Foxconn Denies iPod Sweatshop Details

Because of the heat issues associated with my Macbook Pro, my lap is a puddle of melted flesh in which my genitalia floats something like a the bulbous yolk in a sunny side up egg. But I still love Apple. I’m a sadomasochist consumer: I dig self-maiming, especially when the instrument is so pretty.

iPod sweatshops, on the other hand? I don’t dig, no matter how pretty my new iPod 60gb is. So I hope the self-righteous denials of Foxconn — Apple’s manufacturing partners — are for real.

What they are denying most vociferously are ‘slave conditions’ in the iPod cities. They argue they are paying a legal Chinese wage (no one was claiming they weren’t) and that the iPod cities have laundry service, libraries and even swimming pools.

Hey, sounds pretty posh. But these claims of sweatshop opulence have people like Wired pointing out that “doesn’t change the fact that a lot of iPods are made in China by low-paid workers who apparently live in factory dormitories.”

At further glance, though, this is just standard knee-jerking — they go on not to express any concern over the well-being of workers making pennies per hour under a Communist regime not particularly sparkling with its human rights record. Instead, they are concerned about supporting the erosion of American manufacturing. A concern we don’t share. Concern over the well being of workers, that’s something. But introducing industry into impoverished countries, bringing up their salaries, educations and standards of living… while keeping prices low for the American consumer? Seems like a perk all around.


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  1. Falconfire says:

    This is from MacInTouch from someone whos not only been to the place, but gave a lecture to the workers there.

    Ken Tidwell offered insights on the issue of iPod factory conditions:

    The Foxconn compound that is being mentioned in recent news concerning iPod factory working conditions, etc. (Apple iPod factories reportedly ‘sweatshops’) is approximately 45 minutes east of my office here in Nanshan, Shenzhen (Southern China, Guangdong Province). I was inside the LongHau facility just last month, and had a chance to observe workers and their environment first hand.
    I was told that the current population is around 120,000, and out of all of the Chinese factories I’ve had a chance to work at and tour, the Foxconn site is certainly one of the largest. I believe the new plant in Shanghai is home to around only 2,000 at this time. I’ve been in and around factories all over Asia for the past decade, and clearly, the Foxconn iPod plant ranks as one of the better ones.
    Yes, there is security – the same as every other office/factory in China. In many cases, the workers are safer inside than out. I worked as Operations Manager at a small factory (300 workers), in Shenzhen, during 2004, and there were two murders right outside the gate, both as a result of purse-snatchings that turned into knife fights. Additionally, Foxconn must be able to promise some sort of protection to Apple’s goings-on. There are another thousand reasons to have guards/gates, most of which involve scams that result in a shakedown for cash. In these examples, the employer and the employee both welcome any protection that is valid.
    Once inside, the first thing you notice, other than the shear scale of the place, is that it seems to be a city all on its own. You can see convenience stores, fast food outlets (KFC), dry cleaners, banks, health clinics, movie theaters, soccer fields and of course, dorm after dorm after dorm.
    The five hundred staffers I recently lectured to were all in good spirits and clearly satisfied with their jobs and working conditions. The lecture that evening was on project management, in English, of course, and the group’s appetite for this type of information was barely quenched. Their biggest worry on that evening? Planning the next weekend with friends, of course.
    As for cramped quarters, it doesn’t matter if you are talking 10 or 100, if the space is too tight, it will be uncomfortable – and here, comfort is relative. Ask most workers, and they will tell you, yes, the dorms are packed, but not as bad as they could be. The salaries are relative as well. At least Foxconn makes good on its promise to pay. And the little they make compared to other countries is more than they made on the farm…in most cases, more than the entire family made. Most are women due to their fine motor skills. Ages are supposed to range from 18 to 25, but you can always find them under 18 if you check their documents closely. Considering the options are either factories like this one or brothels, these factories are doing their part to provide humane employment.
    Want to find a bad example? How about that new tower going up in Shanghai for (pick a name…any major corporation) – the laborers pouring concrete and tieing rebar work for food, just so a foreign VP can enjoy the view from the 48th story. Or how about the hundreds of small factories that hire and never pay. The worker joins up, and after the first month is told things are bad, and they will have to wait one more month…and then the same thing the next month. After 3 months, the worker leaves without being paid and another takes her place. The Chinese govt. started hot-lines so that workers can blow the whistle on these types, but with so many of them, one wonders if the tide will ever turn.
    Apple takes pains to validate working conditions, from numbers of engineers, along with their ages and sex, to what type of fuel is used in the indoor forklifts. As far as the Foxconn facility, it is without a doubt one of the better domestic examples. I can only guess why this hit the headlines, since there are many other topics that do deserve attention, such as the increase of fat-laden Western fastfood being put on the market and the business tactics Microsoft uses to buy into China’s future. Knowing the Chinese, I’m fairly sure they can see Microsoft for what it is, but the fast food chains are going to have waistlines here mimicking the US by the end of this generation.

  2. ModerateSnark says:

    Thank you, Falconfire and Ken Tidwell.

    I finally feel like I have some real information about the situation.

    So we import shiny iPods, and export shiny KFC trans fats.

  3. Ben says:

    Okay, we don’t get a KFC where I work. But then, I’m also a spoiled ‘merican who probably makes more in an hour than half the world makes in a week. And there’s a Jack in the Box within walking distance of the office.

    Very insightful reading, here. Thanks.