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Labor Activist: Apple May Be Terrible, But All Others Are Worse 218

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-of-the-worst dept.
CheerfulMacFanboy writes "Labor Activist Li Qiang wants you to know that the iPhone 4 in his pocket is not an endorsement of Apple's policies, just an acknowledgment that the company is doing a better job of monitoring factory conditions than its peers. The founder of leading advocacy group China Labor Watch (CLW) told us that, though the Cupertino company does more-thorough inspections than competitors, it is responsible for poor working conditions at its suppliers' factories and needs to invest some of its record-breaking profits in improving them. 'Although I know that the iPhone 4 is made at sweat shop factories in China, I still think that this is the only choice, because Apple is actually one of the best. Actually before I made a decision, I compared Apple with other cell phone companies, such as Nokia,' he said through a translator. 'And the conditions in those factories are worse than the ones of Apple.'"
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Labor Activist: Apple May Be Terrible, But All Others Are Worse

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  • by bonch (38532) * on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @06:07PM (#38973131)

    Interesting how the original headline reads "Apple Best at Auditing Factories, Still Not Doing Enough" while Slashdot's reads "Apple May Be Terrible, But All Others Are Worse". From best to terrible in the flash of a Slashdot submission.

    I don't get why Apple is always the one intimately associated with Foxconn when, as the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, Foxconn builds products for Dell, HP, Sony, Motorola, Nintendo, Microsoft, and so on. That Apple is the most proactive about labor policies isn't a surprise given the company's left-wing political leanings. You can always say someone should be doing more, but one can't help but wonder at what point it becomes the responsibility of the native government to make its citizen's lives better rather than the companies in another country sending the build orders. If Apple and other companies did what Li Qiang suggests, they'd essentially be babysitting the entire world's industrial labor, and that's just an impossible slippery slope. However, the storyline of a glossy, profitable American company using "slave labor" is just too juicy a narrative for the mainstream media to pass up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The Slashdot title seems more objective to me. It does not suggest a specific action, it reports on how things are.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I'm not convinced.

        "Apple Best at Auditing Factories, Still Not Doing Enough" - I interpret that to mean that Apple should lift its game and improve, not act like it's blameless.

        "Apple May Be Terrible, But All Others Are Worse" - I interpret that to mean leave Apple alone and blame other companies first.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)
        Neither are even remotely objective.
    • by Kartu (1490911)
      Maybe because "Nokia and some unnamed phone manufacturers have worse condition than Apple" and "Apple has the best condition" are, in fact, two very different statements?
    • Earlier today we had "money sucking leeches" in a summary, and yesterday a quote was called "bull****" in a summary.

      Slashdot is becoming pretty cartoonish.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Caerdwyn (829058)

        Haters don't go to websites to learn. They go to have people tell them they're superior for being haters.

        Haters have a far more serious problem with truth than "fanboys". I simply equate "hater" with "pathological liar".

      • by Kohath (38547) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:24PM (#38974295)

        Slashdot is becoming pretty cartoonish.

        Becoming? The sad thing is that Slashdot's increasing cartoonishness seems to be a reflection of a large subset of the readers.

        The idea seems to be that Apple is cheating all those workers out of the perfect utopian lives they'd have if only Apple loved them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sneakyimp (1161443)

      I call shenanigans. Do you really think a legitimate labor union would be permitted to exist in China? This is just a PR shill speaking the party line.

      • by dmbasso (1052166)

        Yep, something along the lines "I'm paying the rapist, but because the murderer is worse". No, you should not be dealing with criminals in the first place.

        [Message for the deeper-interpretation-impaired: this is just an exaggerated analogy to make the point clearer, I'm not saying anybody is a criminal.]

        • by Sancho (17056) *

          The computer you typed that comment on was almost certainly produced in those conditions.

          • by dmbasso (1052166)

            Indeed, I think you are correct. But then, as an individual that work with technology I don't have any choice (that I'm aware of... do you know any alternative?). But for a company that makes *billions of dollars* in fucking PROFITS, things are much different.

            Delusional people may believe that free market and "voting with my money" can change things, but with companies with hundreds of billions of dollars in fat to burn and all of them with the same policies, nothing can ever change.

            • by Sancho (17056) *

              I think I incorrectly inferred "criminals" to mean "Apple, and other corporations who tacitly allow slave labor." In that case, everyone who buys a computer from one of those companies would be pretty unethical.

