Wired’s Embarrassing Whitewash of Foxconn

Wired’s Joel Johnson has written a stunning bit of PR for Foxconn, now-controversial supplier to the consumer electronics industry, duly wrapped in credibility-enhancing guilt over Western materialism.

The article, “1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?” pretends to be about Foxconn’s factories. But Johnson admits he’s a tech toy writer who apparently has no knowledge of manufacturing (I know I’ve had only limited contact with manufacturing, yet reading his piece, I’d bet serious money that I’ve seen more manufacturing operations than he has by dint of being a coated paper brat and doing due diligence on some oddball tech deals over the years, as well as visiting a motherboard maker back in the stone ages when motherboards were made in the US). Yet he’s remarkably uninhibited in using his fantasies and abject ignorance as a basis for making sweeping generalizations about the Taiwanese powerhouse. For instance:

In the part of our minds where Americans hold an image of what an Asian factory may be, there are two competing visions: fluorescent fields of chittering machines attended by clean-suited technicians, or barefoot laborers bent over long wooden tables in sweltering rooms hazed by a fog of soldering fumes.

When we buy a new electronic device, we imagine the former factory. Our little glass, metal, and plastic marvel is the height of modern technological progress; it must have been made by worker-robots (with hands like surgeon-robots)—or failing that, extremely competent human beings.

But when we think “Chinese factory,” we often imagine the latter. Some in the US—and here I should probably stop speaking in generalities and simply refer to myself—harbor a guilty suspicion that the products we buy from China, even those made for American companies, come to us at the expense of underpaid and oppressed laborers.

Huh? Is he serious about this? Anyone who has been following China even slightly would imagine Chinese factories aren’t like Japanese car-makers, heavy on robotics, but are mainly labor intensive (with the exception of some sparkling new capital intensive factories where China is trying to go up the value added chain), and if they are in the Pearl River Delta, makers of watches, clothing and toys (hence not much soldering). And if higher tech, the operations HAVE to be pretty to very clean. But no, everyone in the Wired readership is assumed to share his blinkered imagination.

This extract really does serve as a window onto the entire piece, because it is unduly involved in his inner process, and is remarkably ungrounded in reality-vetting. Yes, he did visit a Foxconn factory, on a guided tour organized and led by executives and PR giant Burson Marsteller. That fails the objectivity smell test. Did he try to talk to Foxconn workers outside the factory? Ex Foxconn workers? Apparently not. The only perspective he has outside his guided tour and his noisy imagination is from one Paul, a “steward for Western electronics companies seeking to procure components or goods from one of the city’s thousands of suppliers.” Do you think someone who makes his living connecting Western tech executives to Chinese manufacturers is going to say ANYTHING bad about the biggest fish in the electronics pond?

The piece goes to obvious lengths to soften the perception of the situation. He frames his account in terms of the suicides, when the recent New York Times series on Apple and Foxconn did not focus on those deaths, but the extreme hours and sometimes grinding physical toll (such as workers getting swollen feet from standing and working more than 24 hours straight). So the article skips almost completely over that issue, juxtaposing the seeming niceness of the clean factory he visited versus the deaths, and only very much later gets to the conditions that produced the suicides.

Johnson is quick to claim that the Foxconn suicides are one-fourth the level of that of college students. So even the most attention getting factoid is not so bad, right? Not so fast. The right comparison is not the number of suicides to Foxconn’s total workforce, since only the employees who killed themselves on site are probably the ones that are included in that total. If a worker killed themselves off site, you can be sure it would be attributed to something else (and it would be hard to parse out the causes). Moreover, it is the workers who live on site, who are about 1/4 of all employees, who are subject to the most extreme work hours (the New York Times recounts how they were roused at midnight to meet an Apple production demand). So this means the suicide rate at least as high as that of college students.

And to be apples to apples (pun intended), you’d need to compare suicides at Foxconn to suicides by college students on campus, which would presumably be more closely correlated with the stress of campus life, than of students who were simply enrolled in college. So it is very likely that a more accurate measurement would have Foxconn showing a markedly higher suicide rate than those of college students.

Finally, and I hate to be morbid, but a highly regimented, low privacy environment like Foxconn probably reduces the number of suicides below what you might otherwise observe. You have many fewer options for offing yourself available to you if you are living on site at Foxconn compared to a US college student (I am not making this up: gunshot is out, pills are probably too costly to procure, slitting your wrists actually takes proper technique). And Foxconn now has netting up to prevent jumping off most buildings and presumably also has its guard force on closer watch. That means the suicide rate probably understates the level of stress experienced by the workers who live on site.

He also bizarrely tries to bifurcate the work content, which he makes sound OK but boring, from what critics charge are more than occasional extreme hours, and completely ignores safety problems that add to the Foxconn death count, highlighted in a New York Times article at the end of January:

But the work itself isn’t inhumane—unless you consider a repetitive, exhausting, and alienating workplace over which you have no influence or authority to be inhumane. And that would pretty much describe every single manufacturing or burger-flipping job ever.

Huh? “Every single manufacturing job ever”? Some manufacturing jobs ARE inhumane. Start with the meatpacking industry in the US. But there is a lot of light manufacturing where the work is not highly repetitive, and that is also true in highly capital intensive factories like the paper industry. This “all manufacturing jobs are bad, therefore Foxconn is not so bad” is simply a baldfaced assertion.

