Blinded by Pleasure

In “Mr. Daisey and Apple,” Mike Daisey makes several points that forces the audience to think about not only Apple’s behavior, but also the behavior of everyone who owns Apple products.  What I found most interesting was when Daisey explained that he gained so much pleasure from the beautiful technology of Apple products that he never even dared to question where and how they were made.  In fact, he even said that he had a picture in his head of a machine making iPhones.  He had no reasoning for believing this–he simply assumed that there was a flawless ethical process for creating iPhones.  He then explains that the reason Apple came under investigation is because someone bought an iPhone that wasn’t blank, but had manufacturing information on it.  When the iPhone 4s first came out, when asked where she was manufactured, Siri would respond “I am not allowed to say.”  Interestingly enough, when I asked Siri on my iPhone where she was manufactured, she responded, “I was designed by Apple in California.”  This response completely ignores the question I asked…

Daisey then continues to explain how one third of all electronics are made in the city of Shenzhen in China and how the working conditions are horrible with suicide rates through the roof.  FoxConn, the company that manufactures iPhones, had to place safety nets around its buildings to prevent workers from jumping through the windows.  The word “workers” bothers me.  Here in the United States, we would refer to them as employees.  However, the term “worker” implies that those people’s sole purpose is to work–not to live and be members of society.

As I mentioned before, what caught my attention most was Glass’s claim that he was blinded by pleasure.  This concept reflects not only the ethical issues of Apple, but a much bigger problem in our society.  It is a problem of justifying bad behavior.  We, as human beings, have a way of making excuses that put us to sleep at night.  Yes, we enjoy fruitful lives in the “land of the free,” constantly consuming and disposing of products.  It is an addiction.  We enjoy shopping and consuming so much that we don’t even want to know what the consequences of our actions are.  For example, my wardrobe consists of an unbelievably unnecessary amount of clothing.  Most, if not each and every article I own was hand-made by a person who is just like me.  Yet I don’t spend my days hacking away with a sewing machine with my hands slowly approaching the pain of arthritis.  After reading about the conditions at FoxConn, I feel that we need to make a change and accept lower levels of extravagance so that people in other countries can live better lives.  There needs to be more of a medium.


Who cares what Foxconn does? Not Americans.

I had to pause the podcast less than a minute in to unlock my phone. Normally I would be doing this to check a text message or read an email, but this time it was to have a conversation with Siri. I almost never use Siri but I really wanted to know what her response would be to a question about Foxconn. As it turns out, the people have Apple have also listened to this podcast. She now only responds, “Like it says on the box…I was designed by Apple in California.” I had never thought about asking Siri a question about this, which shows how little the typical American thinks about the source of their goods. Continue reading Who cares what Foxconn does? Not Americans.

There is More to Life than Apple

Before addressing the literal problem that Mike Daisey poses in This American Life’s show “Mr. Daisey and Apple”, I want to draw attention to and applaud the method that he used to present his findings: storytelling. If a person were to sit in front of a computer screen and listen to an hour-long recording about labor issues in foreign countries, I don’t think that person would be able to pay attention for the full hour or be able to recount much of the information that person heard. By presenting his findings in the form of a dramatic story, Mike Daisy holds the listener’s attention, helps the listener remember some key details of his findings and even “tricks” the listener into caring about the actors in the story and therefore the larger problem at hand. This piece of media demonstrates the power of storytelling in our society as a mode of communication.

Since listening to this show, I have read on This American Life’s website that they retracted this episode because a number of parts had been fabricated by Daisey. Some of these false claims included some characters that he claimed to have spoken with in or outside factories. On the site, they quote Daisey saying, “I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.” I think Daisey made a good point in this quote he gave to This American Life. He meant to develop this story and highlight the problems at hand as a work of art. Indeed, it should not have been presented as a work of journalism, but instead as a piece of entertainment meant to highlight an important issue in our globalized work. If Daisey’s intentions were clear to the listener at the outset of the piece, I think it would have been fine to air as is.

Moving to the substance of the show, I want to start with Ira Glass establishing the main question at hand by asking, “Should we feel weird about the computers and phones we use, all the clothes that we wear, that are made in faraway factories in Asia, under harsh working conditions? Leaving Mike Daisey aside for a second, that’s the question that all this raises, right?” I don’t know the answer to this question and I will not pretend like I know the answer to this question. The only way I hope to answer this question is to ask more questions: Do we care? Do we care enough to do something? What can we do? What effects and implications does taking action have? Will prices rise for consumers? Will this stimulate the Chinese Economy as well as other economies?

