Chinese protesters force municipal government to back off from chemical plant plan

Living on Earth, 8 November, 2012

image

[Chinese protesters, like the one pictured here, have had success recently in beating back industrial projects. (Photo by Josh Chin.)]

China’s efforts to grow its economy and its manufacturing base are meeting resistance as the country’s middle class burgeons. In Ningbo, a plan to build a petrochemical plant was beaten back by protesters in the street who say these plants are affecting their health.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Ningbo, China, recently in opposition to a petrochemical plant they feel is a danger to public health.

After three days of demonstrations, and clashes between protesters and the police, the government has called the project off — at least for now.

Ben Carlson, a journalist with the Global Post who lives in Hong Kong, said the protests started out as a series of smaller protests.

“By the time the weekend rolled around there were several thousand people in the streets,” he said. “There were reports of the protesters overturning cars, and the police arrested several of the demonstrators — that actually became one of the causes that people were demonstrating against later on.” Continue reading

“Shocking” disclosure of extreme wealth at pinnacle of capitalist China’s power elite

[While the socialist fig-leaf of China no longer has the power to confuse all who have watched, from near and from afar, the discarding of socialist  — peasant and workers’ — power for over three decades, the Western bourgeoisie have continued to slam the emergent exploitative and oppressive Chinese capitalist system as characteristic of “socialism” — in hopes that once overthrown, socialism will not rise again.  But all this exposure in the New York Times does, is describe a common feature of capitalist systems worldwide.  Such “investigative journalism” is a good example of “the pot calling the kettle black.” “If you live in a glass house, you should not throw stones at other glass houses.”  The bourgeois Chinese state, in response, has blocked access in China to the New York Times online, in hope, no doubt, that the tattered and shredded socialist fig-leaf  may yet be a useful cover.  But, to use another analogy, “the Emperor has no clothes” that serve to disguise the reality. — Frontlines ed.]

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October 25, 2012

Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader

By

BEIJING — The mother of China’s prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao’s political campaigns. And during childhood, “my family was extremely poor,” the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year.

But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind, she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

Deng Xiaoping, who led the new and resurgent capitalists to seize power from the working people of China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. He popularized the slogan promoting individual greed against social and collective advance: “To get rich is glorious!”

In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy.

Unlike most new businesses in China, the family’s ventures sometimes received financial backing from state-owned companies, including China Mobile, one of the country’s biggest phone operators, the documents show. At other times, the ventures won support from some of Asia’s richest tycoons. The Times found that Mr. Wen’s relatives accumulated shares in banks, jewelers, tourist resorts, telecommunications companies and infrastructure projects, sometimes by using offshore entities.

The holdings include a villa development project in Beijing; a tire factory in northern China; a company that helped build some of Beijing’s Olympic stadiums, including the well-known “Bird’s Nest”; and Ping An Insurance, one of the world’s biggest financial services companies.

As prime minister in an economy that remains heavily state-driven, Mr. Wen, who is best known for his simple ways and common touch, more importantly has broad authority over the major industries where his relatives have made their fortunes. Chinese companies cannot list their shares on a stock exchange without approval from agencies overseen by Mr. Wen, for example. He also has the power to influence investments in strategic sectors like energy and telecommunications. Continue reading

China: Over 30 years since capitalism seized power, the slow discard of socialist fig-leaf

[While the  use of “reform” language undoubtedly refers to the planned bourgeois “democratic” invigoration of capitalist forces — and to no hope for “democratic” relief for the peasants and workers suffering greater impoverishment (as fruit of their removal from socialist power) — the discarding of Maoist imagery by the billionaire capitalist rulers of “reform” China is unmistakeably clear. — Frontlines ed.]

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Reuters:  “China hints at reform by dropping Mao wording”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

* Removal of wording about Mao Zedong signals push for reform – analyst

* Internal debate about direction of incoming leadership

* Others say it may be too soon to write off Mao’s deep legacy

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING, Oct 23 (Reuters) – The subtle dropping of references to late Chinese leader Mao Zedong from two policy statements over the last few weeks serves as one of the most intriguing hints yet that the ruling Communist Party is planning to move in the direction of reform.

