Foxconn, Working Conditions and How Much We All Really Care

If you follow anything Apple, you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding the working conditions at Foxconn, the supplier of such products as the iPhone and the iPad. This controversy has been swirling around the news outlets for a while now and things have really heated up over the past few weeks.

I’m here to ask one important question: how much do people really care? Forget about what the press wants you to think and ask yourself that question. Deep down, how much does it really matter?

China, Incorporated

First, it’s important to get the right frame for all of the things people are telling you. We aren’t talking about working conditions in, say, Nebraska. We’re talking about China, a country that accounts for a huge portion of the world’s population and has been mass-producing Western (and Eastern) goods for the last couple of decades.

What do we know about China? If you’re like me, the answer is probably “not all that much.” What we do know is that as bad as Foxconn is, it can’t be abnormally bad compared to what Chinese workers are accustomed to, given the large crowds of people that try to get a job at the huge supplier’s factory.

The Chinese population, from Wolfram Alpha.

The Chinese population, from Wolfram Alpha.

It’s a plain fact that many of the people that are getting all hot and heavy over this (Western journalists and consumers) are looking at this through the wrong lens. They have jobs that don’t require such long hours and pay a significantly higher salary, so they expect that this is the way it is all over the world. This is a fallacy, not only at Foxconn but in many other countries with similar conditions.

It Isn’t Just Apple

The media seems to think that Apple is the only company that makes use of Foxconn for mass-producing goods. This simply isn’t true; other electronics companies (including Amazon, Microsoft and Sony) work with Foxconn. As a matter of fact, one of the recent suicides that gained a lot of attention wasn’t even working on Apple products, but instead on manufacturing the Xbox 360.

Why is Apple getting blamed for all of this, then? Because Apple is the biggest company, not only in terms of how much they’re ordering from Foxconn but also in terms of, you know, being the biggest company in the entire world. Apple’s a prime target for any kind of controversy, no matter how much they have to do with the actual issue.

What Do You Want Apple To Do About It?

What goes on in Foxconn isn’t, as a point of fact, Apple’s responsibility. While they have a certain moral responsibility that is imposed by the company itself (and its stakeholders) they don’t really have any control of what happens behind Foxconn’s closed doors. Sure, they have one hell of a big stick to make Foxconn do what it wants, but beyond that Foxconn isn’t part of Apple.

Sure, Apple could threaten to leave Foxconn, but what then? Who do they do business with that can crank iOS devices out at the rate that they’re selling? Once you’ve got that (short) list, go ahead and look at how many of those places have better working conditions than Foxconn. Who’s left?

Best of luck finding someone capable of producing that many devices that quickly. (Chart from Asymco)

Best of luck finding someone capable of producing that many devices that quickly. (Chart from Asymco)

Until the rest of the world can match China in terms of sheer export powers, Apple is going to do business with Foxconn. They’re doing their best to help the workers, but at the end of the day Apple can’t decide what happens in the Chinese company.

Does It Really, Genuinely Matter?

Let me ask you this: have you stopped using your iPhone since you heard about all of this stuff that’s going on at Foxconn? My money is on no, you haven’t. I don’t blame you, neither have I.

Do you think that the people who walk into a carrier’s store or Best Buy are going to think to themselves, Hey, I wonder how this was made and how much someone had to work to produce it? Again, my money is on no. We don’t care about that in our day-to-day lives. We’re looking for well-made, cheap products, and Foxconn is where we can get them from.

If you actually stopped using your iPhone because of this, and you’re working to change things, good for you. I’m happy, and I would like to see these things change. Until then though, I’m not going to pretend that this is some moral injustice that we’re all just realizing. This is the way that the world works. You can either act like you didn’t know that all along or you can continue using the products that you love.

My money’s on the latter.

  • Jennifer

    From what I saw on nightline, the workers get room and board for for a month for one days pay. The room conditions seem small but alot more sanitary from their original home. Their meals for the day can be purchased for an hours work. Sure what they do stinks but if I could have living costs comparable to one days work and my meals for a day paid for in one hour, and have a relatively brainless job that I need next to no experience or education for, it doesnt seem that bad to me.

    • shlee

      But think about how much work it requires, the long hours of hard work and also the repetitiveness of it all, ain’t that a little sad? What about family?

  • Tessa Thornton

    I was a little surprised to see this kind of article on Appstorm, but I’m glad I did. I agree that these media-outrage events that tend to happen from time to time are ineffective, and even counter-productive, as they spread the message that it’s just a ‘few bad apples’ that employ these practices. As you rightly point out, it’s certainly not just Apple, pretty much everything you own that was mass-produced was made in a sweatshop.

    However, I think you could have done without the ‘labour standards are relative’ argument, which we could obviously argue about endlessly. I happen to think it’s a highly problematic perspective.

    But, as you say, at the end of the day, this won’t affect people’s consumption habits. If consumers really cared about labour standards, and were informed about their prevalence, they’d be left with no choice but to stop purchasing mass-produced goods.

  • Eric

    I agree with you. This isn’t a factory in Nebraska and $1.75 per hour is a good job for them. Related to their normal surroundings, it’s probably a better wage than what I got flipping burgers at McDonald’s 40-years ago.

    America has got to quit forcing our way-of-life onto everyone else’s habitat, assuming they want to be like us.

    I do agree that if Apple, HP, Dell and everyy other manufacturer that works with Foxconn made a little cooperative noise, maybe they could change some things, but it seems that the Chinese employees really don’t think it’s ‘broke’ yet… Why should we?

