Foxconn, Apple and Hell

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.

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52 Responses to “Foxconn, Apple and Hell”

  1. Make Do Style Says:

    I really had no idea. Dreadful I will tweet – feel very guilty now.

  2. Dave C Says:

    Apple did a damn good job of keeping a lid on this. Steve Jobs is now revealed to be just another cunt. While I have to use Mac computers for my work, I’ll certainly never be buying an ipad or iphone now. Someone said in one of the many encomiums surrounding his death that “We live in the age of Steve Jobs”, but I say we live in the age of the cunt.

  3. Ann Says:

    Wow. What an eye opener.

  4. Lara Says:

    So glad you posted this. Personally, I hate Apple products. Being a geek, I like to fix things myself instead of being a slave to the Genius Bar. I also don’t like how they hold your music and hard drive hostage. But… either way…
    Check this little tidbit about Siri preventing you from getting info on abortion providers and instead directing you towards pro-life organizations. Yeah.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/11/29/10-things-the-iphone-siri-will-help-you-get-instead-of-an-abortion/#.TtUfPuh2Y08.twitter

  5. Helen Says:

    Fantastic post. Thank you.

  6. Cricket9 Says:

    I own a MacBook; will write to Apple on this subject and ask questions.

  7. Kristen Says:

    Sadly, I think we’re at the point where it’s pretty safe to assume that if a product is cheap, mass produced, and especially if it’s produced in a foreign country, you can just assume there’s environmental degradation, or human suffering, or both involved in its production. You don’t have to wait for the scandal to break, it’s a given.

  8. annemarie Says:

    Steve Jobs also scolded Obama for not being business-friendly and thought that teacher unions should be abolished. He also smelled bad.

  9. Sheriji Says:

    I’m reading this on an iPad, and I’m very distressed. Does anybody know if the conditions in which Kindles, PC computers such as Dell, etc., are made are the same?

    We want economic balance between countries, but as long as there are people in countries like China willing to do this kind of work for that kind of pay, we never will be able to really compete. Meanwhile we all just keep making crap that only works for 3 years and then ends up in a landfill (any appliance bought since 1990, laptops which are software-obsolete after 3 years, TVs that die in less [Olevia]). Not a good, fair, nor sustainable way to live. Something should be done.

  10. Kristen Says:

    This short film pretty much sums up the whole problem:
    http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/
    It’s really well done.

  11. Jaimi Says:

    This is beyond disgusting, especially that it’s STILL happening. Thank you for this, seriously.
    I need a new laptop, but I sure as hell will be passing on the Macbook Pro now. How can I find one that was made in an ethical, safe, and fair work environment?

  12. Stacy Says:

    Thanks for this Sister. Shared.

    I also blame Apple (myself included as I have a MacBook – 4 yrs old) for a large percentage of consumer waste. A book I’ve just signed out of the library is Cradle to Cradle http://us.macmillan.com/cradletocradle/WilliamMcDonough

  13. Dawn Says:

    It’s not just Apple. Seriously. JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU OWN IS MADE UNDER HORRIBLE CONDITIONS. Think about it – your tv, your computer (no matter what brand), your SHOES for chrissakes, parts for your car (cars also have computers), your Ikea bookshelf, lightbulbs, probably your toothbrush.

    Singling out Apple products is silly.

    And what do we do with these electronic gadgets when we’re done with them? Where do they go? To vast dumps of ewaste in the poorest parts of the world, where small children sort through the debris to retrieve sellable parts, covered in lead and other toxic chemicals.

    Here’s one look: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/video/video_index.html

  14. Danno Says:

    I just received 3 Apple items in the mail less than an hour before reading this.

  15. Peter L. Winkler Says:

    I agree with Dawn. All electronics and many more consumer products are manufactured offhore. Until the early 70s, there were several US companies making TV sets in the US. Then they all offshored their manufacturing, or, like Curtis-Mathis, blinked out of existence.