Mao has always been held up as an ideological great in party communiques, his name mentioned almost by default in homage to his role in founding modern China and leading the Communist Party, whose rule from the 1949 revolution remains unbroken.

Which is why the dropping of the words “Mao Zedong thought” from two recent statements by the party’s elite Politburo ahead of a landmark congress, at which a new generation of leaders will take the top party posts, has attracted so much attention.

Also absent were normally standard references to Marxism-Leninism. Continue reading

Chinese iPhone 5 workers strike over increased quality control demands, holiday work

Foxconn Workers Go On Strike Over Insane iPhone 5 Demands, Disrupting Production

foxconn

If you’ve been waiting for iPhone 5s to become available, you may have to wait a while longer.

In the latest reminder of the harsh working conditions, crappy pay, and brutal hours endured by those who make the gadgets the world loves, 3,000–4,000 workers at a Foxconn plant have gone on strike, according to China Labor Watch. (via Lauren Indvik at Mashable).

The strike, which was reportedly over impossibly-high work-quality standards, apparently shut down iPhone production lines at the factory for a day.

Here’s the statement from China Labor Watch:

(New York) China Labor Watch (CLW) announced that at 1:00PM on October 5 (Beijing time), a strike occurred at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory that, according to workers, involved three to four thousand production workers. In addition to demanding that workers work during the holiday, Foxconn raised overly strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. Additionally, quality control inspectors fell into to conflicts with workers and were beat up multiple times by workers. Factory management turned a deaf ear to complaints about these conflicts and took no corrective measures. The result of both of these circumstances was a widespread work stoppage on the factory floor among workers and inspectors. Continue reading

2,000 Workers Riot At China’s Foxconn Factory

Unrest at the notorious factory where Apple manufactures many of its products injures 40 employees, reportedly stems from security guards beating a worker.

Jessica Testa BuzzFeed Staff
Source: micgadget

A fight among 2,000 factory workers broke out Sunday night at a Foxconn Technology Group factory dorm in China, NBC News reports.

The dorm brawl injured 40 people and shut down production Monday, Foxconn said in a statement. There have been reports in Chinese media that 10 people died, but the company has not confirmed any deaths.

The factory employs about 79,000 workers who make electronic components of automobiles and consumers products, including the Apple iPhone 5, according to Reuters.

Photos and videos of the aftermath were captured and shared on Chinese microblogging sites:

Foxconn said the incident began as a personal dispute around 11 p.m. and ended around 3 a.m. But word spread quickly on Chinese blogs that the fight may have been started by security guards who nearly beat a worker to death. Continue reading

China’s migrants and the desperate struggle for survival

[“Civil society” activists examine the barriers to their “underground” influence and the effect of their activism among migrant workers in the post-socialist, capitalist China.  —  Frontlines ed.]

China: The view from the ground

The self-organising efforts of migrant workers and rights activists across China offer a vital insight into the nature and future of modern Chinese society, says Hsiao-Hung Pai.

The experience of migrant workers in China, who number well over 200 million in this society of 1.2 billion, is a vital route to understanding the nature of present-day Chinese society. Migrants are the most marginalised and unorganised group of workers in China. Many feel that they are like scattered sand (san sha), a phrase that evokes their lack of collective strength and power to change things. In face of unpaid wages and all levels of abuses by companies, they often find themselves fighting their battles alone – and even when they take their bosses to court, this rarely ends in victory.

An example of such protest is an incident in Yunnan province, in China’s southwest, where the tourism company Xinhua Shizhaizi owed 8 million yuan to 500 migrant workers for a construction project. They were helpless but were determined to fight to the end, even though no institutions and no media would come to their aid. Eventually, thirteen children of these migrants joined their parents and held up signs in front of the public – “I want to eat, to go to school, to drink milk, to eat cookies” – as part of their demand that the developer pay the wages owed to their parents.