              That said, the relatively unregulated market in the US (compared to e.g. other western countries) promotes profit above almost everything else, and supposes that companies will fail if enough people boycott them due to their unethical actions. It's really hard to fault a company which operates most e

      • Anything to reject evidence that conflicts with your preconceived notions.

        • My 'preconceived' notions are based on the NPR article [thisamericanlife.org] I cited elsewhere. According to that article Chinese citizens who agitate for real labor changes live in fear and do their organizing in secret.

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        From the web site http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/ [chinalaborwatch.org] "CLW has conducted a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China that produce toys, bikes, shoes, furniture, clothing, and electronics for some of the largest U.S. companies". Yeah well that straight off is a bit PR suspect. Location China Labor Watch, 147 W 35TH ST STE 406 New York, NY 10001. Check report 35 factories 25,000 workers, that doesn;t seem very many at all, in fact a drop in the ocean so to speak.

        Foxconn's inhumane and militant manag

    • by poetmatt (793785) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @06:27PM (#38973425) Journal

      The whole point is this:

      Saying "others are worse, focus on them" when apple serves as the standard for quality over there (if they're saying they do the best), means that if apple is doing this badly, they should be setting the example for doing better. Everyone, including the "worst" should be raising bar. Just because others may be worse is not in any way, an excuse for apple.

      How fucking hard is this to understand?

    • I don't get why Apple is always the one intimately associated with Foxconn when, as the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, Foxconn builds products for Dell, HP, Sony, Motorola, Nintendo, Microsoft, and so on.

      I guess thats the price you pay when you have perhaps the greatest electronics brand name recognition in history. It doesn't help when you're always in the news for your record profits either. Of course, one could argue that those things may also have positive aspects for a corporation....

      • Companies, like Microsoft (who use Foxconn) aren't exactly poor. It's as you say their brand and placing Apple in your news story will grab far more attention than listing even 50 no-name brands that use foxconn or even factories with worse conditions.
      • by dangitman (862676)

        I guess thats the price you pay when you have perhaps the greatest electronics brand name recognition in history. It doesn't help when you're always in the news for your record profits either. Of course, one could argue that those things may also have positive aspects for a corporation....

        But nobody was writing front-page articles about Foxconn when Dell or HP or whoever were the top of the industry, and Apple was considered to be irrelevant.

        I wonder why?

    • by phorm (591458)

      Two things come to mind:

      a) They make the biggest profit margin from their devices (indicating they could afford to spend more on addressing the conditions of employees)
      b) They're the most visible (people know who apple is and their "image" appears to be important to them)
      c) They're one of more capable of push-back on the factories to fix issues (due to their size)

    • ...comes great responsibility.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @06:07PM (#38973133)

    We've become so used to the idea that ALL consumer electronics are made in sweatshops that we're down to comparing whose sweatshop is the *least* nightmarish? That's more than a little sad, no?

    Wouldn't it be nice to have just one consumer electronics manufacturer that made all their stuff in the first-world and paid their workers decent wages? It might be nice to have at least one TV, DVD player and cellphone option that I didn't have to feel guilty about. I'm getting a little sick of thinking of how many third-world people had to be exploited just so I could get a 52" LCD for $1,500 instead of $1,700. I mean saving the $200 is nice, admittedly, but not at the expense of dumping mercury into some Chinese town's river water, or working some 12-year-old for 16 hour days.

    Couldn't countries at least require that imported goods be manufactured at their own minimum wage?

    • So what you're saying is you want a dolphin-safe television?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by elrous0 (869638) *

        They could even slap a "No 13-year-olds were ripped out of school to make this piece of shit for a little cheaper" sticker on it.

    • Yes - this! Actually, I'm not bothered about money staying in my own country or region so long as I know it's eventually going to people who play fair with their workforce. We've had a Fairtrade movement for things like coffee and chocolate - and it's starting to become more mainstream for things like clothing. But it's *very* difficult to find anything technology-wise that has any such guarantees.

      I bought a cute little webcam from these guys: http://www.unitedpepper.org/ [unitedpepper.org] because they claimed to make it

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sir_Sri (199544)

      The short answer is no to both. You couldn't actually manufacture most of the components for electronic equipment in the civilized world any more, because the whole supply chains are in china, and your price would skyrocket because the difference in labour costs is a factor of 20 or so. Sure, when you talk about foxconn assembly that's a small portion of the total cost of an iPhone, but if you talk about every component doing that, it would be a nightmare.

