Maybe it’s Apple’s fault for having such a sunshiny image in the first place. It’s not as though Foxconn, the Chinese company that has made headlines over the last several years for horrifying working conditions, only makes Apple products. Sure, the company manufactures iPads and iPhones. But it also assembles Amazon’s Kindle, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 3. And yet, it’s Apple that has received by far the most heat following revelations of worker treatment at Foxconn plants. The worst of the news dropped about a year and a half ago, when 18 Foxconn employees attempted suicide, 14 of them succeeding. Many of these leaped from the roof of the company’s Shenzhen factory, a massive complex that employees more than 400,000 people. The company did itself no favors with its reforms in the wake of the suicides, one of which included manufacturing nets around the sides of the buildings to prevent workers from falling to their deaths — a reform, it goes without saying, that doesn’t do a lot to alleviate the underlying problem. Since that time, Foxconn has made headlines on a fairly regular basis, always for its deplorable working conditions — last May an explosion due to aluminum dust at one plant killed two workers and injured 16 more. And Apple, in every instance, bore the brunt of the American media’s criticism for employing this company to do its manufacturing.
Many of the companies for whom Foxconn manufacturers products are not American corporations, so I can see how they avoid bad press more than the company that’s headquartered right here in the old US of A — in Cupertino, Calif., as anyone who’s bought an iPhone and checked the weather app will tell you. A few other companies in this situation are American, but honestly, who expects Microsoft to give a damn about Chinese workers? Apple has one of the most powerful brands in the world, and that brand is based not just on creating great products, but also on a company image that puts it firmly within Google’s less-and-less-accurate-by-the-day motto of “Don’t Be Evil.” So it fell to Apple to actually do something about conditions at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant.
Following several false starts and window-washings, Apple brought in the Fair Labor Association, an independent organization that reviews labor practices of companies and reports deficiencies. The FLA’s report on Foxconn, released Wednesday after several rounds of reforms at the company found that the average work week was 60 hours, that many workers had to work 7 days a week, and that many workers feared for their health and safety. The average amount of time worked in the plants exceeded not only the FLA’s standards, but also the Chinese legal limit. That’s right — Foxconn actually broke the nigh-nonexistent labor standards in China. In light of the damning report, Apple issued a statement that read in part:
“Our team has been working for years to educate workers, improve conditions and make Apple’s supply chain a model for the industry, which is why we asked the FLA to conduct these audits. We share the FLA’s goal of improving lives and raising the bar for manufacturing companies everywhere.”
But what Apple misses is that the company’s supply chain is already a model for the industry. If they’ve set out to provide a model for the rest of American companies to follow, they’ve achieved that goal — move manufacturing overseas to get away from First World labor laws and wages, exploit the living shit out of people in countries to which the manufacturing is moved, and then sell the finished product to Americans, whose buying power is shrinking by the day because of the lack of jobs caused by all that outsourcing. It makes perfect sense if you’re a corporation interested only in short-term gain — or, you know, if you’re evil.