances.” Change.org notes (from the NYT piece), “To cut costs, managers make workers use cheap chemicals that cause neurological damage.” I smell bullshit.
Here’s the thing: Apple is not the only company in the world that manufactures in China. Most of the items Americans buy are made in China, whether we like it or not. As Mike Daisey put it, Shenzhen, home of the Foxconn factory in question, “is a city of 14 million people that is larger and denser than New York City. It’s the third-largest city in all of China. It’s the place where almost all your shit comes from.”
Making cheap products (and even fancy technological ones) that Americans can afford comes at a steep price for people half-way around the world. We all know this, consumers and corporations alike. Corporations like to pretend, when labor issues are brought to the fore, that they HAD NO IDEA that the conditions were so awful and that THEY WILL DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT RIGHT AWAY! Lies. JCPenney has been accused of ignoring horrible labor conditions in Bangladesh. I was disappointed to discover that my Brooklyn Industries bag was made in China. Victoria’s Secret panties use cotton made with slave labor. Now it’s Apple’s turn to face the music.
Sign the petition at Change.org to let Apple know that you’re dissatisfied with their labor practices. Or maybe don’t buy Apple products until they make massive changes. The problem is, the alternatives probably aren’t much better. And I find that incredibly sad.