The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


In our technologically oriented world, if you were to ask most users if they owned at least one product manufactured by Apple, Inc. the answer would come back a resounding, “yes.”  It is accurate to say that the company is the most highly valued (as measured by total share value) of any company in its industry and at one point recently of any company in any industry anywhere in the world.

As you probably know, Apple’s products are not manufactured in the United States but are outsourced to companies primarily in Asia, China being one of its largest suppliers.  Perhaps it is only my impression but I have noticed that people who are really proficient in their reliance on technology tend to be younger, more socially liberal and express their concerns more enthusiastically about equity and equality.

They must be disturbed by the conditions that exist for workers in several of the Chinese plants that manufacture components and products for this technological mega giant.

According to China Labor Watch in a 133 page report released today, the conditions under which Chinese workers are forced to work would have made the textile industry in the U. S. and its demands on its female workers 100 years ago look like a day at a picnic.  In large measure, the conditions in the textile factories gave impetus to the labor union movement in the United States.

The two companies most highly featured in the report are both Taiwanese-owned,  operating manufacturing facilities on the mainland.  They are Foxconn Technology Group and Riteng, a division of Pegatron Corp.  The average wage at Foxconn is $1.60 per hour – at Riteng $1.30.  And you wonder why everything you see on the shelves of our stores in the United States are stamped “Made in China.”

One of the things that the report made clear was that both companies regularly violate the laws regarding overtime.  According to the survey of their findings gathered over a four month period, the average worker at Foxconn works a 10 hour day – and 12 hours at Riteng.  Furthermore, the report cited cases where workers put in as many as 180 hours of overtime per month, far exceeding the 36 hour legal limit established by the People’s Republic of China.

In addition, although the law requires that workers be covered by health insurance, many plants ignore that regulation.

Apple says that it “audits” its suppliers’ compliance closely.  If you want to see the company’s official policy you may click the link below, but don’t be surprised if Apple’s official statement of standards appear to be quite different from the report that China Labor Watch published.

Giving Apple the benefit of the doubt that they do have standards and audit their suppliers to make sure they comply with them, apparently they need to do a better job evaluating these companies.  That is not unlike J. P. Morgan Chase’s needing to do a better job managing risk internally.

But to play devil’s advocate for a moment – what if Apple’s real motivation is simply making as much profit as possible – and if thousands of workers suffer in that effort, well that’s business?  I’m not advancing that position – but it does represent one possible scenario.  So if that’s the case, what then does the conscientious person concerned about the social welfare of all working people do?

The most effective thing would probably be that when Apple launches a new product, don’t get in the line of eager beavers waiting to purchase it.  And let the company know why you’re not going to buy that product.

But in the meantime, the dedicated Apple user can use the time to contact Apple and express her discomfort with the conditions in their suppliers’ factories; write posts; email friends; and put notices on the social media publicizing the difference between what Apple says it stands for and what it accepts from its suppliers.

Who knows, if the message goes viral, it will no doubt prove an embarrassment to the largest tech company in the world and cause them to demand better working conditions for those who manufacture their products.

Let’s not forget, the plants we are talking about are in China.  And in China, “Saving Face” still means a lot.

Comments on: "THE POISON APPLE" (28)

  1. ‘But to play devil’s advocate for a moment – what if Apple’s real motivation is simply making as much profit as possible – and if thousands of workers suffer in that effort, well that’s business? I’m not advancing that position…”

    I’m not either, nor am I disallowing it. if you look at the pay for Apple’s retail people, it’s signifigantly below average also. so it may be business as usual. That’s not unknown in this country lately, either.

    • I was not aware of the discrepancy between Apple’s retail employees and their counterparts. Thanks for the information.

      • I just saw it the other day, don’t remember where however. It also stated that they tend to burn out in about 3 years, and have little chance of promotion out of the stores. They’re also young, it’s often the first job out of college.

        Interestingly, Verizon and (T-Mobile?) who also sell Apple stuff pay commission, which Apple doesn’t, with a few salespeople reaching 6 figures.

      • I think that a lot of young people want to work in what they consider a “sexy” environment – without regard to the economic consequences. Verizon stores aren’t nearly as “cool” as Apple’s. But ultimately the realities of life hopefully dawn on our youngsters.

