Steve Jobs, Apple, China and Us [updated]

I don’t personally have any feelings about Steve Jobs and this comment ultimately isn’t about him. But I do have feelings about the interconnected world of the products we buy and the people who make them. So when we think about Steve Jobs, the Apple legacy, and how we all love Apple products (which are great, no question), let’s remember that — and here comes an unpopular bit of reality — the factories making our Apple products have to hang suicide nets on the buildings to stop the workers from jumping.

Just google “Foxconn suicide nets Apple”. Or see:

yourappleconscience Steve Jobs, Apple, China and Us [updated]

16 thoughts on “Steve Jobs, Apple, China and Us [updated]

    • As a smear campaign against Apple or Steve Jobs, I’d totally agree that’s it would be biased half-information. I’m not implying that Apple or Steve Jobs are somehow worse than the rest of us.

      But I think the Foxconn suicides are a legitimate anecdote for highlighting the inequalities between first world consumers and factory workers in developing companies. The complicated moral issue is worth raising, as we all have some moral role in the situation, and I don’t think this is an inappropriate way to do it.

  1. Phrased in that way I agree, but it’s worth noting, that Foxconn’s suicide rate is below the nation’s average (and that includes the ‘country vs. city’ and ‘age bracket’ arguments that sometimes pop up)

  2. Sure. The point I’m trying to raise is that we ought to be thinking about the moral implications of our choices as consumers, because we help perpetuate the kind of situation where a place as bad as Foxconn is, as you say, above average. It’s about the whole exploitative system and our role in it, not Apple or Steve Jobs in particular. All the attention on Apple and Steve Jobs just provided a prime opportunity to bring it up.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. A genius, true, who helped to connect the world, true also, and highly appreciated. But whilst SJ was pronouncing his moving speech on death at Stanford, it is not unlikely that an underage Cantonese, Miao or Uyghur worker was preparing to throw his or her life out of the window, literally.

    (haiku)

    Apple of our eyes,
    tell us, are there suicide nets
    up there in heaven?

  4. What did Acer, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, MSI, Motorola and Sony Ericsson [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn#Clients] do while the underage Cantonese, Miao or Uyghur worker was preparing to throw his or her life out of the window, and why do they never get mentioned in this context?

  5. Steve Jobs was a tech-head, an inventor and a great salesman for his products. But he probably never had a clue about Foxconn or much about the production side. Like me he was originally, a a product of the hippie generation, hung out with gurus in India, dropped a bit of acid and used alternative medicines.

    He never came to China although I know he read Lao Tze’s Tao Te Ching. My first Apple Computer was the SE MACINTOSH in 1991.

    Making judgements on Steve Jobs life based on suicides at Foxconn is ridiculous. It is just as silly as accusing the supporters of the Dalai Lama of being pro-Chinese because their Tibetan flags are made in China. Get real & live a life!

  6. @Ross,

    Making judgements on Steve Jobs life based on suicides at Foxconn is ridiculous.

    Agreed, but using the suicides at Foxconn to raise troubling moral questions about the relationship between first world consumers with our unsustainable, grossly over-privileged lifestyles and the abusive situation of developing world factory workers isn’t. Its not about singling out Apple — that would totally miss the point; Apple just provides a powerful symbol of this issue by being the most popular technological brand that was tied to a Chinese factory worker suicide scandal.

  7. Maybe you ought to read, ‘Poorly Made in China’ by Paul Midler. Midler acts as the mainland agent for many American companies that have their products made in China.

    According to Midler, the fault lies with the factory owners for the poor working conditions. Some American executives who come to China to see how their products are made find themselves viewing a fake factory with excellent working conditions which disappears or reverts to a sweat shop as soon as they leave. I understand Apple executives had the same experience with Foxconn.

