Remember that factory in China where 17 workers committed suicide? Remember how we were assured that compared to the general population of China, this rate of suicide was actually very low?
Foxconn is Apple’s largest supplier of iPads and iPhones. Apple wants us to think of it as a utopian company run by the benevolent prophet Steve Jobs. It doesn’t want us to look at the grim truth about how its products are manufactured.
They aren’t brought to us by storks! They aren’t made in the US, either. They are made in Foxconn’s three Chinese factories, the most modern of which is an antiseptic nightmare of dehumanizing work conditions. Another worker jumped to her death on November 24, but I only found out because I was looking for images from China Fashion Week.
Joel Johnson wrote in Wired Magazine about the sense of guilt that drove him to visit the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, an industrial city in southern China. The company has put nets around its buildings to break the fall of potential jumpers. It has opened counseling offices and forced workers to sign contracts that forbid suicide and warn that families of suicides won’t receive any unusual compensation.
Maybe we’re supposed to think that the million workers employed by Foxconn are lucky to be employed. That only works if you think you’d feel lucky to work a ten hour shift with forced overtime, where you raise your hand to use a restroom. You’d have to feel lucky to live in a dorm room with seven strangers and can only watch TV in a common room with bench seating.
Two independent reports found that worker conditions at Foxconn were incredibly poor, and that Apple had failed to keep its promises regarding Foxconn. In the first quarter of 2011, Apple posted a record high in revenue of $26.74 billion.
As a reviewer of electronic gadgets, Joel Johnson was burdened “with an outsize provision of guilt–an existential buyer’s remorse for civilization itself. I am here because I want to know: Did my iPhone kill 17 people?”
After touring Foxconn, his answer was Yes.
I’m glad I don’t own a single Apple product. I would never buy one now. If I meet Steve Jobs in hell, I’m going to tell him what I think. Meanwhile, I hope you will pass this story on. We can’t easily opt out of civilization but we can choose which companies to do business with.