At any moment, there were thousands of workers standing on assembly lines or sitting in backless chairs, crouching next to large machinery, or jogging between loading bays. Some workers’ legs swelled so much they waddled. “It’s hard to stand all day,” said Zhao Sheng, a plant worker. Banners on the walls warned the 120,000 employees: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”

I visited two concentration camps when I travelled to Europe in 2008. One was in Dachau, where the sign above the gate proclaimed “Arbeit Mach Freight,” literally meaning “work makes free.” My trip to Dachau is on my short list of experiences that were personally formative. What happened was gruesome and remains unexplainable in my mind. Therefore, it is a bit chilling for me to read that the slogan of one of Apple’s manufacturers is “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.” What kind of fascism are we unknowingly supporting with each iPad purchase?

The New York Times ran an investigative article on Apple, Behind slick Apple products lurk gritty facts about human costs , reprinted in the Seattle Times. The basic gist of the article is nothing new: to save money and to crank out new products fast, Apple’s manufacturers abuse low wage Asian workers. Even less novel is the solution of what to do about it. The article suggests that if Apple would change, then the industry would change:

Given Apple’s prominence and leadership in global manufacturing, if the company were to radically change its ways, it could overhaul how business is done.

“Every company wants to be Apple,” said Sasha Lezhnev at the Enough Project, a group focused on corporate accountability. “If they committed to building a conflict-free iPhone, it would transform technology.”

Maybe they are correct. I certainly would welcome a new world of conflict-free technology. The problem, of course, is that Apple is little different than other major corporations in that they rarely do the right thing if left to their own devises:

Ultimately, say former Apple executives, there are few real outside pressures for change. Apple is one of the most admired brands. In a national survey conducted by The New York Times in November, 56 percent of respondents said they couldn’t think of anything negative about Apple. Fourteen percent said the worst thing about the company was that its products were too expensive. Just 2 percent mentioned overseas labor practices.

Coincidentally, Apple also just announced quarterly sales of 46.3 billion, making the quarter “one of the most profitable quarters of any corporation in history.” Showing compassion toward its workers, then, in Apple’s case, is not for lack of resources. It’s simply not a priority for the execs, nor is it a pressing issue for consumers. There are so few of us who care about where our technology comes from. One of the most destructive elements of consumerism is that we are fragmented from the origin and disposal of our goods.

I think that to eliminate this kind of exploitation, we have to either entirely change the system or put powerful checks and balances on global capitalism. There is virtually no accountability for a company like Apple. I’m on board, but I’m a very small minority here! =)

In the meantime, dealing with the realities of the now, I think it would be immediately expedient for Apple users to contact the company, reference this recent article in the Times, and pressure the Company to do something about their supply chain. An overwhelming negative response from the Apple-holics might make a significant difference. It’s worth a try.

While you are emailing or calling Apple headquarters, I’ll throw out a few questions, a little food for thought: What kind of fascism do we promote, due to our society’s appetite for consuming technology? How do we permit and facilitate capitalistic fascism when we consume goods without concern for their origin?

I refuse to believe that the overwhelming amounts of exploitation in the modern world are simply unavoidable market casualties in the inevitable triumph of capitalism and “democracy.” Rather, I choose to hope and pray that the egregious abuses of global capitalism will one day be a strange anomaly, on par with the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

For the inquiring mind, here are a few more paragraphs from the article:

Employees work long hours, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they have trouble walking. Underage workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors…

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens.

Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning….

“But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.” Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the U.S. Labor Department.

One thought on “Beautiful Shiny Apples

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