    In fact, the shady deals and what Midler calls ‘quality fade’ are the main reasons why American investment in China dropped 25% in 2011. I am not supporting American corporate capitalism but episodes like Foxconn give them a bad image and image is an important factor in brand name. Whatever one thinks of American capitalism these guys aren’t dumb. Now they have a better idea of what is really going on and why the quality of their products deteriorates with every shipment, they are leaving in droves. The same way that Chinese factories exploit there employees is the same way they rip-off their customers, Don’t just believe Midler or me, talk to anyone who has to deal regularly with Chinese factories and their managers. The fact is Chinese factory owners play smoke and mirrors with everyone and that is why they are in so much trouble now and squealing about.

    • I think this misses the point. The fault lies with everyone — factory bosses, Western corporations, and Western consumers — who needlessly (and in this case, enthusiastically) perpetuates the system when they have the knowledge and means to affect change. If CEOs like the ones you mentioned really are that ignorant, then their ignorance is inexcusable.

  8. I heard on NPR recently that they did a survey and only 2% of the American respondents claimed they even knew that Apple products were assembled in China. What was revealing is that the most common complaint across all respondents was that Apple products are all too expensive. So unless Americans stand up and show that they understand what is happening at Foxconn and give a damn about that rather than paying too much at the glitzy Apple stores nothing will change. Americans complain about the expense but they are all too in love with the product. As soon as another version comes out with one more bell and one more whistle we are all too quick to go and pay the price. Not many Americans are aware or even interested in how these products get to the Apple store and who may be harmed along the way.

    Wake up people there is blood on your ipad! Tell Apple that you are willing to pay more for their products and you are willing to wait longer before you invest in a newer model.

  9. See Erica’s comment up there? That’s what happens when you try to make a general point but do so by focusing on one particular popular brand. Sure, it’s not really fair to blame you, since you did point out in your post that this is a general problem, and Erica could have scrolled down a little bit and read my comment, but it still doesn’t help that the hook of your post is ‘your conscience shouldn’t permit you to buy an iPhone’.

  10. But Apple isn’t exempt from the general point I’m making. I want to explore the possible ethical/moral implications/obligations in our relationship (as first-world consumers) to the people in the factories making our stuff, and the conditions under which they work, and the global economic system that we willingly perpetuate. And that most definitely includes (but is certainly not limited to) Apple. (And, for the record, my wife and I both have iPhones.)

    I’ll put another post on this topic up soon; I saw a poster in a Starbucks bathroom last week that got me thinking about this topic again (so, $tarbucks fans, be ye warned! :) )

  11. I understand that, but look what Erica wrote:
    “paying too much at the glitzy Apple stores”
    “there is blood on your ipad!”
    “Tell Apple…”
    That’s not the measured “we should look out under which conditions the products we use are manufactured” that you intented, that’s “Apple is evil! Don’t support them, rather buy from “, ignoring that most likely uses Foxconn-produced parts as well. And unfortunately that’s what a lot of hot-headed people take away from posts with sensationalist headlines such as yours, not the message that you did intend to make.

  12. I understand that, but look what Erica wrote:
    “paying too much at the glitzy Apple stores”
    “there is blood on your ipad!”
    “Tell Apple…”
    That’s not the measured “we should look out under which conditions the products we use are manufactured” that you intented, that’s “Apple is evil! Don’t support them, rather buy from *competitor*“, ignoring that most likely *competitor* uses Foxconn-produced parts as well. And unfortunately that’s what a lot of hot-headed people take away from posts with sensationalist headlines such as yours, not the message that you did intend to make.

    Edit: the comment system ate the competitors!

  13. The American CEOs I mentioned are less ignorant now than they were which is why some US companies are beginning to move their factories back to the US or to other Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam where the workers are even more exploited than in China. The fact is the game is changing and wages in China have risen and factory conditions are beginning to improve.

    Further, it is becoming common knowledge that the new, younger generation of migrant workers don’t want to work in factories like their parents. Also,the European downturn is seeing less orders go to China.

    The fact is, exploitation is the name of the capitalist game. In my view, Occupy Wall Street is the real deal as they are targeting the very people at the centre of capitalist exploitation. Fair Trade is a myth to make people feel good. The best solution is stop wanting to have so many consumer items. It’s an oxymoron to expect capitalism to be fair.

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