      • That seemed to be thrust of the article, It was a blast to work there, for a while.

      • Perhaps not. I’m not an especially good witness here because I’m a skilled tradesman, and difficult to replace, so most companies tend to not force us as hard, and some actually take pride in their safety record. Far too many look at nothing but the quarterly bottom line.

      • Kudos to those taking pride in safety!

      • Indeed, a short story, if our hostess will permit.

        I was sitting in my Dad’s office, He ran a small electric utility, if fact when he hired in they had a shoe box, at the end of his last day before retirement. He had done it all lineman, project superintendent, engineer, whatnot, even testified to Congress and met FDR once, I asked what he was most proud of. He took me out in the lobby and pointed to a plaque on the wall and said, “That”. That was an award from their insurance company for having worked 1 million man hours without a lost time accident.

        In my career, I’ve tried to live up to that, the lesson you learn early you learn well.

  2. Yes we do have two Apple IPads, not bad for a couple of oldies, however my understanding is Samsung (Korean) supplies a significant content of the Apple IPhone/IPad so it’s rather amusing to me that Apple is in litigation with Samsung if that is true. Like all innovations I believe Apple is at the top end of these innovations on the bell curve and increasing competition will need them looking for a new product to sell very soon. According to a news item I read recently most of the Apple profits come from the ITunes store. As far as the sweat shop labour found in countries we outsource to this is much the same as their counterpart in England in the 1800s which were highlighted in Charles Dickens novels very effectively. World interest in the current versions of slave labour will hopefully rid us of this evil as it did in England too.

    • I do believe that the iTunes store is a contributor to earnings. But I think most of their profit is centered on the physical hardware and because of that there is a lot of derivative revenue from downloading apps.

      Dickens is my favorite author and I read all of his works by the time I was in my early teens. It would be useful if some of those concerned about working conditions made reference to his work. Thank you for the mention.

  3. There are sellers of labour (employees) and buyers of labour (employers) – the Chinese are diligent and intelligent people.

    Perhaps when the country moves to the next stage of shaking off Maoism, and when more ‘shops’ set up in China, the competition for labour will tilt the scales as it has done elsewhere – something that every country goes through.

    • It is really remarkable to see how China has progressed since the times of the Gang of Four. I hope your prediction comes to pass.

    • Along that line, Eric, you may be right. I read this, this morning, I don’t have any way to confirm or deny but, it’s interesting.

      • The comments by this Singaporean Chinese about the lack of freedom in Singapore are a gross over simplification and highlights his ignorance about what makes Singapore tick.

        Singapore is tiny – much smaller than NYC. It is multi racial and multi religious. Street demonstrations can (and have in the past) turned easily into racial/religious conflagrations. I know, as I’ve lived through them. Because we are tiny – we cannot ring fence these conflagrations. It is not like racial riots say in LAX that others in the USA (NYC) can be ‘immunised’ against due to the vast distances. Perhaps the same distances apply to China

        I’m gonna stop here as this is not the time/forum for a deep discourse on Singapore’s track record on freedom and democracy…

        Hope I’ve not offended anyone but I love my country and am one of the pioneering generation that helped build it…

      • Certainly didn’t me. Like I said, as did Dr. Delacroix, I just don’t have enough information on that part to have an opinion. My real point in linking it was the comments on the way Wal-Mart and such do business. I have no idea on their margins but, I do know anecdotally they have pushed American manufacturers into bankruptcy by driving price down and slow payment. And I have found myself, that a brand name at Wal-Mart means nothing, it’s shoddy merchandise.

        I had no intent to denigrate Singapore, Eric. If I offended you, I apologize.

  4. Eeeek. Those youngsters probably have no idea where their gadgets come from. They’re too busy with their faces stuck on facebook and in their phone (me included.) I didn’t know all this, but it doesn’t come as a surprise. Thanks for this post! I’ll be sure and spread it around.

