I spent weeks last year, and the year before that, being inundated by morons claiming that Apple’s products were assembled by legions of Chinese children. None of these mouthbreathers bothered to actually read Apple’s annual Supplier Responsibility Report; instead, they just parroted whatever sensationalist bullshit they’d read in birdcage-liners like The Telegraph or Gizmodo.
It’s happening yet again this year, with drearily idiotic seasonality. “Hard-hitting exposés” from the New York Times. A guy with a Broadway show where he spends hours bitching about Foxconn. Suburbanite hippies with no sense of irony using their Chinese-built PCs and Chinese-built printers to print out 250,000 pointless, toothless internet petition signatures, then delivering them to bemused Apple Retail workers with no power over the situation whatsoever.
“Apple is benefitting from sweatshops!” these people bray. “They should do something!”
These people seem to have it in their heads that these Chinese factories are Dickensian horrors where people work under the brutal lash of overseers, 18 hours per day, seven days per week, inhaling coal dust and mainlining heavy metals, sipping watery gruel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and bedding down on a straw mattress for a few fitful hours’ respite before the terror begins anew the next day. These people have been made to think this way because hyperbole sells newspapers.
We hear about how the Chinese workers work long hours, get paid very little, and (the horror!) actually spend most of their work shifts standing up. We hear the workers complain of being tired, of feeling unappreciated, of how they wish things were better.
Here’s a thought: go to any factory anywhere in the world, even the few factories still running in the United States, and find a single one where things are any different.
Most of these people bitching and whining about conditions in Chinese factories — conditions that it’s fair to say few of them have seen in person — have probably never set foot in an operational factory even once in their lives, much less actually worked in one.
Guess what? I have. I worked in a factory in Ohio for about a month in 2004. And nothing that I’ve heard reported from the Foxconn factories sounds any worse than what I endured during my brief fling with factory work.
- Long hours? Check: ten hours a day.
- Low pay? Check: seven bucks an hour, terrible wages even for Ohio, and unlike the wages Foxconn workers earn, far below the cost of living for the area.
- A dehumanising work environment? Oh, you better believe check; factory work is about the most mentally torturous job imaginable.
- Unsafe conditions? Check: huge, loud machines with exposed moving parts, constant risk of RSI, etc.
- Exposure to chemicals? Check: plastic resin fumes, propane gas, and all kinds of other shit I don’t even want to think about.
- Unsympathetic management? Check: anybody not wearing a Tyvek bunny suit couldn’t have given a shit less about people on the floor if they’d had step-by-step instructions.
- Mandatory overtime? Super-duper-check; in fact, it was my discovery of the company’s mandatory overtime policies that convinced me to quit then and there, without notice. Ten hours a day, five days a week wasn’t enough for these assholes; no, they wanted ten hours a day six days a week, and I had no option to refuse other than quitting.
Factory work by its very nature is gruelling, inhumane, unsafe, and fucking terrible. If you think Apple is going to step into Foxconn’s Shenzhen plants, wave a unicorn horn around, and make it so every single worker gets a free daily massage, $100 a day, and a personal sense of accomplished fulfillment as a side dish to a pampered life of luxury, think again hippy.
If an American factory can suck as much as it did in 2004, there’s not much hope you can turn a Chinese factory into Disneyland Shenzhen no matter how much money or how many petition signatures you throw at the problem.
Factory work sucks, period. It will never not suck. Stop kidding yourself if you think it will… but also stop kidding yourself that these workers are being “abused”. No one is forcing them to work for Foxconn. No one is being “enslaved”; in fact, people line up by the thousands for the opportunity to work there.
Apple is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: yearly audits to discover actual worker abuses, and corrective action for repeat offenders, up to and including severance of the business relationship. The working conditions may sound horrible by your pampered suburbanite standards, where the most uncomfortable part of your day is the daily commute, but I’m willing to bet if I spent a day walking the floor at Foxconn, I wouldn’t witness anything worse than what I experienced firsthand in Ohio.
As for your hemming and hawing over Apple having its devices built under such “terrible conditions,” I humbly suggest you inspect your clothing tags and tell me where your T-shirt and hipster jeans were made. I can damned near guarantee you that your clothing, your TV, your stereo, and even a lot of your food were manufactured under exponentially more brutal conditions than Foxconn’s workers face.
Enough of the “sweatshop Apple” bullshit. I’m sick of your bitching.