Dennis Loo

Sometimes asking for the impossible is the only realistic path

Dennis Loo

Dennis Loo
Los Angeles, California,
December 31
Professor of Sociology
Cal Poly Pomona
Author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society; Co-Editor/Author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, World Can't Wait Steering Committee Member, co-author of "Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them" statement, dog and fruit tree lover. Published poet. Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, Project Censored Award and the Nation Magazine's Most Valuable Campaign Award. Punahou and Harvard Honor Graduate. Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. An archive of close to 500 postings of mine can be found at my blogspot blog, Dennis Loo, link below. I publish regularly at, (link below) and also at OpEd News and sometimes at Counterpunch.

JANUARY 27, 2012 5:37PM

Dirty, Pretty Things: Apple, Inc. and China

Rate: 11 Flag


Capital … comes into the world soiled with gore from top to toe and oozing blood from every pore.”

                        -- Karl Marx, Capital


I love my Mac and iPad. Their design and aesthetic appeal make PC’s look like clunkers made by people who never thought that design and technology have anything in common. I hate working on PCs because of this. And don’t get me started about Microsoft’s products.


Apple is also the most successful and admired company today. When The New York Times surveyed people about Apple as part of its;nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2">series on China this week, Americans had trouble thinking of anything negative to say about Apple, with the largest complaint being the prices and only 2% citing its overseas labor practices. On Tuesday Apple announced one of the most profitable quarters for any company in history: $13.06 billion in profits from $46.3 billion in sales.


I am going to first excerpt a few segments from the second Times’ article. I recommend, however, that you read both articles in their entirety if you haven’t already.


“Apple typically asks suppliers to specify how much every part costs, how many workers are needed and the size of their salaries. Executives want to know every financial detail. Afterward, Apple calculates how much it will pay for a part. Most suppliers are allowed only the slimmest of profits.


“So suppliers often try to cut corners, replace expensive chemicals with less costly alternatives, or push their employees to work faster and longer, according to people at those companies.


“’The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,’ said an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. ‘And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.’


“In January 2010, workers at a Chinese factory owned by Wintek, an Apple manufacturing partner, went on strike over a variety of issues, including widespread rumors that workers were being exposed to toxins. Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.


“Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.


“Apple commented on the Wintek injuries a year later. In its supplier responsibility report, Apple said it had ‘required Wintek to stop using n-hexane’ and that ‘Apple has verified that all affected workers have been treated successfully, and we continue to monitor their medical reports until full recuperation.’ Apple also said it required Wintek to fix the ventilation system.


“That same month, a New York Times reporter interviewed a dozen injured Wintek workers who said they had never been contacted by Apple or its intermediaries, and that Wintek had pressured them to resign and take cash settlements that would absolve the company of liability. After those interviews, Wintek pledged to provide more compensation to the injured workers and Apple sent a representative to speak with some of them.


“Six months later, trade publications reported that Apple significantly cut prices paid to Wintek.


“’You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,’ said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. ‘If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.’”


“’We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,’ said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. ‘Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.’


“’If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?’ the executive asked.”


What stands out about this are a few things, but what I was immediately struck by while reading this passage was how Apple’s strategy of squeezing suppliers is exactly what Walmart is infamous for doing. Now at least some of the people in Apple are more socially aware than the plunder dogs who own Walmart. As the article points out:

“Some former Apple executives say there is an unresolved tension within the company: executives want to improve conditions within factories, but that dedication falters when it conflicts with crucial supplier relationships or the fast delivery of new products.”

What was Steve Jobs’ view of this?

“In 2010, Steven P. Jobs discussed the company’s relationships with suppliers at an industry conference.


“’I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry, and maybe in any industry, of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain,’ said Mr. Jobs, who was Apple’s chief executive at the time and who died last October.


“’I mean, you go to this place, and, it’s a factory, but, my gosh, I mean, they’ve got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools, and I mean, for a factory, it’s a pretty nice factory.’”