    This subject is complex. There was an excellent discussion of this some months ago somewhere online-maybe at Andrew Sulivan’s blog-and one commenter, who seemed in command of the facts, did say that the suicide rate for the general Chinese population was higher than Foxconn employees.

    He also said that there is a huge waiting line of people who want jobs at Foxconn. The job conditions at Foxconn may seem oppresive to us, most of whom have never worked a hard manual labor job, but the alternatives for many Chinese are even worse. This isn’t to excuse labor abuses, bt it’s a complex situation.

    My sister and I own two Apple laptops and an iPod Touch.

    I don’t feel guilty or remorseful about it, because I don’t know of a better alternative. Who makes Dell, HP or other computers, and under what conditions? Lenovo are made in China. Before buying a MacBook Pro in 2007, my computer was a Fujitsu Lifebook. Need I say more?

    Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel

  16. carla fox Says:

    Crap, and I just got an Iphone for $1 and renewal of my plan at AT&T. This takes all the fun (?) out of it. I guess the only “humane”, non-exploitative method of communication these days would be 2 tin cans and some string. Except that’s probably made in China, under horrible conditions, too.

  17. Andra Says:

    While we have a world full of people who want cheap, disposable products, this is what we will get.
    There used to be a time when products were made to last for decades and people manufactured them proudly and owned them and looked after them.
    Those days are mostly gone and we got what we wanted, didn’t we?
    By the way, I don’t own and have never owned any Apple products but I am quite sure the electronics I own was not produced in any better surroundings.
    I just bought another cheap TV last week, made in Korea or somewhere under probably worse conditons than shown in the photo above.

  18. drollgirl Says:

    HOLY SHIT. i had no idea. and i have a lot of apple products. SHIT.

  19. Cricket9 Says:

    I agree with Dawn, Peter and Andra – it’s not just Apple, it’s pretty much everything, and yes, we buy and want cheap, and many of us can’t afford locally made products – if they exist at all. Manufacturing is on it’s last legs in Canada.
    In 88, when I came here, I was shocked that no-one repairs anything because “it’s not worth it”. Now I’m trying to give away for free a perfectly good non-flat screen TV and there are no takers.
    Nevertheless- I will write to Apple, just curious if they answer.

  20. emma Says:

    There was a fairly disturbing news item on Australias ABC (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-10-26/workers-poisoned-while-making-iphones/2311522) some time ago regarding this subject.
    I watched it and I was quite disturbed watching footage of the workers who were suffering poisoning (google Apple+n-hexane poisoning if you want to find more links).
    Watching the workers basically having to learn how to work again after suffering nerve damage from the chemical they used to wipe clean the phone screens after assembly was upsetting, to say the least. That shiny new iphone nestled it it’s box wasn’t looking so sparkly anymore…
    I happen to live in Shenzhen and I’ve driven past the Apple factories a couple of times….after watching the news piece of course I thought of the workers inside, and i felt a sense of gloom.
    Whilst I am still sheltered living the life of an expat in China, I still see and hear very disturbing things happening here in China. And I know I still have a lot to learn – even the Chinese feign ignorance at the human rights abuses here. That could be genuine, or it could be the thing we/they call face.
    I don’t really have much insight to offer here. I can only say I have a sense of foreboding – this is only going to get worse.

  21. Sister Wolf Says:

    emma – it’s GREAT to hear from you. I want to know more about life in China. I’m going straight to your link.

  22. Sister Wolf Says:

    Oh and this: Apple banned a game that depicts working conditions and suicides at Foxconn: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Phone-Story-App-Store-iOS-Foxconn-Suicides,news-12616.html

  23. Sister Wolf Says:

    Dawn – Singling out Apple isn’t silly. Apple should be accountable instead of defending Foxconn with statistics on suicide in China. I like the following quote:

    “Sure, people kill themselves all the time. But the Foxconn people all work for the same company, in the same place, and they’re all doing it in the same way, and that way happens to be a gruesome, public way that makes a spectacle of their death.