Now I am not saying that there is not a case to be made in defense of Foxconn. But this article is an embarrassment. It’s an intellectually lazy way to assuage the guilt of Wired-reading gadget-owners. For instance, he resorts to “everyone in an advanced economy is guilty” as a way of diminishing the issues specific to Foxconn:

Every last trifle we touch and consume, right down to the paper on which this magazine is printed or the screen on which it’s displayed, is not only ephemeral but in a real sense irreplaceable. Every consumer good has a cost not borne out by its price but instead falsely bolstered by a vanishing resource economy. We squander millions of years’ worth of stored energy, stored life, from our planet to make not only things that are critical to our survival and comfort but also things that simply satisfy our innate primate desire to possess. It’s this guilt that we attempt to assuage with the hope that our consumerist culture is making life better—for ourselves, of course, but also in some lesser way for those who cannot afford to buy everything we purchase, consume, or own.

There is a huge, unexamined leap between “things critical to our survival” and those critical to what we have come to define as our comfort. It’s the unwillingness to examine the difference between the two, or any serious question raised by the role of Foxconn, that makes this piece so dubious. (And this is not an idle observation in my case. Your humble blogger fights planned obsolescence tooth and nail: I used a NeXT computer for 10 1/2 years, a TiBook for over 8, and am still using a Nokia that is probably from 2005. I am writing this post using an Apple monitor from 2002).

I find this little chart (hat tip Richard Smith) from ninety9 via Alea (who is the antithesis of a socialist) to be more though-provoking than the entire Wired piece:

There have been numerous articles complaining about how the Chinese don’t consume enough, and the blame is laid on the high savings rate, which is in turn attributed to the lack of social safety nets (and a second, related issue is the lack of retail infrastructure). Yet it was a sonofabitch capitalist, Henry Ford, that helped create the American middle class in 1914 by paying his workers double the prevailing rate, which partly paid for itself by reducing costly turnover and increasing productivity (well paid workers are grateful workers and want to help their company what a thought!). But the big benefit for Ford was the higher wages were in large measure met by manufacturers in other cities, and created a consumer base for Ford’s own big ticket product. It was not safety nets that created higher consumption and greater American prosperity; it was higher wages.

Ford didn’t see his pay raise as a wage increases but as profit sharing. The chart Alea highlighted shows Apple could kick start a revolution in China that would help American companies, including Apple, at comparatively little cost to itself. What stood in the way when Jobs was alive was his monumental ego and his desire to leave a legacy though his products rather than his conduct as an industrialist. And now that he is dead, Apple’s practices are likely to be guided by American short-sightedness and bad incentives for executives of public companies.

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  1. YankeeFrank

    Nice shred-job Yves. I’ve seen this wired article a thousand times over the past decade… the banality of evil indeed.

    With regard to greed and how easy it would be to share profits and make the world an almost-utopia… its the disease of capital-accumulation and hoarding… and it is a disease no matter how often we glamorize it. Apple has more free cash than most nations and they simply do not know what to do with it all… all those homeless people and all those empty homes… all those farmers paid not to plant… I’m seeing a pattern here… its the money. Money is ruining our paradise so let’s take a page from Star Trek and do away with the stuff… or at least begin the transition away from it by expropriating hoarded necessities and distributing them to those in need.

    1. K Ackermann

      What those in need want more than anything is a fair paying job that allows them to raise a family.

      1. YankeeFrank

        Jobs are great. Shelter and food is necessary. What we have to lose is this notion that work is a prerequisite for self-respect. What kind of work apparently doesn’t matter — just the act of getting up and going to the job for 8+ hours per day… doesn’t that strike you as arbitrary? Human beings should be afforded dignity and self-respect because we exist, not because we perform some arbitrary function for a set number of hours everyday.

      2. ViewRoyal

        Yves Smith’s comparison to Ford, is about as ridiculous as one can get.

        Ford (like its competitor American car companies) owned and operated their own factories, located in the US.

        Apple (like all of the other US companies that have their products assembled in China) does not own, nor does it operate the Foxconn. Foxconn is a Chinese company operating in China.

        Yves Smith is obviously too unintelligent to understand this distinction.

    2. sgt_doom

      And as this chart admirably demonstrates, therefore the long battle against collective bargaining, which we now witness far more overtly lately, these past fews, than the covert actions we have observed in the past.

      What was President John F. Kennedy involved in prior to his murder? (International collective bargaining rights via his Alliance For Progress, and other legislation)

      What was the Rev. Martin Luther King involved with prior to his murder? (Actively aiding striking workers in Tennessee, but focusing on national collective bargaining rights for all)

      What had presidential candidate, Bobby Kennedy, been involved with previously, and was on his campaign platform, prior to his murder? (Collective bargaining rights expansion)

      What was Sen. Paul Wellstone and his family involved with before their horrible deaths from plane crash, where numerous anomalies occurred (not the least of which was the 20th-hijacker-connected, and military intel reservist, late minute co-pilot addition, Michael Guess)? (Universal collective bargaining rights)

      Beginning to see a pattern here, perhaps?

  2. sadness

    for me, reading wired after the manning/lamo disaster is like still smoking after knowing it’s a killer or hoping that some lying murdering thieving orator will be a born again next time

    – so very very sus and ho hum

  3. Conscience of a Conservative

    Apple is considered one of the best brands in the U.S. and one of our most admired companies. Brainwashed teens, college kids , 20 somethings, you name it line up to get the newest product, even people on gov’t assistance need one. The Foxcon story is the dirty side of the product. Ironic how people line up to protest the fur industry but not this.

    1. MacCruiskeen

      If the teens are “brainswashed,” it’s by something called “marketing,” which every company trying to sell something does. Apple’s been very effective at making their products desirable, but it’s not like there aren’t others out there doing exactly the same thing. And while much of the recent publicity has centered around FoxConn and Apple, because of their size, this affects wide swaths of manufactured goods, practically every manufacturer of consumer electronics, and there are places out there worse than Foxconn. It’s a big, big, problem. All the big companies–Apple, Dell, Sony, etc., should get this pressure.

