Why is Apple to blame for China’s Labour Problems?

by Matt Klassen on November 7, 2012

Late this last summer MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer addressed the ongoing labour situation along Apple’s Chinese supply line, lambasting The New York Times for its unfair treatment of Apple through this supposed crisis.

Critiquing the lazy journalist approach, the poor choice of source material, and the clear dearth of perspective, Maxcer argues that enduring long hours, a militant work culture, or mind-numbing repetitive tasks is certainly not unique to China, pointing out that employees’ descriptions of life at Foxconn could easily be transferred to life at Apple or Microsoft or a host of others here at home.

What’s strange to me is that this story, one detailing the non-culpability of Apple, seems to echo the perspective of many, given its meteoric popularity and place among the ECT News Network’s recently released “Best of ECT News Series.” My concern is that in trying to swing the pendulum of public opinion away from blaming Apple, Maxcer has given the general public licence to not care about this issue at all. Sure there’s a human cost built into every iPad, but if Apple doesn’t need to take responsibility, why do I?

Taking issue with The NY Times’ use of one college student looking for summer work at Foxconn as an example of the egregious labour atrocities being committed overseas, Maxcer argues that complaints like boring, long hours, low pay, or a lack of life outside work really aren’t legitimate complaints, and certainly don’t speak to the sort of systemic worker abuse that the NY Times claimed it uncovered. In fact, Maxcer states, almost all of us could think of one or two jobs we’ve had in our lives that fit the exact same bill, its just part of life.

Further, Maxcer writes, such horribly unsatisfying jobs are good for people, serving as incentive to pursue more education or training to move towards something that they really want to do. In the regard, he concludes, China is no different thanAmerica, and Apple certainly can’t be blamed.

Maxcer also takes issue with the more serious claims against Apple regarding the working conditions at its supply partner Foxconn, asking the question, why is Apple only to blame? Truthfully in this matter I couldn’t agree more with Maxcer, as responsibility for the labour crisis in China needs to be placed with the government and companies like Foxconn who operate in the country. But his conclusion from this, that since no one else cares we can’t legitimately hold Apple to account, is nothing short of ludicrous.

“If the Chinese can’t be bothered to care about their own people, why do we have to?” Such a query seems to speak directly to the North American ethos of apathy. Why should we care? My response is simple: we should care exactly for the reason Maxcer stated above, because no one else does.

Regardless of how work-a-day Maxcer’s analysis of the labour situation makes it seem, the problem is that issues like low pay, gruelling unpaid overtime, managerial abuse, corruption, and unsafe work environments (just to name a few) are much worse in China, given that there aren’t the same systems in place to protect (and compensate) the worker.

In the end, the reason, Mr. Maxcer, that everyone is harping on Apple is because as an American company we hope (naively perhaps) that it should know better, that it should want to treat everyone involved in the production of its popular products like human beings, not like underfed cattle. While Apple certainly doesn’t warrant all the blame, it does warrant the focus of our attention, given that it might be the only player in this labour game that might have the motivation to do something about it.

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

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jordan Richardson November 7, 2012 at 11:31 am

Good Christmas, that Maxcer article is a mess in so many ways. He sounds like a 12-year-old girl in the first few paragraphs, complaining that he’s “irritated” by the facts and continuing to say that the Times, like, “totally missed obvious points.” Like, totally.

And the whole “If the Chinese can’t be bothered to care about their own people, why do we have to?” thing is absolutely offensive and shameful.

He seems to figure that the only reason anyone would dare talk about labour issues (and not, say, how thing the goddamn iPhone is going to be) is for “page views.” There’s no convincing people like him. All the Retina Display in the world won’t cure them of their selfishness, their cruelty and their ignorance.

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