    Also, consider this. Walmart has 1.4 million employees in the United States. Can you remember a time when 10 or 15 Walmart workers jumped to their deaths from the roofs of Walmart stores over the course of a few months? Have you ever heard of Walmart asking employees to sign a no-suicide contract, or putting safety nets up on all of its buildings? If this did happen, would you think maybe something is going on at Walmart? Or would you just say, well, 10 or 15 people out of 1.4 million is still waaaay below the national average?”

    As I type this, I’m wearing Converse shoes. If I heard a similar story about the manufacture of Converse shoes and their quarterly revenue was $26 billion, I’d “single” out Converse with no apology.

  24. Angie Bitchface Says:

    I was really pissed off when Steve Jobs died and everyone was grieving over him like they personally knew him. I could always tell he was a douche even though I didn’t hear about these human rights abuses until later.

    this doesn’t surprise me at all. what I am surprised about is that even after the n-hexane stuff (which, seriously guys? they didn’t know it was toxic? just from smelling that shit for 2 seconds in organic chemistry lab last year I could tell it was toxic) the general public just seems to overlook it and they only see the shiny new products (and touchscreens suck by the way). the problem is, there basically isn’t any alternative that isn’t made in shitty conditions overseas. I think the most important thing you can do is raise awareness of these issues through change.org petitions and things like that to put public pressure on the company and tarnish its reputation in a public forum. the company won’t listen to the workers, but it WILL listen to its (potential) customers.

  25. Queenzelda Says:

    I think you raise some really interesting issues Sister Wolf.

    17 suicides in 30,000 sounds shocking, but is it much higher than that of the general population?

    According to this WHO site http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suiciderates/en/
    suicide rates per 100,000 for China are as follows
    CHINA (Selected rural & urban areas) 13.0(males) 14.8 (females)
    CHINA (Hong Kong SAR) 16.7 (males) 9.8 (females)

    Compare these with the rates in
    UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 17.6 (males) 4.1 (females)

    or the shockingly high rates in Australia where i’m from
    AUSTRALIA 21.2 (males) 5.1 (females)

    But also look at the suicide rates of the following countries (males first then females):
    BELARUS 63.6 9.5
    ESTONIA 45.8 11.9
    FINLAND 34.6 10.9
    FRANCE 26.1 9.4
    JAPAN 36.5 14.1
    LATVIA 56.6 11.9
    LITHUANIA 75.6 16.1
    LUXEMBOURG 23.9 10.7
    RUSSIAN FEDERATION 70.6 11.9

    When you consider that the people working in these factories are likely “illegal” immigrants from rural areas, with poor literacy skills and a family to support back home it is likely to result in a higher suicide rate than the general population.

    What is the alternative for factory workers? In the west we took about 100 years of workers rights and unionisation to reach the safe work places we have today. Why do we impose a tougher standard when we took much longer to reach it ourselves?

  26. Emily Says:

    Dell, HP, ASUS, and the majority of other computer manufacturers also use FoxConn, it definitely isn’t just Apple.

  27. Deni Says:

    Thank you for posting! I will forward. (I don’t own any thing Apple.)

  28. srenna Says:

    I sort of hate technology. An irrational and hypocritical hatred, yet it persists.

  29. srenna Says:

    ^ And evil people! I hate evil people too.

  30. Jaimi Says:

    I was discussing with my friend last night about how to build an ethical computer, with parts that weren’t sourced from scorched earth and were manufactured by people treated well and paid a fair wage. It’s pretty much impossible.

  31. Jaimi Says:

    Build a computer ethically, I meant to say.

  32. Juri Says:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_606w/WashingtonPost/Content/Blogs/comic-riffs/StandingArt/mattborsjobs.jpg?uuid=lLYrTvajEeCcJkOtdSHgLw

  33. kimi Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn#Clients

    Foxconn basically builds most of our technology, not just Apple technology. I’m glad you posted about this, because I hadn’t heard about Foxconn at all, but I will write a letter to all of the companies that I used that use Foxconn factories to produce their product.

  34. kimi Says:

    http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4230787/Report–Amazon-asks-Foxconn-for-smartphone-help

    The more I’m researching this company, the more it seems that unless I decide not to use any sort of technology, boycotting it is going to be basically impossible.