      Second of all, the point of free trade is to drive

      • The short answer is no to both. You couldn't actually manufacture most of the components for electronic equipment in the civilized world any more, because the whole supply chains are in china, and your price would skyrocket because the difference in labour costs is a factor of 20 or so. Sure, when you talk about foxconn assembly that's a small portion of the total cost of an iPhone, but if you talk about every component doing that, it would be a nightmare.

        It already is a nightmare. The difference is whether we live the "nightmare" of higher costs for gizmos, or the nightmare of using slave labor to keep those prices down.

        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          Well how else are they going to get money to pay for all of the things that will help them live better lives, like education and electrical power? We could have delayed the process indefinitely, but now that it's in motion there's nothing we can do about it. They are either slaves to making cheap stuff for a generation or slaves to the fields for generations. Take your pick.

          You can't just magically pay them more than they're worth and have it work out well. As the west germans how well that's been worki

      • by TheSync (5291)

        the difference in labour costs is a factor of 20 or so

        This is too simple a measure, because US workers are far more productive than Chinese workers (because they have access to more capital).

        World Bank numbers [wikipedia.org] for 2008 say US GDP PPP per employed person is $65,480. China GDP PPP per employed person is $10,378. So a US employee is likely to be six times more productive than a Chinese employee, so you need to hire six Chinese workers to replace one American worker.

        However because of the factor of ten differ

        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          That would be true if you were comparing the US to other civilized countries. It doesn't really work in somewhere like china. First of all you need to look at nominal GDP, not PPP. A chinese worker is equivalent to 1/6th of a US worker on PPP, is paid half of the 10k US figure. (The conversion between nominal and PPP for china is a factor of 2, for the US it is 1. ) The factor of 2 is entirely coincidental.

          And those are averages. It's like saying the average worker in the US gets 50k a year. But reme

    • I mean saving the $200 is nice, admittedly, but not at the expense of dumping mercury into some Chinese town's river water, or working some 12-year-old for 16 hour days.

      Extend this to food, clothes, oil, natural resources and everything else and you may find yourself in a position where you can't spare a penny to buy any smartphone or TV at all.

      THIS would be honest. Nobody does that though, because then it would really, really start to hurt.

      • by Kartu (1490911)
        So 30 years ago we couldn't spare a penny to buy stuff, eh? Oh wait, we actually could.
    • Wouldn't it be nice to have just one consumer electronics manufacturer that made all their stuff in the first-world and paid their workers decent wages?

      With the intention of improving life in developing countries, or improving life in the first world? Because reducing the number of jobs in the developing world won't do anything to raise their standard of living.

      And if it is about having more jobs in the first world, lets be honest about that, and not pretend we're doing it to save people from sweatshops.

    • You might want to give something like this [slate.com] a read. You're not doing the third-world any favors by only buying products made in the first-world. If anything, refusing to do business with them is tantamount to abandoning them to be in perpetual poverty.

      The world we live in isn't ideal, and it's not the responsibility of Apple or any other company to fix that by raising the standard of living in the third-world to first-world levels before doing business with them. So, excluding charity (which is nowhere near

    • by Relayman (1068986)

      Wouldn't it be nice to have just one consumer electronics manufacturer that made all their stuff in the first-world and paid their workers decent wages? It might be nice to have at least one TV, DVD player and cellphone option that I didn't have to feel guilty about.

      I'm sorry, if it's manufactured in the first world, you can only afford one. Which one do you buy? The TV, the DVD player or the cellphone?

  • Proof please (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kervin (64171)

    Instead of just saying one company does better than the other, I think Mr. Li Qiang would be much more helpful to his cause if he actually published his findings and methodology.

    Or are we suppose to simply believe him on his word?

    • Does it really matter? You're ok with them being equally shit? How about demanding they all raise their standards?
    • Unless you can read Chinese you wouldn't understand it if he did. And perhaps he already has.

      Let's not confuse what he says and publishes with what someone else choses to translate.

    • by w_dragon (1802458)
      That was my thought. He mentions Nokia, but I have yet to see a BlackBerry with a 'made in China' sticker on it, so far I've seen Mexico and Canada. How about he actually list some major manufacturers and why they, in particular, are worse than Apple.
  • by Burz (138833) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @06:54PM (#38973803) Journal

    I would have guessed that Korean brands like Samsung and LG still do a lot of manufacturing in Korea, under better conditions than what China usually has.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The article's title is very misleading in this regard.