It was a sign of how desperate and isolated the workers were that their children had to protest on their behalf on the streets. But, as so often, the developers could count on their political connections to avoid responsibility, migrant andworkers were left with nowhere to turn to. Continue reading

With the iPhone 5 come new accusations of Foxconn abuse

September 16, 2012

In this May 26, 2010 file photo, staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. China’s economy surged 10.3 percent in 2010, spurred by a torrent of investment in property and other areas that also fanned politically volatile inflation. Figures released Thursday Jan. 20, 2011, by the National Statistics Bureau showed inflation moderating in December from a 28-month high in November as food prices eased, but analysts warned that was likely temporary. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

The new iPhone 5 isn’t even on the shelves yet, and already Applehas seen its stock surge.

The company, which became the world’s most valuable publicly listed company ever in August, said it expects to offload up to 33 million units this quarter. Analysts say supply constraints won’t be a problem this time for the bigger, slimmer iPhone 5.

And while that’s good news for Apple’s shareholders, its bad news for anyone who may have been forced or poorly paid to make one of their products.

That’s right, Foxconn, the electronics company that manufacturers components for Apple, is also back in the news this week.

Chinese state-run media reported that the Taiwan-based company had forced university students to take internships at Foxconn factories to help make the new iPhone 5. Not long after that public relations blow, Foxconn revealed Wednesday that another Chinese worker committed suicide at one of its factories.

Foxconn says the worker “fell to his death” on Wednesday, and that it was “unclear” whether police were investigating the death as a suicide.

After a spate of suicides and repeated accusations of labor abuse, Foxconn agreed last March to improve the working conditions of its 1.2 million employees who make iPhones, iPads and other electronics. Foxconn said it would hire more workers to reduce overtime and improve safety and living conditions.

Both the China Daily and Shanghai Daily reported last week that classes had been suspended at some universities in eastern Jiangsu Province in order for students to be bused to factories to make up a shortfall in dwindling staff numbers.

In a statement provided to Bloomberg, the world’s largest electronics maker denied that the teenagers were forced to man production lines for the new iPhone.

Schools “recruit the students under the supervision of the local government, and assign teachers to accompany and monitor the students throughout their internship. The internship programs range in length from one to six months and students are free to leave the internship program at any time,” the statement read. Continue reading

AFP: Crackdown on China workers’ rights groups

Agence France-Presse, 10 September 2012

Around 10 groups that offer help to the millions of migrant workers living  and working in Shenzhen have suffered random inspections and evictions, some of  which turned violent, said the letter seen by AFP on Monday.

“Police have failed to prevent labour organisations from being evicted from  their offices for unknown reasons, sometimes even violently,” said the letter  signed by 20 scholars and sent to the city and provincial governments Sunday.

The Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre was one of the first to be caught in  the crackdown, with workers evicted from their offices in July after the water  and electricity supply to their office was shut off by local authorities.

Another, the Hand in Hand Workers’ Home, was evicted from its offices on  Sunday, while local government staff confiscated property belonging to a group  called The Little Grass Workers’ Home last month, staff there told AFP. Continue reading

China’s New Eco-Warriors

Monday 13 August 2012
Thanks to micro-blogs and the Internet spreading the word, people in China have become more and more aware of environmental issues, taking a stand against big corporations.
China's New Eco-Warriors
– (Occupy Vienna)
By Harold Thibault
LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

QIDONG – At 18-years-old, Li Wei does not look like a dissident. She is mostly focused on her studies in accountancy, her friends – with whom she is always in contact – and chatting with her sister. However, none of that stopped the young girl – who has given us a false name because of the difficult situation in her hometown of Qidong – from participating in a protest that escalated in the ransacking of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) offices.

Protesters had been gathering since sunrise on Saturday July 28 in this small town one hour’s drive north of Shanghai. As the day passed, the local government’s offices were stormed. Administration documents flew from the windows while the angered crowd grabbed at the shirt of the PCP secretary, overcome by the extent of the movement. “We have to mobilize to protect the environment, this is our hometown,” says Li Wei, sitting in the restaurant run by her parents.