  35. M Says:

    Anything you have in your home, the clothes you wear and even the food you eat will have come at a human cost. Don’t buy Apple products, by all means, but also chuck out the computer you used to write this article, the kettle you used to make the cup of coffee you’re drinking while you write and the TV you watch when you’re done blogging. Basically, to live in the western world and not use products which have been created using essentially slave labour, would require you live in a cardboard box. It’s impossible. A terrible but true fact.

  36. Marky Says:

    Here’s a list of USA-made products:

    http://www.acontinuouslean.com/the-american-list/

  37. Dee Says:

    I’ve read here for awhile but this is my first post. The conditions in China are absolutely horrid but things are not much better here in the States. I worked a couple of years back for Bed Bath & Beyond in a temporary capacity to launch a store’s opening. The conditions were outrageous. We were denied drinking water, had to get permission to use the restroom. The middle department managers were more like overseers demanding we work harder and harder. Talking with co-workers was not allowed. They dangled employment like a carrot saying that if you worked really hard, there would be a job for you at the end. Instead, all I got was escorted to the door without even a thank you. They don’t call it Blood Bath & Beyond for nothing. I was relieved that I wasn’t hired though if that is the culture they expect workers to work under. Another American Company is Amazon. Yes, Amazon. Think about how many Americans gladly purchase from them…especially at Christmas time. Here’s a link to the deplorable conditions at their Allentown warehouse. They also are guilty of hiring temp workers and promising them a real job if they would just work harder and harder and harder. These corporations act like they’re doing you a favor letting you work for them. Its an absolute disgrace what this country has turned into. Time to think twice about using Amazon for your on line purchases as well. Here’s the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2011/09/20/amazon-allentown_n_971851.html Just my two cents.

  38. Cricket9 Says:

    Hiring temporary workers and promising them a permanent job if they almost kill themselves working is now endemic in Canada. In a venerable Canadian institution where I worked until recently, I couldn’t offer a permanent position to staff members working as “temps” for more than 3 years. My senior management always a reason to say no, along the lines “now it’s not a good time”.

  39. WhatTheHell? Says:

    Hey Sister Wolf I am sorry for the completely off topic message, i tried to email you several times but for some reason i can’t send you any emails cause it says that i put a wrong email address i don’t know if its a technical error or what kind of a problem but please check it out…
    So the reason i wanted to email you about is
    1 i know you don’t do ‘hideous bloggers’ articles anymore but please do me a favor check out his rich chick’s blog, her rose and flower childish pins, ‘THE EXPRESSION” of her face-no words to describe it really, the i have money and i can get miu miu shoes and d&g bag and pair it with a skirt with dots, ten thousend flower pins and white socks beneath the shoes…
    check it out and tell us what you think…
    2 guess who i came across during a trip at austin, here’s a clue, she wears animal themed belts and jewels, walks around as a clown and hangs out with her mom more than her friends (if she has any)…so i guess you know who i am talking about(god i hope she doesn’t read this and bans me forever from any interent site ever to exist)…well let’s just say that i was originally a fan of j.a.n.e (yeah i know shame on me) but since she never replied to any of my emails and since she decided to act like a bitch when i asked her to take a pic with me, i am no fan anymore….
    goshhhhh wolf i don’t know if you’ve met her, but you are so right to everything you said about her, i am so with you right not, what a snob!!!!!!!
    seriously i am not the type of a girl that writes insulting kind of messages about people she doesn’t know, but i had to talk to you about that incident, i mean someone has to, and since i’ve tried to write about it in another site (one of a blogger girl i know and appreciate and her mom decided to call me out telling everyone that i wasn’t saying the truth) i decided to tell YOU about that, and let you judge our little jane….
    So i was outside a vintage store with my mom (she goes crazy for vintage) and we accidently came across with jane, mom had no idea who she was,but i knew and wanted a pic with her, just for fun you know, her mom was there too and another woman i don’t recognize, so i went over there and politely asked them to have a pic with me, and guess what???????
    jane decided to ignore me and tell me that she had no time for pictures cause she had to leave…and well she didn’t leave the store for over 30 minutes but everytime i came close to her she completely ignored me or changed direction…
    way to treat your fans..