      It should read "Apple may be terrible, but other Chinese manufacturers worse".

      Samsung is not even considered in the comparison because it's not made in China.

    • Samsung and LG both manufacture in China.

      • by Asic Eng (193332) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:32PM (#38975321)

        Samsung manufactures in China and in Korea, too. You can get a "Made in Korea" phone from Samsung. However given the guy is a Chinese Labor activist, he probably wants conditions to become better in China, not to move production outside of China.

        • And Foxconn (and indirectly Apple) have factories all over the world. Like Brazil for example.

          The conversation is about the factories in China. Companies that have factories in China are part of the conversation, irrespective of whether they also have factories outside of China.

    • Don't know about LG but Samsung seems to be a Foxconn customer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn#Major_customers [wikipedia.org]

    • I would have guessed that Korean brands like Samsung [,,] still do a lot of manufacturing in Korea, under better conditions than what China usually has.

      Tell that to this guy [wordpress.com].

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:29PM (#38974345) Homepage Journal

    Here's the best line from Li Qiang's statement:

    Although I know that the iPhone 4 is made at sweat shop factories in China, I still think that this is the only choice, because Apple is actually one of the best.

    So, the takeaway is that Apple runs the best sweatshops in China. The question I have, is this: Apple is now the richest and most valuable corporation in the world. If anyone is going to stand up and refuse to accept having their workers live and work in sweatshop conditions, and lead their industry to clean up its act, it ought to be them.

    There are two possibilities here: Either Apple is putting cash in Li Qiang's pocket to say these things, or his comments were translated by Siri.

    Apple was supposed to "Think Different", remember? How about all those full-page Apple ads with Ghandi, Cesar Chavez, Richard Feynman? You think those guys would feel comfortable with workers living 16 to a 12'x12' company-owned dormitory with surveillance cameras? How do you think Ghandi would feel about the working conditions at Foxconn? What do you think would happen if the next Cesar Chavez were to start talking to workers who build iPhones?

    Here was the text of one of Apple's famous ads:

    About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

    There isn't fuck-all that's "inspirational" about the human cost of Apple's treatment of its workers (and yes, that's APPLE's treatment of workers. They're the ones whose products are being made.) It does not "push the human race forward" to make inhuman treatment of workers the industry standard. Every technology company on Earth wants to be like Apple. Apple sets the gold standard, right? So how many CEOs of competing companies are thinking right now, "If we're going to be as successful as Apple, we're going to have to treat our workers even worse!"?

    As an Apple shareholder for more than 25 years, I believe that for one week, every shareholder, every board member, every officer, should have to trade places with someone who builds iPhones. I was finally completely divested last year, but I'd gladly be part of that field trip if it raised awareness of what Apple is currently doing. How they're making their money.

    Fuck Apple. And yes, fuck every other company who profits from these labor practices. But since Apple is at the front of the line, fuck them first.

    • by vakuona (788200)

      How very sanctimonious. If you really feel that bad about Apple (and you didn't divest because you felt Apple had no upside left) then you should really give up all the gains you made because you profited from it. Yes, you should donate it to charity. Until you do that, you are just a man (or woman) with a high horse, trying to preach what you do not practice. You profited from it.

      Like it or not, Apple is doing more for the poor people of China than is, well, pretty much anyone else. Those people have jobs

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Stop applying your first world standards to people in decidedly third world situations.

        I am not applying any standards to people in "decidedly third world situations".

        I am applying first world standards to Apple, Inc.

    • My phone was made in Taiwan. Maybe it was made with sweatshop labour, I haven't checked, but I know that Taiwan is a high income nation and generally uses advanced manufacturing.

      "Best in China" doesn't mean much, turns out things ARE made elsewhere, yes including the US (if you don't know what's made in the US that is your failing, not the US's).

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        (if you don't know what's made in the US that is your failing, not the US's).

        No, it's a failing of the manufacturer for not putting a big "Made in the U.S.A." sticker on the product.

        I will pay twice as much for a product made by union workers. I'll pay 70% more for a product made in the US. I'll pay 40% more for a product certifiably made without sweat shop conditions.

        And for a locally-made product of union workers, I'll pay an additional 125%.

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:25PM (#38975229) Journal

    people in China to build Apple products? Where are the pick-and-place robots and other automated assembly bots? Why are people required to build these things at all?

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