      1. pws

        What amazes me about Apple products is that even though they are essentially made by slaves, they still seem to work pretty well. Jobs also always paid attention to industrial design, and was a perfectionist when it came to aspects of function and design that his peers in the industry never cared about. Pity he didn’t care about the lives of human beings.

        As to me, I wish I could control what other people do with the money I give them as gifts, but I will have to content myself that I will not own an iPod, iPad or iPhone or any other Apple product.

        1. d cortex

          Unfortunately, the maker of the computer you’ve written this complaint about is also torturing their workers, probably worse than Apple’s case. It has been revealed that conditions are far worse in the areas where HP, Sony and Ffellowes products are made. At least Apple has started to review their partners practices (I’m not saying they’ve fixed anything yet).

          1. Larry Barber

            Yes, just about all electronic companies are guilty of exploiting the poor, but Apples self-righteousness is just sooooo annoying it puts Apple in a class by itself. At least HP, Dell, etc. don’t try to justify near slavery for its “flexibility” (that is using slaves to make up for poor management decisions).

        2. jerrydenim


          Less and less it would seem. My three week old MacBook Pro is already toast. Apple Tech support acted like they were doing me the biggest favor in the world when they told me they were going to ship me a new one from the FoxConn factory in China right after I ship my brand-new defective one back to them with no apologies or sweeteners. When your brand new over-priced Apple product made in the same suicide factory as any other crap consumer electronic bites the dust a few weeks out of the box and you get crappier service than you would shopping at a Wal-Mart it leaves a pretty sour taste in your mouth.

          No $1500, no computer, and I have to redo my photo and iTunes library again. Not really seeing the quality. My last iPhone was a cheaply made piece of crap too.

          I doubt I buy another Apple product anytime soon and if I was a trader I would massively short AAPL.

    2. tyaresun

      I need to buy smartphones for my daughters. Is there a worker friendly smartphone choice out there? My daughters tell me that ALL the smartphones are made by slave labor.

      Not having a smartphone has been hurting them, professors and TAs just mass email last minute changes in classes. Never happened when I was in college.

      1. sms64

        Samsung GalaxyII is made in Soulth Korea
        From what Ive been able to find the work conditions are better but what wouldnt be.

      2. different clue

        Why do you need to buy smartphones for your daughters? Are there no simple cellphones anymore? Are there no dummphones?

  4. craazyman

    I can’t be bothered to read the Wired article, but honestly, my blinkered imagination — pre Foxconn news — was pretty much exactly the quote up top.

    I figured low-tech manufacturing — like toys or some useless plastic kitchen appliance with a motor inside to rotate something — would be sweat shop city. But to the extend I thought about it, which wasn’t much, I would have figured an iPhone would be mostly made in a place you could use for a sci-fi movie set. And eat your breakfast off the floor.

    Now we all know better. I still can’t believe the pradation. You thought Cornell Wilde in Naked Prey had it bad. But he was on vacation compared to Foxconn.

    Every time I see the Apple logo now I think of Satan himself. hahahaha.

    Jesus. No pun intended. What a mess humanity is.

    Jesus Apple. Do yourselves and all of us a favor and toss a few bucks to the Foxconn girls. I mean really.

    1. mk

      “Every time I see the Apple logo now I think of Satan himself. hahahaha.”

      Interesting, I use this method to curb my spending/choices in everyday life, associate the bad feelings with the logos, names, products, media companies, etc., then when I see them, bad feelings arise and I move on without purchase.

      I once had to drive from southern CA to northern CA and the only radio I had access to at the time was AM, and all I heard was right-wing extreme talk. So I decided to listen, then to also listen carefully to who was advertising during their shows. There are several products I don’t buy anymore because of this little exercise, Advil being one of them.

      1. different clue

        Did you tell AdvilCo’s marketing office about your decision to stop buying Advil because of who they spent your money supporting? If enough people did the same, would Advil stop supporting right wing radio?

    2. Binky the Bear

      The religious symbolism of the apple with a bite taken out of it should not escape anyone. Who rooted for Eve to bite that apple? I don’t know, let me think… could it have been…..


  5. golly

    What do you expect out of Wired? They are a bunch of Democrats, which is to say that they are Communists. They would love to have the same sort of “government” here as in China, with them in charge of course.

    If I had a nickle for every time I have heard a Democrat say something like “See, over there they can just tell people what to do, look at how they moved people out of those slums and put up sky-scrappers!”, why I could open up my own chip fab facility.

    Democrats do not believe freedom at all. They do not understand the very nature of it. They believe that their gadgets are the acme of civilization, and are blind to its real worth: The embodiment of humans striving out of the darkness.

    Of course they admire the criminal gang that is the government of China. Of course they give them cover.

    They are Comrades after all.

    1. billwilson

      Wow! … Who would have thought such ignorance could be found on a site like this. Pretty good example of why America is in such trouble.

    2. Foppe

      You don’t talk to other people who think differently from you much, do you. Stop worrying about communism and start worrying about corruption. Much more pervasive issue.

    3. Yearning to Learn

      golly, you sure are a bad troll.

      I love the newspeak… up is down and down is up. My favorite was this:

      If I had a nickle for every time I have heard a Democrat say something like “See, over there they can just tell people what to do, look at how they moved people out of those slums and put up sky-scrappers!”, why I could open up my own chip fab facility.

      sure sounds like the “Right to work” legislation constantly pushed by many leaders. Wait a minute, aren’t all the Right to Work states in the South and SouthEast, Republican strongholds? Oh well… that’s why your quote is just so darn funny.