  • Jonas Rico

    Wow … ridiculous …
    You should keep doing reviews about app’s instead of writing stupidities.
    “You can pretend that you don’t know or continu to use the product … ” isn’t it the same thing? …

    People saying : “Oh but that’s normal for them”
    Please refrain from commenting, you make yourself sound dumber…

    To conclude this, I will tell you to go watch this clip :
    It’s about the situation in congo but it is put into a “Western context”.
    And don’t forget : THATS NORMAL FOR THEM!

    btw, this is NSFW

  • Emrah Omuris

    First of all, well done for your brave approach to this highly sensitive subject. While everything you say is true, and your opinions are your opinions, there is one slight problem though. We are humans, and our greed has put the world’s economy into where it stands now. It is cracking. And this is all as a result of our greed, us wanting the best, the most, the biggest, the highest, the most expensive thing(s). And companies are there to make money, yes you’re right. But your extremely-so-materialist approach to this issue is not a song to my ears. Apple being the world’s biggest company makes things even worse, because a handful of people in Apple’s boardroom are the ones who are benefiting from it. And, us users are ‘buying’ our happiness by paying the price for our iPhones, iPods, iPads, Macs and more… Because we can. We have something called ‘disposable income’.

    How about the ones who produce our needs? How about their needs? There was one person in one of those documentaries about Foxconn saying he’s never seen an iPad before, despite him working on the factory producing the iPad itself. Isn’t there something wrong with this do you think?

    We are humans. The situation with Foxconn has gained so much momentum purely because there are some people who’s got a tiny bit of ’emotion’ left in themselves.

    On a final note, I can’t say I am very happy to read an article on the AppStorm network. Against the website’s name, against the overall context of the website so far. The context that makes us visit this website over and over again. Please don’t damage it.

  • Mark

    What a self dillusional speech. For those of you who buy into this “it’s okay, they’re used to it” babble all I can say is, I hope your children don’t have to grow up in this kind of environment. This will spread, greed always does. Poor Apple, after all they only make $400k profit per worker, how could they survive without slave labor.

  • Jonathan

    To everyone who criticize this article, I suggest you go ahead and dump all your electronics because all of them are made by the same cheap labour as any Apple products.

    You are either a hypocrite or you really don’t care about the working conditions.

    It’s easy to stand on your moral high group and give Apple shit for Foxconn. But when it comes to actually paying extra for your electronics, I bet none of you will actually cough up that extra couple hundred bucks to have it built in an American factory. So please stop your bullshit and just admit you won’t pay that extra money.

    Plus, Foxconn’s working condition is not as bad as the media portrayed. The thing about American culture is that there always has to be a bad guy, you always have to be fighting someone. Be it the middle east, or the evil corporations, This is China we are talking about, they have a completely different lifestyle to yours, and frankly flipping burgers at McDonalds for less than 10 bucks an hour with no annual leave or medical insurance isn’t any better than Foxconn’s working condition. Beside the fact that Foxconn and Apple is already paying more than what other factories are paying their workers.

    You are living in a bubble, assuming everyone can all live in the suburbs, driving nice cars, while everything is still as cheap as they are right now. That’s not how the world works.

  • VAL

    White people are a trip. theyre whole history is made up of lies, deceit, laziness, and murder. look it up! everyone no matter where you are deserve to be paid a normal wage and be treated like a decent human being. apple needs to be taken down b/c that will show the smaller companies they cant get away with this kind of crap. if you are white you have no idea what its like to be enslaved, or have your family members treated like 2nd class citizens. AS FOR EVERYONE ELSE who has been oppressed, they need help. its easy to turn the other cheek.

  • VAL

    AND..if apple is using foxconn to make their products it IS their responsibility to make sure their employees are treated fairly just like they do here in the us. i dont see the kids working at the i-store committing suicide

  • Atowne

    I heard the Foxconn story with Mike Daisey and although I dont like his pompous arrogant style, the content sure hit home. I no longer use Apple shit and its not about beating my chest and asserting myself on some kind of morale high ground, its about doing the right thing. Everyone deserves the right to find happiness and those who cant stand for themselves need someone to stand for them. I dont think we as Americans have to police the world but when our crap has such a negative impact on other people we have a responsibility to see that it ends. Together people really can create change and people shouldnt stand for this shit.

  • Atowne

    To the one dude talking about coughing up an extra 100 bucks to have it built in American factories, you can kiss that dream goodbye because the Republicans have deregulated everything. We will never have industry here again. It prob would help the economy to have big companies produce goods here, but they dont want to be held accountable for how things are produced… what’s the line of questioning in Billy Madison? oh yeah “Business Ethics!”

    • NakkiNyan

      Nice try.

      These companies would have to build entire cities to house 500,000 in order to produce the amounts required. Deregulation has nothing to do with importing, at all. If you want to blame anyone, blame Clinton not the Republicans, he was the one who opened trading to China which was how mass production of US products in China started.

  • NakkiNyan

    So, so far we have:
    One of the highest Chinese manufacturing wages in non-sweatshop conditions compared to rape. Nice.
    Apple Store employees compared to manufacturing jobs and bringing up the Xbox suicide for comparison.
    Ignoring the fact that the working conditions are blown out of proportion. You will find Americans complaining about the same things at their jobs.

  • SuperBek

    Да на хую я вас вертел хуеплеты)