I understand why Mike Daisey chose Apple as a case study for the larger problem of largely unchecked labor in foreign countries. As he explains, he has long been a super fan of everything Apple. One strategy may be to attack one of the biggest and most relevant companies in the world in order to make an example out of them. However, perhaps another angle could be to go after the thousands of other smaller companies who create similar problems with labor in foreign countries. Instead of going after a company like Apple that has the best lawyers and lobbyists money can buy, why not go after smaller players? I assume Apple would chip in to help these companies, but this could be an additional strategy. If this is a problem that people actually care about then different strategies should be explored.

The Irony of “AppleCare”

The following headline appears on apple’s homepage about AppleCare:

“Service and Support from the People that Know your Apple Product Best”

Apple knows its products. It knows everything that goes into them and every little last spec about each and every product. As a company that is obsessed with detail and perfection, there is no doubt that they have their manufacturing process under a microscope. Apple knows every last detail about the manufacturing process and are aware of the conditions of the factories in China. “Siri” lets us know that. It knows exactly how and where it was manufactured however it chooses not to tell us. In fact “she” slams that “she” cannot tell us. Apple does not want to tell us what is going on behind the curtains. The workers in their factories are dying to have their voices heard and share their experiences, however, Apple and its manufacturers remain silent to the world. Apple has extremely high profit margins on its products. iPhones retail for $400-600 dollars while they only cost a fraction of that to make. iPhone 6 profit margins have been estimated around 70% by some sources. How can a company ethically charge this much to customers while it knows the conditions of its factories?

As much blame as we should put on Apple, we are also part of the problem. We let Apple do this by not caring either. Simply put, we have become unethical consumers because we are ignorant. In the modern world where so much information is available, we should be asking to see more of it. Where was this made? How much did this cost to make? What are the impacts that this product has on the world? What materials are in this? Who made this? – This are all questions we should ask every time we purchase something. We could be just as amazed by these answers just as Mr Daisy was about Apple. We as consumers have the greatest power to change the way many corporations work because we have the freedom to make choices. This power is only effective if we have the information to make a good choice. Without the information, we are blind consumers making bad choices everyday- and letting companies get away with it. We should be demanding a lot more of these answers and asking for companies to become more transparent. Just like the FDA requires food items to have nutrition facts, the government should at least explore extending this idea to show not only how products effects the environment, but also how they affect society. For example, an iPhone could be forced to say how many man hours it took to assemble this product and where it was manufactured. I have no idea how this can actually be measured but I think it is something that would help me be more aware of the impacts some products I buy have.

Having this information we can then make the right choice. We can ask ourselves if the iPhone or iPad we are about to take off the shelf is really worth the $599. Is it okay to have things such as iPads and iPhones at the expense of a persons mistreatment across the world? You are taking something away freedoms and rights from someone to give to me this product. Is that fair? I might be less likely to buy the product knowing this information. Or I could not care – like most people will. We usually don’t feel responsible as individual consumers for the negative impacts of these products. This is what needs to change. If everyone we start refusing to buy apple products (like that will ever happen), then maybe we as consumers can force apple to care about their manufacturing process.

I also want to point out that its not just Apple- Mr. Daisy listed close to half a dozen companies that also have their devices built in the same factory. Just a thought that we shouldn’t just be attacking Apple.

Apple- What Will It Take To Change?

For the majority of the American public, it’s no shock to hear about Apple’s less-than-stellar labor practices in their overseas manufacturing plants. They have been issuing annual statements since 2007 describing the working conditions they have see upon audit of these manufacturers. Obviously, a company as concerned with its image as Apple is would not publish such a thing if they didn’t think it would help the brand, but the statements are far from glowing. For example, in a recent report, Apple found that 30% of audited manufacturers followed working hour regulations. Not even half. I think it is easy to read a number like that and have it go in one ear and out the other. I personally cannot comprehend what those conditions are like, and would wager that very few people in America could. This leads me to the question I was contemplating the entire time I listened to This American Life’s “Mr. Daisey and Apple”. What will it take to ignite the flame that ultimately creates change?

Cutthroat capitalism in the United States has created a society that expects low prices, but Apple doesn’t even position themselves as a low price alternative. If anything, they are one of the most expensive brand names on the market. I could go out and buy a PC with the exact same hardware specifications as the Mac I write this on for ~$500 less, but I don’t. Before I went out and purchased my Mac, I had heard of the stories surrounding the mistreatment of employees, but honestly, that thought didn’t cross my mind at any point while strolling through Best Buy. I wasn’t thinking about the 12 year olds at Foxconn in Shenzhen, the sleeping arrangements that I probably couldn’t even fit in, or the crippling nature of repetitive work. I wish that wasn’t the case, but my instincts tell me that I am not unique in either aspect- consuming in blissful ignorance, or being upset at the retrospective thought of it. The problem is, even with these feelings, I cannot definitively say I won’t go and buy the next iPhone.