      On a side note, I hate Democrats. And Republicans.

    4. William Neil

      So let’s explore how that “freedom” works inside a private sector firm – inside the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that when a worker, esp. a non-unionized worker, walks through the door, he leaves the US Bill of Rights at the entrance, including freedom of speech. The worker will be monitored at every step, esp. their online work. Take a look at the fate listed in the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report for the private whistle-blowers who issued warnings about the quality of the mortgages: isolated, demoted, driven out…for carrying out their important assigned role…and from what I read, that private sector mind-set has carried over to governmental settings, like the FDA…

      In the realm of economics, pre-crisis, dissenters like Brooksley Born were “gang-tackled” by some shockingly learned colleages…and I invite “Golly” to attend some Democratic Party event and start talking up the “CCC” and the “WPA” from the New Deal…and he’ll find that indeed, the Dems have been fixed on China since the late 1990’s if not earlier, but that has nothing to do with the left side of the political spectrum, it has to do with the agendas of the corporations who want to capture that share of the “China makret,” on terms that would eventually prove to be deleterious to the US national economic interest.

      One could make a pretty good case that much of the business leadership in the US today (it has not been true in early periods of our history, but you have to specify)has no more intention of “sharing power” with any other force, faction or movement in US society – labor, environmental…populist..than the Chinese Communist Party does “over there.” Labor Law reform has been tried, fumbled and shelved now under three Democratic presidents: Carter, Clinton and Obama.

    5. Wilber

      “If I had a nickle for every time I have heard a Democrat say something like “See, over there they can just tell people what to do, look at how they moved people out of those slums and put up sky-scrapper”.

      My god. You know, there is a whole universe outside of right wing radio world, did you know that? People here aren’t going to take this silliness seriously guy. Maybe I am just not getting the joke.

  6. Foppe

    If Alea dislikes McArdle so much that he/she adds disclaimers to infographics specifically to mock McArdle, he/she can’t be all bad. :p

  7. scraping_by

    As to the meatpacking industry — Yes, tough, cold, smelly, dangerous, etc. However, back in the early 80’s when the industry was unionized, there was a six month waiting list for each job.

    Once IBP and Reagan broke the unions, putting the wage down to minimum and the hours and conditions entirely in the hands of management, Americans drifted away and the companies started recruiting from Mexico, Central America, and every other new immigrant group. The current population is heavily Sudanese and Mexican illegals.

    It sounds like Chinese workers despair at being trapped down at the bottom of the risk/reward curve. And since union organizing is prison time without the formality of being framed I expect the optics to be tweaked rather than the reality.

  8. polistra

    The China lobby (ie Republicans and Democrats) constantly say that we can’t go backwards; that there’s no way to make enough phones for all Americans with American labor.

    Nonsense. Western Electric managed to do it for about 70 years. WE’s Hawthorne Works employed 50k Americans, and was famous for good working conditions.

    There have always been plenty of low-wage countries available for outsourcing, but American corporations DIDN’T USE THEM until around 1980.

    The difference is industrial policy and corporate culture.

    If no company is ALLOWED to outsource production, then no company has to COMPETE with outsourced prices and wages. It’s that simple.

      1. John Regan

        Lambert: I agree with you to a point. The corporate culture and morality changed for the worse. It really has nothing to do with China, if it wasn’t China it would be some other place ripe for exploitation.

        The problem with prohibiting outsourcing is…how do you do that? Try drafting a law. I don’t see how it could work.

        Not to mention, if culturally we no longer have any problem exploiting others no law will fix it. It’s a hole in the moral universe. It has many manifestations, like multi-level marketing schemes which encourage mild exploitation of people you know, as opposed to gross exploitation of people you don’t know.

        People have a basic desire to put in more than they take out, but they can falter and become convinced that they should take out more than they put in because that’s what everyone else does. Bill Black makes the point that the honest business/firm/individual cannot compete in the short term with the dishonest one. In the long term, of course, the dishonest – who have by then displaced the virtuous – fail in spectacular fashion in an orgy of social upheaval. But seeing the connection isn’t easy when you’re right in the middle of it.

        I know it seems attentuated, but I became convinced some time ago that the problem is that the money system itself teaches exploitation. Requires it, even. That’s what has to change. China or Apple or Foxconn are symptoms, not causes in themselves.

        Which is not to say that the Foxconn situation isn’t important. Yves is certainly right to point it out.

        1. Schemp

          I would agree it will be difficult to legislate against intellectual outsourcing, such as computer programming, transcription, and call centers.

          But in the specific case of Apple, while I’m sure Apple has teams of software guys in Mumbai, if only to keep the teams in Cupertino fearful, the bulk of their revenue is from hardware manufactured in China. A tariff on imported electronics that started on the low side, but ratcheted up a few percentage points a year, would bring much if not all of the electronics manufacturing back to the US.

          Similarly the US Govt could take a hard-line stance and require domestic production for electronics that it consumes. It already does this for military electronics, at least somewhat – not my area of expertise though.

          1. John Regan

            Maybe it would be better to insist that the Chinese workers weren’t basically enslaved. If they pay them more then the costs would go up and the US could get back into the game, and instead of the increase in cost going to the USG it goes to the people who are actually providing the product and working for a living. And who desperately need that help.

            I think we just don’t have the moral stamina, or even moral integrity to consider such things anymore. Facilitating the exploitation of others on the Foxconn scale is shameful. Or ought to be. Maybe we have no shame.

        2. different clue

          Actually, if a majority of Americans wanted to stamp out thingmaking-outsourcing, and they (we) could reconquer our government from the Free Trade Treasonisers currently occupying it, we could pass and enforce laws forbidding the physical entry of goods from countries with lower pay, worse conditions, etc. than ours from physically entering the country.

