Apple’s iSlave Uprising

by Matt Klassen on June 15, 2012

No I’m not talking about the general discontent of the rabid Apple fans over the relatively lacklustre WWDC this past week–although perhaps it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Apple has enslaved much of the general public with its manipulative marketing campaigns–but instead the news that recently thousands of workers at one of Apple’s Chinese iPhone production factories rioted over their continued mistreatment.

Since a New York Times article once again raised awareness regarding the atrocious working conditions along Apple’s supply chain, the tech giant has kicked its public relation efforts into overdrive, offering various hollow platitudes designed both to help the outraged public focus their anger on some other target and to refocus their love on Apple.

But while on this side of the ocean we’re hearing stories of factory audits, of sweeping changes to working standards, and improved working conditions, it seems that all such news is nothing but propaganda, a cleverly constructed ruse designed exclusively to mask the fact that in reality….nothing has changed.

For the last several months Apple has continued to claim that the working conditions for the workers along the company’s supply chain, particularly in the Foxconn factories in China, are improving dramatically, with Apple and Foxconn reportedly abolishing forced excessive overtime, improved worker safety, and have doubled worker salaries (you may remember worker salaries were already doubled as a response to the suicides over a year ago).

But according to a particularly damning report (PDF) released by SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour) earlier this month, in actual fact the conditions for many workers have become far worse. As I expected, while Apple likely did indeed enact several changes to the working standards in its partner Foxconn’s factories, most were simply changes to semantics.

For instance, Apple has stated that it has abolished forced excessive overtime for Foxconn employees, but the SACOM report states that Foxconn has altered how shifts are scheduled and paid, so that now employees are expected to work “comprehensive working hours,” meaning they no longer work excessive overtime, they just work indefinite shifts till quotas are met. They’ve also stated they’ve increased wages, but forgot to mention the cost of living was concomitantly increased for Foxconn to recoup its losses.

Further, in an effort to keep the rank-and-file in line, Foxconn has, not surprisingly, increased the pay for management, giving them extra incentive to use whatever tactics necessary to keep everyone working diligently. Such tactics, the report states, includes military style drills, disciplinary action like cleaning toilets, and the constant threat of job loss.

It’s not hard to see how an employee in such conditions would be driven to depression, madness, and even suicide–the situation that originally sparked this controversy. However, in order to combat such employee distress—which is clearly bad for public image—at the time of the suicides Foxconn setup an employee Help Line, one whose stated purpose is to provide a listening ear, but one that in actuality offers nothing but disinterested counselling and exists simply as a front for management to route out the “problem” workers.

For years Foxconn employees have responded to this crisis with the sort of defeatist attitude one would expect from soul crushing labour, but with the recent worker riots one thing is becoming clear, Apple’s iSlaves are not willing to take this anymore, and we shouldn’t be willing to either.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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