Protests against polluting industries have multiplied recently due to citizens becoming increasingly aware of the ecological impacts created by economic development. Even state-run television channels are now talking about the environment as a priority in China, with young people spreading the word via micro-blogs. “People now realize that the fight against pollution is serious, as there are scarce few places in the world where industrialization is having such a heavy and direct impact on the masses,” says environmentalist Ma Jun. Continue reading

China: Protest at copper plant in Sichuan

Anti-pollution protestors halt construction of copper plant in China

Construction of a molybdenum copper plant temporarily stopped after thousands protest in Shifang, south-west China

guardian.co.uk, in Beijing, Tuesday 3 July 2012

Thousands of anti-pollution protestors took to the streets of a south-west Chinese city on Monday, halting the construction of a multi-million pound molybdenum copper plant.

Many were injured when Chinese police attacked

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds after rioters lobbed bricks at government offices in Shifang, Sichuan province, the English edition of the state-run newspaper Global Times reported. Other accounts said a dozen police vehicles were overturned or trashed.

Authorities said they had temporarily suspended the project while they talked to the public, but warned that they would investigate anyone who spread rumours.

The demonstration is the latest in a series of “not in my backyard” grassroots protests in China, testifying to growing fears about the toll that development is taking on the environment and health. Last summer, tens of thousands of people in the north eastern city of Dalian marched to demand the relocation of a chemical plant.

“Big character posters” protesting the copper plant appeared on walls nearby. Such posters were a popular form of mass protest during the Cultural Revolution

The demonstrations in Shifang began on Sunday night, when students and residents gathered to protest, and escalated. A local police officer told the Global Times there were “several thousand” protestors on Monday, while the South China Morning Post reported that tens of thousands were involved.

Photos posted online showed protesters carrying banners reading: “Safeguard our hometown, oppose the chemical factory’s construction” and “Unite to protect the environment for the next generation”.

Residents told the Global Times that some had filed complaints against the project, but officials had taken no action before the demonstration.

“The local government will definitely carry out supervision during the entire process of constructing the project. If the company fails in the environmental protection assessment, the local government would not allow it to go into production,” Xu Guangyong, mayor of Shifang, told protestors on Monday morning, the state-run China News Service reported.

But by Monday night, authorities had vowed to suspend construction of the 10.4 billion yuan (HK$12.7 billion) molybdenum-copper alloy factory by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda.

Shifang government said on its microblog account that some police officers and 13 protestors were injured.

Others said the number of injured protestors was far higher, the South China Morning Post reported. Continue reading

China: Shaoguan City dispatched riot police to suppress the workers on strike

[Workers strikes in China continue to grow in numbers and intensity.The following news report is an first draft of a translation. Later translations will be posted on Frontlines as they become available.– Frontlines ed.]

Shaoguan City dispatched riot police to suppress the workers on strike

Shaoguan City dispatched riot police to suppress the workers on strike

Shaoguan City, Guangdong Province, Zhenjiang District plow town, 2012-6-24
Rio Tinto Explosive Materials Factory, the entire factory staff from early May went on strike to protest against the company executives corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds. Employees at the plant entrance hang a large banner: “Give me my hard-earned money”, “anti-corruption grasping corruption” and so on.The company refused to respond positively to the demands of employees, instead only delayed, resulting in deterioration of relations and intensifying the strike.On June 22, workers clogged the road, causing traffic gridlock; blocked the factory gates, but let the leadership enter; and car blocked the door of the depots. The authorities dispatched hundreds of police in a confrontation with the workers.

Nighttime, the riot squad got orders to disperse the workers, the two sides clashed, police fired tear gas to suppress the workers, and a number of people were arrested.

Police broke into the factory, trapped the leadership away, taking away the blockage of cars, transported them away, and evacuated the explosives factory. Continue reading

Chinese Workers Defy the Government and Employers in Heated Riot

by

May 29, 2012

An intense protest of enraged migrant workers broke out on Tuesday in Ruian, China. The city is located in the Zhejiang, a wealthy province in China. Reuters reports that about 1,000 migrant workers proceeded to turn over an iron gate, and damaged at least a dozen cars during their protest, which was centered on a government office building.

The demonstration began in the early morning after a young worker was allegedly killed by his employer over a payment dispute. The demonstration finally ended at midday after the family of the murdered man was given 300,000 yuan in compensation, which is the equivalent of about $47,000.