          We would have to abrogate, cancel, and repeal all the Free Trade Agreements and laws. Simple but not easy. But it could be done in the physical world. Its just a matter of reconquering our government from the Class Enemy Occupiers and then using the powers of our reconquered and decontaminated government to functionally exterminate the public presence and power of the CEO and their Free Trade Creep supporters.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      polistra, read “The Wrecking Crew” by Thomas Frank for *modus operandi* of the .01% and their Agents the .99%. In 1980 the putsch for total destruction of the Bell System as a Public Utility began with *privatizing* this industry, which served the entire population of America admirably and affordably.The .01% NOBILITY and BigCorporate KILLED the telecommunications as public utility.

      Later, came *deregulation* in that other great public utility: “Electricity” and “Natural Gas” Public Utilities which came to be called: “Energy” — which was wrecked by the .01% Agents, leading to the “privatization” payday via “ENRON” for .01% private profits c/o Agent George H.W. Bush & Co. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania helped the Bush Dynasty achieve their private purpose. After 9/11, Tom Ridge was appointed Director of Homeland Security by “the Decider” George W. Bush, Agent for the Global .01% as President of the USA.

      Then came 2008, TARP, and the Big Cover-up.

      Do you detect a pattern there?

  9. DC Native

    That desk jockey wouldn’t survive a single week inside a Foxconn factory. Or perhaps even a single 12-hour, non-stop, no-hour-long-lunch-break, can’t sit down, must work under blinding fluorescent lighting shift.

    But it sure looks purty during a brief tour hosted by a PR company!

  10. Godfree

    Foxconn is a Taiwanese company that gets away with its behavior because the Chinese government wants to bring Taiwan in from the cold. But it’s fundamentally an example of American-style Capitalism in China.

    The kids who work there are unskilled and poorly educated.

    They sign up at Foxconn because it’s better than working on a small rice paddy back in Western China OR a meat packing job in the good old USA.

    Their life sucks, but there are millions of kids around the world whose lives suck worse.

    Our concern for their well being is a combination of China-bashing and guilt. A potent combination.

    1. eclair

      ‘Our concern for their well being is a combination of China-bashing and guilt.’

      Interesting observation, Godfree, but I am not so sure about that. You label the conditions at Foxconn as “American-style capitalism.” I don’t think America has a monopoly on grind-the-worker-into-the-earth-so-we-can-wring-more-profits-for-the-stockholders capitalism.

      Perhaps, rather than China-bashing and guilt, it is a wakening realization that capitalism must always feed on the misery of its workers. That, instead of the gains in wages and benefits that occurred after WWII being part of a rising trajectory, these were an aberration. A mere blip that resulted in stagnant profits for the owners.

      That the large corporations, having sucked the easy profits from the American labor force, must move into other territories that provide more malleable prey.

      For many of us, there is a choice. To accept that life is brutal and that there is always an exploiter and a mass of exploited. Lord of the manor and masses of ragged serfs bound to the land. Plantation owner and fields of black slaves. Steve Jobs and the Apple share-holders and the thousands of young Chinese workers surviving in fluorescent-lit cages.

      Or, to believe that there is a better way. That the “good life” for a small portion of humanity need not come at the price of reducing the lives of the rest of the world into a dull gray struggle for just enough food and shelter to make it through another day.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        eclair, just so. Here’s your back-up:

        “FRUITS OF MERCHANT CAPITAL: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism” by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese;

        “OPIUM WARS: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another” by W. Travis Hanes III, Ph.D. and Frank Sanello;

        “The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making” by Lydia H. Liu;

        “THE MIND OF THE MASTER CLASS: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholder’s Worldview” by Fox-Genovese and Genovese;

        “THE ANGLO-AMERICAN ESTABLISHMENT from Rhodes to Cliveden” by Carroll Quigley;

        “NOBILITY and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History” by Plinio Correa de Oliveira;

        “AMERICAN DYNASTY: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush” by Kevin Phillips;

        “REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party” by Max Blumenthal;

        “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class” by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson;

        “THE THREE ORDERS: Feudal Society Imagined” by Georges Duby, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

    2. aet

      Don’t be worrying about the Chinese. From what I’ve seen, the work-ethic of the average Chinese citizen far surpasses that displayed by the average American citizen, as of late.

      But Americans ought not to feel that this is in any way a bad thing. Such has ever and always been the natural outcome of economic or military success – a slackening of effort happens after the victory, or gain in property. People naturally tend to luxuriate, and even to take on airs, after any great success.

      So it has been with America over the last couple of generations – but from what I hear, China needs to create 25 million new jobs every year, simply to stay in plce…and China is also beginning to seep work to countries even further down the development scale than they are, those which have even cheaper wages.

      Where America is today, China may well be tomorrow.

      But the “solution” is not to criticize the work or conduct of others, but to increase one’s own efforts, to better one’s own conduct. In other words, to work harder: to redouble one’s own effort, to make the world a better place to live and to work in.

      1. Elizabeth Cook

        So you see no problem is purchasing those items, which inherently backs that system of manufacturing. I do. With your line of thinking, we should all merrily just go on our way, work hard, and nevermind the consequences of how the products we used are manufactured. No thanks.

      2. YankeeFrank

        You really do sound like an idiot aet. Its clear you have never really been treated like a slave or suffered under abusive managers. It is not a given that workers will be treated like garbage… we outnumber them significantly. If we refuse to be treated like slaves and are willing to fight then we can achieve amazing things… the 20th century is solid evidence of this fact. You are like the person who was born on third base and thinks they hit a triple — wake up and learn how the world came to be the way it is instead of offering trite advice from an empty head.