Yes, they have these amenities, but what you’ve got here are a few modern conveniences side by side with working and living conditions most similar to the oppressive and inhuman conditions described by Charles Dickens in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution:

“[T]he company’s dorms, where 70,000 Foxconn [which produces 40% of the electronics for all high tech companies in the world] workers lived, at times stuffed 20 people to a three-room apartment, employees said. Last year, a dispute over paychecks set off a riot in one of the dormitories, and workers started throwing bottles, trash cans and flaming paper from their windows, according to witnesses. Two hundred police officers wrestled with workers, arresting eight. Afterward, trash cans were removed, and piles of rubbish — and rodents — became a problem.

“The next year, a Foxconn employee fell or jumped from an apartment building after losing an iPhone prototype. Over the next two years, at least 18 other Foxconn workers attempted suicide or fell from buildings in manners that suggested suicide attempts.”

As I commented in the NY Times thread on their second article, in response to someone who said that American workers would jump at the chance to take jobs like this: Yes, they’re jumping alright. Over the balcony, into the air, and down to the ground to their deaths.

The Background

In the 1960s and 1970s in China, before Mao’s death in 1976 and while China was still a socialist country, a fierce struggle went on within the Chinese Communist Party leadership and the entire society over the road forward. There were those such as Deng Xiaoping who asserted that it “doesn’t matter if a cat is white or black, so long as it catches mice” – in other words, those in the Party who are concerned about how things were being done should not worry, capitalist norms for production are just as good as (in fact, better than) socialist norms. This was one expression of the gulf between those in the Party whose real goal was to turn China into an industrial powerhouse along capitalist lines and those such as Mao and The Four who were his closest allies who believed that the revolution would be lost if Deng’s revisionist views were allowed to carry the day. Within hours of Mao’s death, Deng’s allies seized power and arrested The Four, and set about progressively turning China into Deng’s vision. For the first few years after their coup they continued to pretend that those in charge were the true inheritors of Mao and that The Four were secretly the enemies of socialism. Over time, however, they began to shed that pretense as their power was more secure and they began to more and more openly embrace capitalist norms. This led to the elevation of capitalists to the prize spots and the degradation of the working class to the bottom of the heap.

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apple, mac, ipad, china, spring uprising

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geez, its like deja vu all over again. dickens lived over 1.5 century ago didnt he? it took that long to get the 40hr, 5 day workweek, and overtime, but the corporatists are slowly chipping away at that using economic abitrage via undeveloped countries like china. nowhere do you use the word TOTALITARIAN in your essay, but its the key adjective to keep in mind. its not that far from a 1984 culture except very high tech and capitalist darwinism.
and the info about foxconns robotic like culture has been around for years but finally lately the public is starting to notice something. Im not sure why. it almost does seem entirely linked to the NYT covering it. I guess the NYT is just a tiny little bolder after Occupy. and actually maybe sheepishly, tenderly experimenting with a genuine Left pov.... haha
I suppose you have forgotten the millions of peasants dying of starvation in the artificial famine caused by Mao and Communist policy in the late 1950s, the Cultural Revolution, etc. You call me dishonest but dishonesty, fraud and deceit are at the heart of Communist practice. You will see in a couple of years how pathetically ineffective the Occupy movement will have been. It's a good thing Occupy L.A. was dismantled...too bad the police didn't 'rough you up' a bit Dennis, teach you a lesson...wink
thank-you for covering this!
For a sense of where things stand within the U.S., see this from the New York Review of Books, 2/9/12 issue, in an article entitled "What Future for Occupy Wall Street":

"A recent Pew Research Center poll found that for the first time more people under the age of thirty view socialism positively than view capitalism positively—49 to 46 percent—although what they meant by socialism was not clearly defined. It seems possible that the wars and recessions of the past decade have given rise to a politicized generation that will have, over the coming years, a lasting effect on the country."

What people mean by socialism is, not unexpectedly, undefined, but what this indicates is that the mood has shifted and that GOP pollster Frank Luntz's openly expressed fears that OWS has changed the way people see capitalism are wholly warranted.

What young people and not so young people see with their own eyes in their life experiences is the tremendous inequity and damage that capitalism as it is operating is doing. This is what is making them think that some other alternative to this madness and damage must exist. Obviously, this is something that people in China are also experiencing, and in an more intense way, to say the least. While their government continues to call itself communist, everyone recognizes that what's going on is capitalism with all of its hoary characteristics.

vzn: Thank you so much for your visit and comments. It is capitalist social Darwinism.