Worker uprisings have been extremely common in the last decade throughout China. Just a month ago, about 200 workers threatened to protest Apple’s Foxconn factory. The protesters, who were demanding “workplace adjustments” according to Reuters, threatened to jump off the roof of the factory in a show of solidarity. Although the disagreement was quickly settled in negotiations, the incident illustrates the often tense relationship between workers in factory settings and the large corporations that run the factories. Continue reading

Apple hit by boycott call over worker abuses in China

US writers attack conditions at Foxconn plant and call for consumers to act

in New York

The Observer, Saturday 28 January 2012

[Employees work on the Apple assembly line at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen in southern China. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty]

Employees work on the Apple assembly line at the Foxconn plant

Employees work on the Apple assembly line at the Foxconn plant

Apple, the computer giant whose sleek products have become a mainstay of modern life, is dealing with a public relations disaster and the threat of calls for a boycott of its iPhones and iPads.

The company’s public image took a dive after revelations about working conditions in the factories of some of its network of Chinese suppliers. The allegations, reported at length in the New York Times, build on previous concerns about abuses at firms that Apple uses to make its bestselling computers and phones. Now the dreaded word “boycott” has started to appear in media coverage of its activities.

“Should consumers boycott Apple?” asked a column in the Los Angeles Times as it recounted details of the bad PR fallout.

The influential Daily Beast and Newsweek technology writer Dan Lyons wrote a scathing piece. “It’s barbaric,” he said, before saying to his readership: “Ultimately the blame lies not with Apple and other electronics companies – but with us, the consumers. And ultimately we are the ones who must demand change.”

Forbes magazine columnist Peter Cohan also got in on the act. “If you add up all the workers who have died to build your iPhone or iPad, the number is shockingly high,” he began an article that also toyed with the idea of a boycott in its headline.

The New York Times’s revelations, which centred on the Foxconn plant in southern China that has repeatedly been the subject of accusations of worker mistreatment, have caused a major stir in the US. Although such allegations have been made before in numerous news outlets, and in a controversial one-man show by playwright Mike Daisey, this time they have struck a chord. Continue reading

Interview with “China Labor Watch” activist

January 26, 2012

Questions for Li Qiang of China Labor Watch

By DAVID BARBOZA, http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/q-and-a-with-li-qiang-of-china-labor-watch/?hp
Li Qiang.

Li Qiang, 39, is the founder of China Labor Watch, a nonprofit group in New York City that seeks to improve labor conditions in China. In the late 1990s, while studying law in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, he began supporting striking workers and taxi drivers. Later, he moved south, to China’s biggest factory zones near Shenzhen. He worked at several electronics, toy and shoe factories, where he investigated labor conditions, and tried to expose what he saw as unjust and inhumane conditions.

Now, Mr. Li works from a small office near the Empire State Building, employing a team in China that sneaks into factories, smuggles out photographs and publishes reports of illegal or abhorrent labor conditions at suppliers to some of the world’s biggest corporations. David Barboza, the Shanghai bureau chief of The New York Times, interviewed Mr. Li after doing the reporting reflected in his article, “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad,” written with Charles Duhigg.

Q. For years, labor rights groups like yours have described sweatshops and how factories serving global companies have abused and mistreated workers. What is the situation today?
A. They’ve improved a lot, but labor conditions are still poor. One reason is the local economy is directly related to the well-being of the factories. So the local government regulators don’t want to enforce a high labor standard and force the factories away.
Q. But many big factories are audited by independent firms, hired by multinational corporations. Hasn’t that improved working conditions in China?
A. Every year, 30,000 factories in China are audited. But there’s corruption in the auditing process. The factories need to pass an audit, but fixed factory costs are high, so the factory bosses bribe auditors, that is less costly. If a factory has 500 workers, to improve standards you might need to pay each worker another $20 a month. But 500 workers times $20 times 12 months is $120,000 a year. It’s much cheaper to bribe auditors.

