“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 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html?_r=1&;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.
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.
For the rest of this article, go to DennisLoo.com.