Dolores: thanks!

The contrast between those of us who can see injustice when we see it and those who celebrate injustice and think brutality is fine couldn't be starker.
See Does the American Apple Rot at its Capitalist Core?

To quote John Perkins in his jaw-dropping book Confessions of and Economic Hit Man

"Today, men and women are going into Thailand, the Philippines, Botswana, Bolivia and every other country where they hope to find people desperate for work. They go to these places with the express purpose of exploiting wretched people - people whose children are severely malnourished, even starving, people who live in shantytowns and have lost all hope of a better life, people who have ceased to even dream of another day. These men and women leave their plush offices in Manhattan or San Francisco or Chicago, streak across continents and oceans in luxurious jetliners, check into first-class hotels, and dine at the finest restaurants the country has to offer. Then they go searching for desperate people.

Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena and Havana. They simply recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing, Or they may elect not even to own the factory themselves; instead, they hire a local businessman to do all their dirty work for them.

These men and women think of themselves as upright. They return to their homes with photographs of quaint sites and ancient ruins, to show to their children. They attend seminars where they apt each other on the back and exchange tidbits of advice about dealing with the eccentricities of customs in far-off lands. Their bosses hire lawyers who assure them that what they are doing is perfectly legal. They have a cadre of psychotherapists and other human resource experts at their disposal to convince them that they are helping those desperate people.

The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing with a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, that they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assured herself (or himself) that the desperate pople are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and that they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation for her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world - or of how they may ultimately impact her children's future."
Our entire planet (not to mention our economy) is exceeding its carrying capacity.
The value of Apple seems to be the result of their successful advertising. Their technology is nothing special; their laptops are made of the same parts as all other laptops and their mobile phones are just highly overpriced average things.

They were pioneers to develop good software but nowadays their software is just average, too. One thing is that their software is completely closed as is the case with Microsoft software, too.

To fight successfully against Apple's labor abuses you can easily completely stop using and buying their products. You have no need to use any Microsoft products either. I've used only free debian software with my computers already something like ten years.
How could something so long, so wrong-headed, and so obviously a part of the collectivist claptrap that frustrated California academics are peddling failed to have received an EP or a FP?
Who would dare to disagree with Gordon O? If only he'd give us something specific to respond to instead of blanket critical generalizations... Or would that be too much to expect from the un-frustrated non-Californian academic?

Hannu: while boycotts can be effective tools in one's arsenal, I would disagree with you that this problem, which is industry-wide and capitalism-wide, could be easily solved merely through a boycott. See this article in TNYT about Apple skirting billions in taxes by subterfuge.
While Apple's integration of design and function is rare -- Bang & Olafsen being another example, tho that company is hardly a mass market producer on a par with Apple, Apple's business model is hardly new. Screwing suppliers has been Sears business model for decades. Ditto for Walmart.

The ONLY concern such companies have for their suppliers is the same as any other parasite -- if you're going to kill off the host, you better have another host readily at hand.

As for China, there's nothing new about their model either. Strikes me, it's pretty much the same as that practiced by Romania under Ceausescu and the Communists. That is, a too rapid industrialization of an agrarian economy/society, entombing ill-paid, ill-protected workers in factory housing (labor camps), and little or no regard for developing a social safety net.

Strikes me that is also becoming more and more the American model as well. Historically, that model invariably leads to revolution. In short, Marx may have miscalculated the timing, but not the outcome.
Tom - Thanks for the relevant history lesson. The only alteration I'd make it in is to point out that the "communists" under Ceausescu were not communists. The approach that Mao took during his time was radically different where the principle in the lead was that workers were to be in charge and that worker safety and welfare beyond that were of paramount importance.

Francois and ONL: Thanks for your comments!
"this problem is industry-wide and capitalism-wide"

Yes, I agree.

I meant that in principle and in practice you don't need Apple products at all. There are better products around. As an individual you can stop using their products. Others can do the same.

For the industry-wide problem, what to do? I think that you have done well to write about the problem. Rated.
The perfect illustration of how absolute power will corrupt absolutely.
And, I'm sorry to say, I drive an iMac.....