iPod? Naw, iPoor – uPod

iPod SweatshopOk, so I keep returning to this topic again, and again, and again, but it’s not my fault really… people keep reporting on it, I keep responding to it. It’s a shaky system, but it works.

This time the point of focus is on none other than Apple. Like Google, I think Apple’s marketing people have done a bang-up job of promoting the company as the Little Big Guy. The company that isn’t the biggest, but always outshines their competition in being innovative. A real forward thinking company – until they sell out to the Chinese.

With Google it was (as mentioned so many times) compromising the integrity of their open-information search results. And now with Apple it’s that they’re using the abundant and cheap labour of China to make everyone’s favourite iPod.

From Macworld UK:
Apple’s iPods are made by mainly female workers who earn as little as £27 per month, according to a report in the Mail on Sunday yesterday.

The report claims Longhua’s workers live in dormitories that house 100 people, and that visitors from the outside world are not permitted. Workers toil for 15-hours a day to make the iconic music player, the report claims. They earn £27 per month. The report reveals that the iPod nano is made in a five-storey factory (E3) that is secured by police officers.

Another factory in Suzhou, Shanghai, makes iPod shuffles. The workers are housed outside the plant, and earn £54 per month – but they must pay for their accommodation and food, “which takes up half their salaries”, the report observes.

So, £27 (or about 400 RMB) per month. Long hours. Likely not too great working environment (no periodical 15 minute coffee breaks or extended health benefits we could safely assume). This, by any account, is crappy. But, and here in lies the problem, it’s common. It’s factory work in China.

The reason we get our panties in a bunch about it is because suddenly we (the West) have reason to feel guilty about it. We have a connection to it. Everytime we put those cutesy white earbuds in our ears and thumb-circle our way through our marvelous mp3 collection we know it’s because some woman in China gave up every minute of her time to make it for us, well, actually to eat, but semantics eh?

My position on this sways as to who’s responsibility it is. Is it the government’s to protect their people (creating and enforcing laws)? The people’s to stand up and refuse to be taken advantage of? The 3rd party company’s who has been contracted to handle the manufacturing and is just playing by the competative market rule book? The parent company’s who trusts that their business meetings and well-planned factory tours are honest and upfront (or at least as much is as needed for corporatate sensibilities)?

Apple obviously feels it’s a little bit their responsibility, or at least doesn’t want the guilt-feeling populous throwing out their iPods yet, not with all the accessories coming their way:

“Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” the statement explains.

The company also explains that it is “currently investigating the allegations regarding working conditions in the iPod manufacturing plant in China”.

Apple stresses that: “It does not tolerate any violations of its supplier code of conduct, which is posted online”.

This code is modelled on the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct and can be downloaded as a PDF here.

“Recognised standards such as International Labour Organisation Standards (ILO), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Social Accountability International (SAI), and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) were used as references in preparing this code,” the company says on its website.

The code of conduct includes a commitment to uphold the human rights of workers, and covers matters including discrimination, harsh treatment and harassment, involuntary and child labour, working hours, remuneration and freedom of association.

The problem, as I see it is this: Apple will clean this up, somehow. Google will clean up their mess, somehow. And in the end it just severs the connection Western media has with exposing this backwards and archaic manufacturing model. If it’s not making our Nikes, our iPods, or our Disney products… then what the fuck should we care about those Chinese workers. Let them worry about themselves, I don’t buy sweatshop products. But these are just three companies. Albeit big, they are just three in a sea of companies abusing China’s cheap labour force. But what do we know or care about XinTangJu Ltd. abusing its employees to make domestically used washing machines or FanGongQing Inc. operating a sweat shop for all of China’s high fashion.

Simply, we don’t know … or care really. Though a lot of Chinese people are working for exported goods companies, a lot more are working in domestic companies (with real names, not like the ones above…) making crap for other Chinese people. So the question, I think, is not really where does the responisbility lie for the government, the people affected, the 3rd parties, or the big brands… I think in the end it lies with all of us. Not in a “hey, feel good about yourself, join a NGO” way, but in a way that we don’t forget just because it’s not in the Western news, or affecting our brands of choice. If we’re all going to reap the benefits of globalization (and all the inequality it brings), I think we’re all going to have to step up to the plate and educate ourselves on the effects of the NWO we now live in.

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