      3. LeonovaBalletRusse

        aet, “work-ethic” = “will to be blood-sacrifice” on the Global .01% Profits Altar.

        THEY have *squared the circle* of *perfect efficiency*: Hitler’s Dream.

    3. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Godfree, that’s a significant detail. Taiwan is ruled by the Pre-Mao .01% . Thus, Global .01% Agent Kissinger’s “Capitalist” push into China via .01% Agent Prescott Bush’s *Nixon in China* was the beginning of the .01% solidarity movement bring the Old Guard and New Guard Chinese .01% together.

      This is how they began to Square the .01% MonopolyProfit Circle, which trickles down *spare* profits to the .99% Agency, for the Total Grifter 1%.

      Well, KAGAN’s “The Coming Anarchy” sounded the trump to bring Heaven to Earth for the 1%. Now there’s a Kagan in The Supreme NeoCapitalist Court, to round out the set of the *Roberts Court* Cabal. Part of “E-CONNED”.

      “And then they came for us.” Done.

    4. craazyman

      Do You Cleverly Make This Up or Is It an Accident of Language

      God free huh? Well. So you say. Why care about a bunch of Chinese peasant nobodies? The world won’t miss them if they take the dive. Good question. I wonder about it myself.

      China bashing and guilt is a combination but not an explanation. Why feel guilty? Two acorns on a branch both depend on the branch, but when they fall they depend on the soil and they compete for light and dirt. Why would they care about each other’s light and dirt? deep thoughts. what unseen branch connects you to the Chinese girls? and when you break it you wonder why you feel so weird.

    5. different clue

      Well, no . . . the Chinese rice paddy kids sign up for FoxConn because they THINK it WILL be a better life than down on the farm. But when they get there do they STILL think it IS a better life? What is the rate of suicide-attempts and successes in FoxConn versus the rate of suicide-attempts and successes down on the rice paddy? (And of course suicide is a whole lot harder under FoxConn lockdown conditions).

  11. Peter in Brooklyn

    Hi Yves,

    Long time reader, first time comment-maker. I have a couple of questions. First is it correct that Apple doesn’t pay dividends? My brief google search seems to indicate this is the case. Given that people will buy Apple shares despite uncertainty about receiving dividends, what would be the effect on share price if Apple really did reinvest part of its profits in worker pay and benefits at Foxconn or elsewhere?

    Does Apple’s dividend situation mean they have a particularly compelling reason to drastically increase pay for the assembly line workers in China?

    Curious to know anyone’s thoughts on this.


    1. K Ackermann

      The stock price should decrease comensurate with $1 billion less in earnings – or about 5%.

      It would take 2-3 weeks to get back to the same level.

    2. John Zelnicker

      Peter — Apple has never paid dividends, although there are some calls from investors for them to do so.

      The effect of increasing the pay and benefits at Foxconn would be to lower their profit and Earnings per Share. Since continuously increasing EPS is required to maintain and increase their stock price, they have no incentive to share profits. Unlike Ford’s case, these Chinese workers will not be buying the products of their factory.

  12. Mattski

    Any links to back up this business of the Chinese not consuming enough?

    Interested because–from Carlysle to Weber–this is a consistent complaint about the poor, actually a kind of developmentalist discipline that theorist/apologists have sought to impose. . .

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m too harried to track this down, but that is one of the most widely reported factoids about China. Consumption share of GDP is IIRC 36%, and consumption share has FALLEN in recent years. Michael Pettis has much more detail on this and the implications.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        Do they have the energy to shop after a shift for *16 tons*? Work & crash in the cubbyhole, work & crash on the farm. Only the 1% have money & leisure.

  13. Modigliani-Miller

    FoxConn’s executives must be horrible negotiators. While no other company apparently has the resources or expertise to scale up to Apple’s needs, they capture a very tiny portion of the value chain.

    1. scraping_by

      Chinese manufacturers are thickly subsidized by their government, and it’s a universal of government subsidies that they never trickle down to the workers. Management takes the savings on infrastructure, welfare, technology, capital spend, etc., and away they run. They may cut the stockholders in on it, but not necessarily.

      The outrageous and expected subsidies demanded by any company these days can make up for simply doing business. While governments may subsidize a business to gain the technical knowledge and keep a few people off the streets, it’s too good a racket to let the money disappear into the fog of ‘social good’. The bosses get paid, and only then think about the reason for the company.

      And if nothing else, any foreign company dealing with American retailers risks the Wal-Mart effect. In _The Bully of Bentonville: How the high cost of Wal-Mart’s everyday low prices is hurting America_ Anthony Bianco goes through Wally’s process of awarding a contract, them coming back immediately to demand lower prices, whatever the contract says. The lowering tends to come out of expected profits, so from an accounting perspective, it’s better to take the money up front and leave little or nothing for the employees.

      It’s a bad deal? For whom? We’ve heard no tales of Foxconn’s management eating small bowls of plain rice in darkening rooms.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        CONNECT: China-Wal-Mart-Arkansas-Tyson-Arkansas-China 1% daisy chain.

        Don’t you wonder what insiders *invested* in Wal-Mart from the get-go? The Nixon Dynasty? The Clinton Dynasty?, The Bush Dynasty? Kissinger and Associates? Wall Street Dynasties and their Lawyer Dynasties?

        Connect “Tyson” of Arkansas, the non-Mississippi chicken kings. Are Tyson’s “chicken sexers* drawn from the bottom of the Chinese human *resource* ladder? (Don’t you wonder how this compares with the Chinese *resource* in Italy who specialize in counterfeit “Italian” luxury goods? Read the book, “Gomorrah” and ask if there shouldn’t be a book: *MacGomorrah Style*.)