For the international companies that had an audit done, they get what they consider to be an advertisement, or certification that they comply with all the standards. But this isn’t a true reflection of what is happening. Last year, we investigated 100 factories in China. And we found that only about 10 percent of the factories can pass the their own the international labor standards of their clients — the multinational corporations.

Q. What are some of the key problems you see when you visit the factories? What are they doing wrong?
A. The pay is the biggest issue. Based on our investigation, most workers have signed a labor contract so there is some improvement. But then the factories conceal their treatment of the workers, like they’ve shortened the lunch break from one hour to 40 minutes, so the workers lose one day a month.

Another trick for factories to lower the payment is a system called “overall working hour system.” As we know, the normal working hours are 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If workers work overtime on weekdays, the overtime wage should be 1.5 times the original salary. If they work on the weekends, the wage should be 2 times the original salary. What the factories do is to let the workers work 6.7 hours a day, 6 days a week. So when the workers work on Saturday, they only get the original salary rather than the 2 times salary required by law. And often, they don’t only get paid with the original salary when overtime for working on Saturdays or Sundays, when you should pay double salary to them. This is the way the factories reduce the salary and increase productivity.

Q. What is your impression of Foxconn, which has some of the world’s biggest factories and is China’s biggest export machine?
A. Foxconn is not good. But if we compare all industries, electronics, textile, toys, Foxconn is one of the best. The biggest problem for Foxconn is the workers are working under a lot of pressure. They’re standing 10 to 11 hours a day. Foxconn treats the workers like they are machines.

They think about how many products they can produce, not about giving the workers a rest. But in the electronics industry all the companies are the same.

They say they’ve increased salaries, but Foxconn doesn’t say the workers have to produce more products per hour. So they have to work even harder. And the worst thing is that Foxconn is the biggest company in the industry. So they set the standard in the industry. And the working intensity has already been audited by the multinational companies, thus meeting the standards set by Foxconn’s clients.

Obama Blew a Kiss to Apple

by Jeff Ballinger, Workers Rights Consortium

President Barack Obama blew a kiss to Apple in the State of the Union speech, praising the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder, the late Steve Jobs, as the cameras panned to his widow in the audience.

Obama’s timing couldn’t be weirder. In the last month, Apple has released a damning audit which found that almost 100 of Apple’s supplier factories force more than half their workers to exceed a 60-hour week. The company announced responsibility for aluminum dust explosions in Chinese supplier factories that killed four workers and injured 77. Hundreds more in China have been injured cleaning iPad screens with a chemical that causes nerve damage.

Apple was just subjected to a “This American Life” radio special reporting on its abysmal factory conditions in China (Jon Stewart gigged ‘em on the issue, too). Last weekend a front-page New York Times story asked why the company offshored all of its manufacturing, mostly to China. (The answer is found in the what its executives call “flexibility.” Tens of thousands of workers there live in factory dorms on-site, where, the Times reports, they are woken in the middle of the night and forced onto 12-hour shifts when Apple decides a product needs tweaking.)

In the face of all this bad press, the tech darling’s response has been to reveal its supplier factories and to announce a partnership with the Fair Labor Association to do stepped-up factory inspections. The FLA is the partly corporate-funded group that until now only monitored apparel factories, and which Nike helped establish after its own scandals in the ’90s.

In sum, Apple is now doing what Nike has been doing for nearly 15 years: the apology-plus-transparency formula, straight out of the manuals offered by “reputation management” consultants.

This was certainly enough for most mainstream media and even some activists. Some were a bit more dubious but still pinned their hopes for stemming the abuses on the chimera of “consumer pressure.”  For those who may believe that rich-country consumer pressure should not be so summarily dismissed, I believe that it’s useful to turn to Jeffrey Swartz, until mid-2011 the CEO of Timberland, who says that consumers don’t care at all about workers’ rights.  In a late-2009 article he wrote, “With regard to human rights, the consumer expectation today is somewhere in the neighborhood of, don’t do anything horrible or despicable… if the issue doesn’t matter much to the consumer population, there’s not a big incentive for the consumer-minded CEOs to act, proactively.”  In a 2008 interview he mused about his desire to “seduce consumers to care” so that Timberland’s CSR report was not mere “corporate cologne”. Continue reading