One, Two, Many Occupations – Occupy Silicone Valley – Apple (and our Deal) With The Devil   Leave a comment

Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache,”

Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industry

“[Whatever it was Gou said there could have been] a lot lost in translation…[Besides, Biggs noted, it’s important to remember priorities when criticizing such stuff] In the end, it’s companies like Foxconn that keep us in our gadgets,” 

TechCrunch’s John Biggs

Priorities, indeed John.  We need to keep priorities in mind.  If the virtual enslavement of the Chinese workforce and massive unemployment in the United States are required to keep us supplied with our gadgets, so be it.  The New York Times reported extensively on the horrors of Foxconn and Apple Corporation’s culpability here,  here and here. According to Digital Trends, here are some of the workforce issues at Foxconn as reported in a An American Life report from Mike Daisey (he of “The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs“):

  • Living within dormitories inside the factory walls, employees are packed into 144 square foot (12-by-12) cement rooms with 15 beds stacked up like bunk-beds. Employees are often placed into rooms where they do not know anyone as well.
  • Any attempt at forming a union is met with arrest and a prison sentence as unions are illegal within China.
  • Workers cleaning iPhone screens used a chemical called hexane, specifically because the chemical solution evaporates faster and allows the production line to speed up. However, hexane is a neuro-toxin. Inhalation of hexane causes mild euphoria, followed by nausea and headaches. Repeated exposure causes extensive peripheral nervous system failure, a result that Daisey spotted as the hands of the workers on the line shook involuntarily. 
  • Five percent of the workers Daisey spoke to were underage, some as young as twelve. The children working at the factory mentioned that Foxconn doesn’t check ages and shifts older employees to the front line when inspections occur.
  • The standard working shift at the plant lasts 12 hours, but that’s pushed up to 16 hours when Apple is getting ready to launch a new gadget like the upcoming iPad 3. However, a worker on a 34 hour shift dies while Daisey tours the facility.
  • On the factory floor, there’s no talking allowed among the 20,000 to 30,000 workers. There’s also little machinery on the floor since labor costs are far lower than machines. However, Gau has stated publicly that investing in advanced automation is a high priority.
  • Workers that have developed severe carpal-tunnel issues from repeating the same process over and over are simply fired. Foxconn could eliminate this issue by rotating jobs between employees, but they do not.
  • Workers that get severely injured on the job are fired without any severance and workers that complain about working conditions are fired as well as black-listed with all companies that operate within Shenzhen.

An inside look at the Apple Facility at Foxconn that can be heard on This American Life here.

When Foxconn workers threatened mass suicide Foxconn issued this statement:

The workers climbed to the top of the six-story dormitory on 3 January and threatened to jump before Wuhan city officials persuaded them to desist and return to work, according to the workers and accounts online. The workers gave varying estimates of the numbers involved in the strike, from 80 to 200, and photos posted online showed dozens of people crowding the roof of the boxy concrete building. Actually none of them were going to jump. They were there for the compensation. But the government and the company officials were just as afraid, because if even one of them jumped, the consequences would be hard to imagine,” said Wang Jungang, an equipment engineer in the Xbox production line, who left the plant earlier this month.

Nothing like a mass suicide to ruin an executives day. Just think of the PR headache.  This is not the first time suicides and Foxconn have been linked.  Among the corporate responses has been to erect suicide netting at the workers dormitories.

The basic wage of workers is $17 per Day and that’s for a twelve hour shift.  No wonder the jobs go to China.  There is a work for this type of worker, and that word is Slave.  Western corporations using Foxconn include:

The New York Times recently published a full report on Apple, Foxconn and American unemployment.  This is the most up to date  and comprehensive report I have seen It can be read here.  A full list of ‘the grey ladies’ reporting on Foxconn can be found here.  Being ‘balanced’ The Times reprints Apples defense of using the Foxconn facility.  It is basically our old friend, the cult of efficiency.  On this report, The Daily Beast notes:

In 2007, when Apple made a last-minute change to the original iPhone, workers in China had to scramble to meet a tight deadline, according to an unnamed former Apple executive who spoke to the Times:  A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing 10,000 iPhones a day. “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” [the executive] said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons comments:

The question is: should there be? Would we accept the idea of a plant where people are packed into barracks and can be roused in the middle of the night, given a biscuit, and sent to work for 12 hours? Where workers have no right to complain?  We would not accept this in the United States because, quite simply, it’s barbaric.  Not “breathtaking.” Barbaric.

The Times article estimates that making the IPhone in the United States would add $65 dollars to the cost of each unit.  What is a human life worth? 

Dan Lyons concludes:

Why are we doing business with this kind of regime? Why are we making this bargain?  As the Times article points out, this isn’t just Apple. It’s every company. It’s every product we use. It’s our entire way of life, built on the backs of people who are being treated in ways that we would not allow ourselves or our countrymen to be treated.  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.  So what if building that smartphone in China means we save 65 bucks and get things done faster? Maybe we would be better off paying a little more and waiting a little bit longer.  This week, Apple will report its financial results for the holiday quarter. It’s probably going to be another huge blowout, with Apple doing about $40 billion in revenues and keeping $10 billion of that as bottom-line profit—an incredible profit margin for a company that makes hardware.  Wall Street will be ecstatic. The stock will soar. But it’s worth keeping in mind how Apple did it.

A nice thing about the New York Times article it is also looks at how this effects employment in the United States.  According to the Times:

Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.  Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas… Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States.

As Jared Bernstein, who until last year was an economic adviser to the White House said: “If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried.”

If the jobs are overseas so are the wages, thus while Apple (and Google and Microsoft and …) earn huge profits for the few, the many go unemployed. And the unemployed can’t afford IPhones.  In its own defense An Apple Executive told the Times:

We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

Right the $17 per day worker and the slave drivers (opps, Middle Managers) to control them (oops again, to manage them).

Strangely, the dominate political culture in the United States, people are taught to blame the government for fixes to the economy.  It was the Occupy Wall Street movement that re-awakened us to the idea that its Capitalism and Capitalism inequality and Capitalisms pursuit of profits over people that drives this country into misery, not congress not the president and the Supreme Court.  It would be so nice if just a change of the resident of the Whitehouse would make an appreciative change in our economic crisis.  Say they say at OWS to the question of why they are on Wall Street and not in Washington: Why deal with middle management when you can talk directly to the boss! 

The economic and moral depravity of this system must end.

Occupy Silicon Valley Anyone?

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