We all know the dollar cost of owning the new wonder tablet from Apple. It’s not cheap and for most of us it’s a real spending decision. But what is the human cost of such a device, especially one where demand has so much outstripped supply? In the Chinese electronics factory Foxconn, where the iPad is manufactured, 12 successful suicide attempts have occurred recently, with a further 4 unsuccessful attempts. According to internal sources, 30 further deaths have been avoided by counselling. Is something rotten in the state of Apple?
Glistening workshops and shiny new buildings can be a flimsy façade masking an old-fashioned-style sweatshop. Although Steve Jobs refuses to answer this accusation directly, perhaps the evidence speaks for itself. The factory employs over 300,000 workers, all of whom are forbidden to speak, even when on break. Reported weekly working hours exceed the theoretical maximum of 70, and the factory runs a near-militaristic regime to ensure that huge productivity demands are met.
Over the course of Apple’s iPad contract, where over 2 million units have already been made at the plant, an astonishing 15,000 workers per month are quitting, citing loneliness and alienation as their main reasons. Although pay looks to improve by a third over the next month, will this be enough to stabilize the workforce or end the distressing bout of suicides?
Foxconn stated that the suicides linked to its plant were not above the national average amongst the young people throughout China, and personal problems were the cause. They stated that the pay increase was not directly linked to the suicides; rather its purpose was to attract better-qualified staff to their organisation during a manufacturing labor shortage.
Steve Jobs was apparently distressed by this news when questioned about it yesterday at a conference in California: “Apple does one of the best jobs of any company understanding the working conditions of our supply chain,” he stated. “We are all over this.” His view was that proper investigation was necessary before offering any solutions. That sounds a little fudgy to me.
In the newly industrialized China, conditions are notoriously fierce and stressful. In spite of workers esteeming employment by prestigious electronics companies, the pressure can become intolerable. It’s all very well blaming China. That’s easy, but aren’t they fulfilling contracts at the cheapest price possible? It’s also easy to blame Apple, maybe with some justification: should they be policing conditions within their supply chain more stringently? Or maybe we should look at the good old Western Consumer… (that’s us) … who don’t really want to think about how something is made, under what conditions other people have to suffer in order to get us the latest gadget at an affordable price? Something rotten in the state of Apple, or may be food for thought?
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