        Think BAACK: Prohibition Era Hot Springs, Arkansas; Forward to Revolving Opium Wars and The Anglo-American Establishment purpose worked by Reagan for George W. “Poppy” Bush, BCCI, Ollie North, Iran-Contra, through Mena, Arkansas under government of Rhodes Scholar William Jefferson Clinton as Governor of Arkansas. Connect with Bush’s Choice Clinton as U.S. President for the Crown, bringing NAFTA, repeal of Glass-Steagall, and the “giant sucking sound” to profit the Global Criminal Cabal the .01%.

        *Republican/Democrat* are One Agency working the Rackets for a Foreign Power: The Global Criminal Cabal the .01%, pushed by their “Shock Doctrine” Stormtroopers: *Religious* Soldiers of Fortune of *The 12th Crusade*.

        Bring RICO. Bring strait jackets. Bring “The Tyrannicide Brief.”

        1. LeonovaBalletRusse

          Then, connect “Anglo-American Establishment” Agent *Poppy* Bush with:

          “THE WARS OF AFGHANISTAN: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers” by Peter Tomsen (New York, Public Affairs, 2011).

          The “Great Game” continues: it’s ALL about the dough for the Global Criminal Cabal the .01%., what George Carlin called “The Club.” It’s ALL about DNA MONOPOLY on Global Wealth/Resources by the .01%, trickled down to their Agents in the .99%, for a TOTAL GRIFT of 1%. All else follows from this fact.

          “They don’t give a F#%K about you! They don’t care about you at ALL! at all, at all. … And now they want your PENSIONS, your Social Security!”

          We the People, American and Chinese, are their turnips, to be bled to death as *human energy resources* @ bottom dollar, until robots replace us. When our *human energy* is no longer required, they will execute their WILL to exterminate us as “surplus population” worth more dead than alive to THEM. Forget “Soylent Green — Think FUEL for LIGHT: from whales to *fossil fuels* to *human energy* fuel that BigOil has in mind. History shows that THEY will stop at NOTHING to feed THEIR APPETITE for *MORE* and more and more.

          From “MOBY DICK,” “An American Tragedy,” and “The Great Gatsby;” through “Brave New World” and “1984;” through “Soylent Green,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and “Bladerunner” — We the People have been warned.

          THINK! while you can. Bring RICO. Bring “The Tyrannicide Brief.” We must RISE UP as AGENTS for ourselves, with We the People’s articulate Champions: William K. Black, Yves Smith, Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald, et al.

          “UPPITY” AGENTS UNITE! Claim sovereignty.

  14. drugstoreblonde


    Thank you for taking the cretins at Wired to task.

    They have evolved from a longer-form component of the mirthless technology/product hype machine to a shameless tool of state suppression and corporate apologia.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      re: “mirthless technology” — that’s the key to the Kurzweil curiosity. Someone ought to investigate the geek techy’s *CAPACITY for humor* that humanity has enjoyed for centuries, especially *laughing at ourselves*.

      For example, the clear-eyed William K. Black has a tremendous capacity for humor, which he expresses in his *dead-pan* accounts of fraud, sure things, and crimnogenic environments. Now, if *America* had a really deep sense of humor, Bill Black would be a perfect President for us, white beard and all (St. Nicholas).

      But the *religious fanatics* en masse and separately have no sense of humor. They are dead serious, and they take themselves so seriously it is ridiculous and horrifying at once. I wonder how Aristophanes would handle this today. The Crusades came after him.

  15. John Firestone

    I’m not sure the article was meant as a whitewash to make Foxconn appear better than it is. In my mind, its title and concluding discussion peg it as possibly unwitting, self-exculpatory rationalization.

    My impression is the author has little if any experience in manufacturing or what I think of as journalism. If he did, he would have relentlessly asked how the situation was affecting the people, and the product. He would have also taken every chance to talk to the subject of his article, the workers. As an old-school journalist keeps reminding me, you can learn an amazing number of facts by simply taking an interest in people and chatting with them. His article doesn’t. Instead, to add to an earlier reply, you get the impression the author got his information as comforting hearsay from guides in public relations.

    As to the fewer suicides in plant, could it also be that people are being worked so hard they don’t have the chance to contemplate suicide?

    I hope you are wrong about Apple, after Jobs.

    1. scraping_by

      Chatting with the workers, especially outside the workplace (think, go to the blue collar bar and buy a few beers) is good journalism. But, we are probably talking a language barrier here. Nothing in Mr. Johnson’s non resume suggests any facility in Mandarin.

      Indeed, to him the bench workers seemed to be as inscrutable as the machines on the shop floor. Not that he’s alone in this.


    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      JF, aren’t you aware that the Bosses erected NETS at all strategic locations, so as to make *suicide by falling to the ground from a high location* impossible?

      1. John Firestone

        Sorry, about that: I got distracted by another language. I also meant and should have written fewer suicides “on campus”.

        I read about the nets. But if anything shouldn’t they support the thesis? :) To commit suicide despite the nets, and who knows what else Foxconn has added, will probably need some cleverness. How many are likely to still be clever, or find the energy to be clever, after excessive work and insufficient sleep?

  16. ep3

    “Every last trifle we touch and consume…” Yves, this diatribe sounds like some kind of attempt at doing a ‘i have presented the smaller picture. now as author, i am gonna go off on this worldly humanity rant to move to the bigger picture and give the reader some BS that makes them feel bigger than they really are and that workers committing suicide to make ipads is for the greater good” rant.