  40. WhatTheHell? Says:

    http://redrosecheeks.blogspot.com/ hideous blogger :P

  41. WhatTheHell? Says:

    and not to forget that she got the ugliest belt ever( any day now she’s going to post about it i am sure)…a gold metallic belt with a huge lamb on it! LOLS

  42. Kimberlie Bracamonte Says:

    This post has been somewhat of a revelation to me.

  43. wool&misc Says:

    THAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANK YOU.

  44. rosecity Says:

    I’m not a low-payed worker in Asia, but reading the job description quoted below, I realized that living here in the U.S. I’ve worked two jobs that fit this description. One, with the shift length and bathroom break policy, and another where I lived in a 6′ x 10′ room shared with four people, with a similar common area situation, for four years. The things we do to stay 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.”

  45. m Says:

    Apple products aren’t the only things manufactured in China you all seem to forget. There’s clothes, shoes and loads of other things to think about. One couldn’t possibly stop buying these because of the workers’tragic situation, because certainly it’s not the only factory which treats its employees like slaves ! I want people to stop complaining for once and actually come up with viable solutions, I want opinions on what we can actually do to change this !! And it’s not going to be solved by an online petition unfortunately …also, China isn’t the only country with this problem …

  46. m Says:

    reality is painful

  47. Aussiearn Says:

    List of tech companies that do business with FoxConn…
    If you don’t hold all of therm to the same standard you are just an Apple bashing hypocrite

    Foxconn manufactures consumer electronics for a number of well-known companies, including:
    Acer Inc. (Taiwan)
    Amazon.com (United States)[16]
    In 2011, Amazon and Foxconn formed a joint-design manufacturing company. The move was meant to produce an Amazon branded smartphone sometime in 2012.[17]
    Apple Inc. (United States)[18]
    ASRock (Taiwan)
    Asus (Taiwan)
    Barnes & Noble (United States)
    Cisco (United States)
    Dell (United States)
    EVGA Corporation (United States)
    Hewlett-Packard (United States)[19]
    Intel (United States)
    IBM (United States)
    Lenovo (China)
    Logitech (Switzerland)
    Microsoft (United States)
    MSI (Taiwan)
    Motorola (United States)
    Netgear (United States)
    Nintendo (Japan)
    Nokia (Finland)[18]
    Panasonic (Japan)
    Philips (Netherlands)
    Samsung (South Korea)
    Sharp (Japan)
    Sony Ericsson (Japan/Sweden)[20]
    Toshiba (Japan)
    Vizio (United States)

  48. Sister Wolf Says:

    Aussiearn – Thanks for the info. I am happy to bash them all.

  49. Josh Says:

    Here is some amazing reporting on the issue by This American Life. Act Two has back and forth dialog from different perspectives.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/454/mr-daisey-and-the-apple-factory

  50. Coby Says:

    Just read this, unbelievable

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2085005/300-Foxcon-staff-Xbox-360-plant-China-threaten-mass-suicide-pay.html

  51. sisi Says:

    Hey sister wolf,
    High five for the wonderful post. I went to China like 7 years ago, and was told by the local factory workers that the meanest employers in Shenzen is not from Hong kong, not from China, but from Taiwan. That’s is the employer of FoxConn. Apparently the workers are not allowed to pee, and only allowed for 15mins lunch break, and work like 16 hours a day. They got lured into a good wages compared to other factories, but they had to sign their life away before they join only to realized their gruesome work requirements. Hope this explains things.

  52. Sister Wolf Says:

    Dee – Thank you. Horrible. I keep thinking it’s better to be a hobo than to suffer such pointless humiliation.

    Josh – Thanks!

    Coby – Yep, thank you.

    sisi – Thank you. Totally fucked up situation.

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