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

A closer look: Obama’s hypocritical claim of the Apple/Steve Jobs allure

[A comment from Revolutionary Frontlines:  “Capitalist Crisis and Empire Quandary leads to media hyperbole, political hypocrisy, empty promises and false claims of better days ahead”

Barack Obama, the political leader of US imperialism, is heading into a re-election campaign with growing discontent and opposition across the country, including among traditional supporters of the Democratic party.  In his State of the Union address this week, he made a string of new and repeated promises to re-capture these drifting and angry voters,   as he promised to bring jobs back from overseas and support domestic innovation and business.  Apple electronics and Steve Jobs got special mention and praise from the President.  Apple, making record profits from its popular iPhone and iPad products, produces most of its goods overseas–the largest part being made by Foxconn in China and India, in factories holding hundreds of thousands of workers being paid $1 an hour.  If Foxconn increases pay rates and regulates safety and working conditions, China’s global edge in maintaining  cheap labor pool will lose its allure.  If the cost of production rises, Apple’s profit edge and competitiveness will suffer.  Therefore, every Foxconn adjustment in pay and conditions is matched by increased demands on productivity.  The NY Times article, below, details the situation at Foxconn.

The Chinese workers are caught in the middle of this.  They are not the enemies of workers in the US–they suffer from the same exploitation for profits, at the hands of the same crisis-wracked and bankrupt capitalist system, as we, and people worldwide, are suffering from.  There is no solution in workers fighting each other for a place in the exploiters’ production line.  The path forward is made with solidarity, with finding the ways to support each other and to unify our struggles against the capitalist-imperialist system.  With each day, millions more are seeing that the capitalist system, in its ever more vicious and desperate turns, is losing its credibility and legitimacy as a leading or organizing force in human affairs. — Frontlines ed.]

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Click this link to see video:  Made in China

An explosion last May at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China, killed four people and injured 18. It built iPads.

January 25, 2012

In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

By and , New York Times

The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.

When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.

Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.

“Are you Lai Xiaodong’s father?” a caller asked when the phone rang at Mr. Lai’s childhood home. Six months earlier, the 22-year-old had moved to Chengdu, in southwest China, to become one of the millions of human cogs powering the largest, fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing system on earth. That system has made it possible for Apple and hundreds of other companies to build devices almost as quickly as they can be dreamed up.

“He’s in trouble,” the caller told Mr. Lai’s father. “Get to the hospital as soon as possible.”

In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

After a rash of apparent suicide attempts, a dormitory for Foxconn workers in Shenzhen, China, had safety netting installed last May. Foxconn said it acted quickly and comprehensively to address employee suicides.

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

“If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department. “But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”

Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.

Current and former Apple executives, moreover, say the company has made significant strides in improving factories in recent years. Apple has a supplier code of conduct that details standards on labor issues, safety protections and other topics. The company has mounted a vigorous auditing campaign, and when abuses are discovered, Apple says, corrections are demanded.

And Apple’s annual supplier responsibility reports, in many cases, are the first to report abuses. This month, for the first time, the company released a list identifying many of its suppliers.

But significant problems remain. More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have violated at least one aspect of the code of conduct every year since 2007, according to Apple’s reports, and in some instances have violated the law. While many violations involve working conditions, rather than safety hazards, troubling patterns persist. Continue reading

“Apple workers in China react to Steve Jobs’s news”

Kathleen E McLaughlin

September 2, 2011Steve Jobs.

BEIJING, China: As the rest of the world waxes nostalgic with tributes and accolades for Apple’s retiring CEO Steve Jobs, the factory workers in China who got sick while making Apple’s touchscreens remain unmoved.

Six months ago, factory workers in Suzhou poisoned two years ago by toxic chemicals at the factory wrote to Jobs directly, asking for his help in getting medical care and compensation for their illnesses and lost work time.

They never got an answer from Jobs. Two years after the chemical exposure and many months of medical treatment later, they still say they’ve never heard from anyone at Apple directly.In fact, it took Apple more than a year to acknowledge that 137 workers got sick on the job in 2009 at a components factory run by the Taiwanese electronics supplier Wintek, working under contract with Apple. The Wintek parts factory substituted hexane for alcohol in the manufacturing process to shave time off production of Apple touchscreens, but failed to outfit workers with proper safety equipment. Continue reading

Foxconn protest disrupts Computex Taipei opening

A woman demonstrator unfurls a protest sign reading 'Put an end to blood and sweat factories, return to a happy society' while a portrait of Terry Gou, chief of Foxconn, is displayed during a rally outside an exhibition hall in Taipei on June 1, 2010

Wed, Jun 02, 2010
The China Post/Asia News Network

TAIPEI, TAIWAN – Scuffles erupted in Taiwan yesterday as activists alleging labor abuses by IT giant Foxconn tried to enter an exhibition centre where President Ma Ying-jeou was opening Asia’s biggest technology fair.

The protesters, who were shouting “Capitalists kill people” and holding placards and pictures of Foxconn chief Terry Gou, fought with uniformed police as they tried to deliver a letter to Ma while he launched Computex Taipei.

Five other IT tycoons, including Apple chief executive Steve Jobs and Cher Wang, chairwoman of Taiwan’s leading smartphone maker HTC Corp, were also targeted.

Foxconn, a unit of the Hon Hai group, makes a range of popular products including Apple iPhones, Dell computers and Nokia mobile phones.

“All the products on display at the exhibition inside are made with workers’ sweat and blood,” demonstration leader Liu Nien-yun told reporters. “That’s why we’re here.”

They were campaigning as 10 workers at a Foxconn plant in the Chinese city of Shenzhen have fallen to their deaths in apparent suicides this year. An 11th worker died at a factory run by the firm in northern China. Continue reading