  5. I like that you posted clear, simple solutions to act on this issue. A fellow student & I actually tried one of them last year on a trip to Mexico for in-country research on the history of maquiladoras. We took photos of workers in Panasonic & Sony plants there & emailed them to each company’s director of operations, along with details about the working conditions & with quotes from some of the workers. Some workers even invited us to their homes, which we also photographed & sent to the companies. You just cannot believe how they live, J. Their water is so contaminated with chemicals from the plant that they can’t drink or bathe in it, and have to get water from other areas to lug back home each day. We helped them do that, and let me tell you that anyone who ever visited the homes of these workers & experienced their living conditions would never purchase another product from these companies. I think the problem is that we are so far removed from their experience, and their experience is a corporate-guarded secret, and so we remain uninformed & are not motivated in any real way to pursue such information which may prompt us to alter our levels of comfort.

    We received a form letter from these 2 companies thanking us & promising to look into it…

  6. Thanks SB for your description of your personal experience. I especially like that you took action – and am actually surprised that you even received a “form letter” response.

    What bothers me is that I know a lot of people talk about social justice and are “in favor of it.” That is until it somehow adversely impacts the lifestyle with which they are comfortable. I spoke with a number of friends and acquaintances about helping out at a residence for the indigent poor this Thanksgiving. We are going to be preparing about 200 Holiday meals for the residents. Of course, everyone had “plans” with family for the day (despite my suggestion that they might bring the whole family and make it a family affair). Two out of the ten did offer a few dollar donation toward the cost of the food.

    We are a very selfish society. I wonder what would happen if misfortune ever befell any of these folks. Would they accept it and try to manage – or would they have the expectation that they should get help from others because they’re “special?”

    • I daresay there are many who would be up in arms at your statement that “we are a selfish society.” I generally get pounded by such people when I dare mention the destruction resulting from our imperialism abroad. “What are you talking about?! We donate more money to foreign countries than anyone in the world! What would they do without our generosity?” is the response I’ve become accustomed to here.

      But I’m afraid I agree with you in this matter. I feel that, though we are willing to click on PayPal, we are averse to interference with our comfort zones. To be fair, I am speaking in frustration of trying to get friends & fellow students to join me in spending Thanksgiving on an Indian reservation this year, so that we can learn firsthand what it’s like for Native Americans subjected to our nationwide celebration of a holiday they protest each year. A few of my own relatives are balking at allowing me to include nieces, nephews & cousins in this venture. Even though they’ve allowed these same nieces, nephews & cousins to travel with me overseas a few times to widen their cultural views, a trip to an Indian reservation right here in their own country is apparently off limits. A fellow student, who declined to join me, put it bluntly: “It’ll mess up Thanksgiving for me from then on.”

      In a nutshell. 😐

      • The examples are endless. That’s why I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “I’m nice to everyone I meet. That’s how I’m changing America.”

  7. @neenergyobserver – you’ve certainly not offended me or my country Singapore. I’m sorry that I mistook the thrust of your comment. Yes, I can see now what you refer to about WalMart. Thank you for being so gracious. Cheers, Eric

    P/s I hope Jay does not mind us using her blog so… 🙂 (sheepish smile)

    • Hi Eric! You and neenergyobserver are two of my favorite readers – and I know that you both conduct yourselves as gentlemen.

      Sometimes minor misunderstandings occur – and it is a gracious person who admits that he might have misinterperted a remark. Thank you for doing so.

      This blog is intended to stimulate respectful and intelligent exchange of opinion. I thank both of you for contributing to that end.


    • No harm no foul. glad I was still around to answer you. It happens to us all. We get exercised early in something and miss the latter part. I do it all the time. Part of the reason I rarely link in comments.

      The part I was highlighting was a little to long for a comment, thus the link.

      Again I apoligise for not making my thrust clear. 🙂 sheepish smile back.

      And J., Thank you for the kind words, Maam.

  8. @Neo: “The lesson you learn early, you learn well.”
    I am so writing this down to show my great-gran (because she STILL refuses to use “that crazy machine” i.e. computer 🙄 . This is something she always ‘nagged’ at us about as kids (“If you don’t get this now, you won’t remember it later!”), much to our deep sighs & endless eye rolls. Now, as I’m constantly finding with all her ‘naggy’ lessons, I am ever-grateful she ‘nagged’ them into us!

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