Five years ago today, Steve Jobs unveiled the revolutionary iPhone. The gadget that merged telecommunication, cyberspace, music and video continues to be celebrated to this day, but while many took to the Web to mark its fifth birthday, others took the opportunity to shed light on labor conditions at the Foxconn factories where most iPhones are made.
In 2011, China Labor Watch published a report that revealed persistent abuse in high-tech manufacturing plants whose clients included Apple, HP, Dell and Nokia. While the report showed that labor conditions had improved over the years, it also found that workers were still being abused and subjected to treatment that drove some to suicide.
Penn Olson discovered one example where a worker was docked of half his wages for turning up to the factory one minute late and was issued an additional fine as a part of his punishment. Rick Martin, a blogger for Penn Olson, has taken the iPhone's fifth birthday as an opportunity to reflect on some of these conditions. He reviews an NPR interview of apple fan and actor Mike Daisey, who travelled to Foxconn to get a real idea of how his favorite gadgets were made.
My only hobby is technology, and of all the kinds of technology I love the technology that comes from Apple...a worshipper in the cult of Apple, Daisey opens his account on This American Life, but then goes on to give vivid descriptions of the conditions he witnesses at the Apple electronics factory in Shenzhen. He mentions beatings, suicides and the brutal conditions workers undergo on a daily basis.
It's an interesting story, that prompts you to reflect on or question the true cost of owning the latest gadget which is almost certainly made in China. Mike's talk, as presented in this episode of TAL, is pretty dramatic as you might expect. Though I was glad to see that some of his account was fact-checked and examined in the second act of the show, Martin writes for Penn Olson.
Martin admits to owning Apple computers, I do feel conflicted when I hear the many negative headlines about conditions at Foxconn. I guess I'm hoping that the increased spotlight will prompt the company to improve conditions. Will I buy another Mac? I confess I probably will. But I'll try to push my old Macbook as far as I can before I do, he said.
Al Jazeera recently spoke to activist Debby Chan, about conditions at Foxconn.
As consumers, we should ask ourselves how certain products are made. We decided to find out what drove the workers to commit suicide and I went to the Foxconn plants in Shenzhen, Chengdu and Zhengzhou for off-site interviews. Some of the workers told me about the pressures they faced. It was just an awful situation. They keep repeating a monotonous motion hundreds or thousands of times a day and cannot talk during work. Some of them also feel that they resemble machines and do not want to talk to others after work, Chan said.
The topic of Foxconn gained momentum on Twitter as many celebrated the iPhone's fifth birthday:
Rav_Bunneh Rav Strom
Life at the Foxconn plant in Schengen [sic] China where Apple and other products are made is so bad the building all have suicide nets.
Manshow Jeff Holth
Foxconn to double its iPhone plant's size, output (Appolicious)buz.tw/VFRxe
thelostagency David Iwanow
Foxconn Makes Almost Nothing Out of Apple's iPads and iPhonesonforb.es/tdIEpF
vitorjoanni Vítor Joanni
Everything is fun with a Mac - even schoolwork, even labor. But it's hard to squeeze the labor performed at FoxConn into the same frame.