I realize I do not represent the American public as a whole, but seeing as almost everyone I know has at least one Apple product, I feel safe in assuming I am not the minority. So, back to my original question- what will it take to change these (debatably) unacceptable practices? Ultimately, the answer seems simple- stop buying Apple products until they ensure the ethical treatment of anyone who works for them. Apparently that is much easier said than done. I think the most realistic way to spark the public into action is through mass media, specifically news distributors. Only so many people will see a Facebook post or blog entry, but millions of people watch/read the same news programs every day. Their goal, to make the American public empathize with people on the other side of the world who they will never see, is understandably tough. However, if they were to spend even a tenth of the time they do discussing an upcoming Apple product on Apple’s gross treatment of overseas employees, I think the public reaction would be swift and powerful enough to sway the even the notoriously stubborn Apple Inc.

Who is at Fault?

The podcast from “This American Life” highlights several issues facing Apple and other tech companies in regards to the working conditions in China. While listening, I remembered thinking at one point that the working conditions fit with what I had previously imagined the conditions to be like, but why has this never effected my decisions in buying Apple products? Near the end of the podcast, the discussion turns to whether or not sweatshops are good or bad. Most economists argue that sweatshops have helped countries fight poverty, so as consumers, we should not stop buying these products purely on a moral standard. However, this debate is not what caught my interest. What I found most interesting was that the sweatshops would deceive the auditors of their actual working conditions.

As mentioned in the podcast, Apple and other tech companies have taken action to make working conditions in the Chinese factories better. In 2010, Apple’s own auditors went into 127 of their suppliers’ factories and found 91 underage workers. In response to this, Apple helped install systems to verify age, they educated suppliers on recruiting practices, and they made their suppliers return the underage workers to school and pay for the kids education. Apple also stopped doing business with one of their suppliers, because the company did nothing to address their working condition problems. While Apple continues to have problems with transparency of information, they are at least attempting to improve the working conditions of their suppliers. The real problem is that as Apple and other tech companies try to make these improvements, the numbers of suicides and other problems with the working conditions don’t seem to be changing.

In my opinion, one of the major problems is the suppliers. The tech companies can create new regulations and requirements in attempt to improve the working conditions, but nothing will change if the suppliers do not adhere to or enforce these changes. As it was mentioned in the podcast, the sweatshops would try to deceive the auditors by making the working conditions appear better than their actual conditions, which the workers describe as working under a military style management. Apple’s problems with secrecy and transparency do not help in holding these suppliers responsible for the conditions of their factories, but the underlying problem is the suppliers’ resistance to changing their behavior.

“I Can’t Say”-SIRI

It’s actually quite hilarious when the WBEZ Chicago radio show host asks Siri where Siri was manufactured. The all-knowing Siri replies with, “I can’t say”. The crazy part of this answer is that Siri definitely knows where she was manufactured and it states on the back of the iPhone 4 that the phone was created in China. Curious, I asked my iPhone 4s(Yes, still living in the past) the same question the radio show host asked Siri. Siri responded to me saying, “Like it said on the box, I was designed in California”. For some reason, Siri still does not answer that question. Obviously the iPhone was designed in California, but I really wanted to see whether Siri was reprogrammed in an update to answer this question correctly. Clearly, Siri was not. Siri’s evading of the question relates directly to the overall secret nature of Apple. Apple management clearly knows what they are doing. For some fishy reason, they choose to be secretive about where their products are manufactured. However, the public is prudent enough to know that most products are made in China. One dedicated Apple enthusiast, Mike Daisy, took it upon himself to unveil some of the secrecy behind Apple’s manufacturing partners in China.

Continue reading “I Can’t Say”-SIRI

Driving Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey’s persistence to uncover the truth about where our technology comes from was like watching Morgan Freeman try to befriend the stubborn Miss Daisy in the popular 1989 movie Driving Miss Daisy.  In all seriousness, I found the podcast to be eye-opening and thought-provoking. I had a difficult time trying to imagine a single factory with 400,000+ people inside. To put things in perspective, the population of Miami, Florida is a bit smaller than the number of workers contained within a single Foxconn factory. Continue reading Driving Mike Daisey

“Do you really think that Apple doesn’t’ know?”

“Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?” asks amateur reporter Mike Daisy. His words hit me like a ton of bricks as I realize the implications behind his question. In a company obsessed with detail, secrecy, and control, it seems unlikely that Apple would be clueless on the matter of their supply-chain. “Do you really think in a company obsessed with detail, that it’s credible that they don’t know?” Mr. Daisy is referring to the appalling working conditions in which Apple’s manufacture, Foxconn, imposes on its Chinese employees. Continue reading “Do you really think that Apple doesn’t’ know?”