Tag Archives: china technology manufacturing sweatshops

A Greater Purpose

In the context of This American Life, Mike Daisy knowingly abused his story reporting it as journalism rather than storytelling. While his lies on the podcast were unethical, as he was told by the show that what he said must be truthful, his larger argument was in support of an ethical cause. Daisy explained and apologized in the retraction that his one regret was bringing his story to This American Life and telling it as journalism. After listening to the retraction, my question was, Continue reading A Greater Purpose




For George Orwell, it was the year symbolic of an oncoming communist future.

For Apple, it was a year in which they were still the underdog.

Had Apple’s famous 1984 Superbowl commercial ran this year, the reaction would’ve been entirely different. In 1894, Apple was a fledgling company who made cheerful computers with monitors rounded to mirror the human face. Today, Apple is a giant whose products we have become completely reliant on and whose secrecy masks user data misuse and child labor in China.

Today’s Big Brother isn’t Microsoft–it’s Apple.

All Apple products are manufactured in China. We know this. We know that they’re probably made by people that are overworked and underpaid, but we don’t really know to what extent.  The company that manufactures all Apple products is called FoxCon. Mike Daisey went to FoxCon and reported a portion of what he saw on the podcast, This American Life. He went undercover and was able to observe FoxCon at work. From the floor, the most startling thing he reported was silence. 30,000 people work at FoxCon. 30,000 silent people, not allowed to talk on the line. 30,000 people who create no noise. No whirring machines sound because when human labor costs next to nothing, whatever can be done by hand–is.

Your iPhones are handmade in China.

Chinese people working 16 hour days without breaks handmade your Mac.

The precision that Apple is renowned for is made at the cost of 30,000 people’s fine motor skills.

1984 is here.

Made in China or HAND Made in China?

Standard Leather Bag: $100. HANDMADE Leather Bag: $400. The joy of owning a product that is handmade: Priceless

People who describe their goods as being handmade, usually do so in an apparent manner in order to make sure that you realize it wasn’t some kind of robotic machine that knitted the wool scarf or assembled the leather bag that they are selling. It ensures the buyer that there is a real person, a genuine face behind the product, who put in valuable hours and effort into the making of it. This “handmade” label, gives the product a personality, and justifies the higher price requested for it. When we go on a trip to another country, we seek for the word “handmade” when we are shopping, because we associate the word with being authentic and more real than others.

When a product is handmade, it becomes more “valuable”… At least this was what I thought, until Mr. Daisey mentioned how the majority of the electronic products we use are also go into the “handmade” category. He describes the factory floors he has visited as being dead silent. This silent is partially caused by the fact that the workers are not allowed to speak, but he mentions that there is a deeper silence, which is caused by the fact that there are no machines. Daisey says, “Everything that can be made by hand, is made by hand”. After hearing this sentence, my perception of the word handmade changed; because in the technology industry, I would think that electronic devices are being assembled by robots or machines. That would make more sense now, wouldn’t it? I associate the word “handmade” more with fashion and decorative items, but before listening to Mike Daisey I never even thought about the fact that my i-Phone is also “handmade”. Maybe this was due to the fact that, unlike most of the “handmade” fashion or decorative items, the “handmade” label on electronics, is not advertised quite openly.

As I mentioned above, if labeling the a product as “handmade” adds much more value to the product, then why do these technology companies not mention this? This is a tricky question, since if they started mentioning how their products are handmade by people and not machines in order to cut down costs, how labor forces are being exploited in Chinese sweatshops in order to squeeze out profits in every possible way, how the workers in these sweatshops sometimes loose their hands, while “hand” making products, would the “handmade” label still add more value to the product? Would people be willing to pay more for “handmade” electronics, if they knew that the money will never go back to the workers themselves who put in their valuable time and effort into the production process? These technology companies should use technology in their production process wherever they can, so that these workers are not used like robots or machines.

If, i-Phone: $649, i-Pad: $299, then what’s the price of “Loosing the ability to function your hand while assembling these “handmade” products”?

The True Cost of our Tech Products

I wish I could say that this podcast really opened my eyes, but the unfortunate truth is that I was aware of much of this information before tuning in. Sure, Mike painted a more colorful picture, but I think many of us (meaning American users of these sweat shop products) already know about the long hours, cramped quarters, repetitive motions, and even suicide nets. So why is it so easy for us to look the other way? Why is it so easy for us to just see what we want to see?

I do not really have an answer to these questions. Even trying to rationalize it makes me disappointed in not only myself but everyone else like me who hears these gruesome stories and is ready to completely denounce the use of products from companies like Apple, but somehow find themselves putting their iPhones back in their pockets and moving on with their days.

Maybe it has something to do with the distance. These horrible working condition stories are happening halfway around the world. It is easy to put these images in the back of our minds when we are in our local Verizon stores excitedly picking out which new iPhone we want because our 2-year upgrade is finally due.  Maybe we don’t have a choice. We almost have to have a functioning smart phone in order to keep up in present day America, right? Are the other companies doing things much better? We almost have to assume that Samsung and HTC are doing the same thing. And plus, that is a lot of independent research for us to formulize the entire supply chain of every major tech company. We’re busy; let someone else handle that. When everyone else decides to change, that’s when we will too.

Does this rationalization sound familiar?  If a stranger came up to you and said, “I will give you a brand new iPhone for $1.00. The only catch is that a few Chinese workers will suffer over the labor required to make it for you.” Most of us would immediately decline the offer as it puts other human beings through direct suffering and pain. So why is it that we not only pay $1.00 but several hundreds of dollars for new accessories at the expense of not only a few workers but a few hundred thousand? How can we still be so eager to buy our next iPhone when we know the true cost?

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.

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.

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.

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

Mike Daisy: For or Against Sweatshop Manufacturing?

When Mike Daisy started speaking on This American Life, I was intrigued as to what the four pictures that started his journey actually looked like. So, I opened up a new tab and started to run a quick google search. Upon looking for these pictures, I stumbled upon an article that stated this episode was later redacted by This American Life because Mike Daisy fabricated many of the encounters in China he spoke about. This was incredibly disappointing to learn– especially since it was before I was able to listen to his story. Instead of being able to enjoy his talented narrative of his experiences, I was highly critical and skeptical of everything I heard, ruining what I’m sure would have otherwise been quite a captivating speech. It was especially ironic when Mike remarked that he was “going to lie to a lot of people” in regards to his communication with Foxconn. Continue reading Mike Daisy: For or Against Sweatshop Manufacturing?

Apple, Justice, Globalization, Tech, Drama, Truth- Prompt 2

First, watch this very famous ad from 1984.  Fun fact: it only aired once, but is one of the most famous ads of all time.

For the purposes of this blog post, please write solely on your reaction to this hour of radio/podcast/audio content.  

Blog pointers…

Continue reading Apple, Justice, Globalization, Tech, Drama, Truth- Prompt 2