    Yves, I worked in manufacturing in the US for 7 years. I worked making ABS systems for GM trucks and SUVs during the boom times. Our plant was one of the top auto manufacturing plants in the US for cleanliness and efficiency and quality. I left to get my degree in accounting because i didn’t enjoy destroying my health. Guess what? Now the plant is terrible. Poor quality, dirty. They got undercut by foreign suppliers on price and began cutting wages and benefits from employees and then brought in temps, who don’t ever care about the quality of the work they do.
    If you would like, please feel free to email me with any questions about manufacturing. My father also worked for GM for 35 years and has several great stories about working for the union, because my plant was not union.

  17. turnip truck

    Good job for Foxconn, duping Wired hack Joel Johnson! They found a naif who never had chips in shoes, but best of all, not only is he ignorant of manufacturing, he’s hopelessly, poignantly ignorant of international labor standards. Bet you 10K Wired hack Joel Johnson can’t cite any ILO core labor standards (Conventions 29, 87, 98, 100, 111, 105, 111, 138 and 182). And there was no risk at all that this rube would think about Conventions 87 and 98, regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining. Lugubrious hand-wringing, that’s all this mediocrity can do.

  18. ep3

    great article Yves.

    One question: “complaining about how the Chinese don’t consume enough, and the blame is laid on the high savings rate, which is in turn attributed to the lack of social safety nets (and a second, related issue is the lack of retail infrastructure)”
    So is this gonna happen here in the US? Because we are now expected to consume like crazy ppl yet we no longer receive pensions and health care from employers. So we are expected to provide those benefits ourselves. Yet it is a blatant fact that wages have been stagnate for 30 years. So if your wages aren’t going up, and you have to save even more because you don’t get a retirement and health care (don’t forget that used to be when the average Joe got sick/hurt and had to take time off work, he had company provided short term disability that kept his paycheck going. now the average worker is supposed to buy aflac on their own.), then how am I supposed to consume at a rate high enough to keep the economy going (new car every year, new phone every year, new computer 2x a year)??? Should i start gambling like wall street does? But who is gonna bail me out?
    I guess we will find out.

  19. indio007

    Everything that is built in China could be built in the US. The problem is that the billionaires in the board room would need to settle for being millionaires instead.
    This is a sad state of affairs when people are so frickin greedy they will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

  20. LeonovaBalletRusse

    YVES, the vast swath of humanity thanks you.

    This is one more example of the human *resource curse* going forward. *Orientals*, and *Chinese* persons especially, are prized for their quick brains connected to quick, dexterous fingers. CONNECT the “chicken sexers” in Mississippi after WWII with the *high-speed” assemblers of product for Apple et al. at Foxconn today. In China, “resource is people.”

    “The Mind of the Master Class” that brought us “The Opium Wars” and the the African slave trade, the Old Confederacy, and Jim Crow, brought us Foxconn, and all to feed the appetites of the .01% and their trickle-down Agents the .99%–appetites for tea, sugar, cotton, oil/plastics, chicken, and tech-toys.

    “FRUITS OF MERCHANT CAPITAL: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism” by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983);

    “THE OPIUM WARS: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another” by W. Travis Hanes, III, Ph.D. and Frank Sanello (New York, Barnes & Noble, 2005; 2002; University of North Carolina Press, 1975);

    “The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making” by Lydia H. Liu; (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005);

    “THE MIND OF THE MASTER CLASS: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholder’s Worldview” by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005);

    “REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party” by Max Blumenthal (New York, Nation Books, 2009);

    Please note: “the Movement That Shattered the Party” now EMBODIES the Party. CONNECT with Rick SANTORUM right now. See the *tell* on page 147 of the book cited above [caps mine, to name the dots]:

    “Herb LUSK, another conservative black clergyman close to [Tony: President of the Family Research Council] PERKINS, joined BOONE on stage to shout down the liberal hosts of darkness who opposed ALITO. ‘Don’t fool with the church because the church has buried many critics,’ Lusk thundered from his podium. ‘All the critics wee have not buried, we’re making funeral arrangements for!’ LUSK, whose Greater Exodus Baptist Church played host to Justice Sunday III, was a former NFL tailback and lifelong Democrat who suddenly shifted his party allegiance to the GOP in 2002 when Republican Senator Rick SANTORUM guaranteed him $900,000 in faith-based FEDERAL GRANTS.”

    YVES, this is how the *militant white Christian* Movement embodied in “The Family” robs Peter (the “Federal Government”) to pay Paul (“The Family”).

    Oh, and if you’re wondering why *American* Congress holds that line against Turkey re. the Armenian Genocide, look no farther than to the Grandfather of “The Family,” the late:
    “Rousas John “R.J.” RUSHDOONY (R.J.’s older brother had been one of the 1.5 million who perished in the Armenian genocide.) As a descendant of a line of the 1.5 million who perished in the Armenian genocide.) As a descendant of a line of ARISTOCRATIC PRIESTS reaching back to the year 315, and a son of survivors of a recent genocide, the young Rushdoony was raised on tales of the slaughter that uprooted his family’s ancient Christian heritage.” (“REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH”, op cit., p. 17).

    Jeff Sharlet connects these dots in depth in “The Family” and “C STREET.”

    The Church Militant connects with Louisiana through Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, “an associate of Bayou country white supremacists” (p. 147, “REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH”). Trace the Louisiana connection to former LA Governor, BUDDY ROEMER, recently resurrected as a potential Republican Candidate for President. In Ultraconservative America, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Protestants, LDS Mormons, UltraOrthodox of Any Creed, Christian Zionists, and White Male Christian Soldiers&Breeders, are ONE against all *OTHERS*. This is Rick SANTORUM’s Christian America.

    Via the BUSH Dynasty’s Dallas-NYC Opus Dei and Louisiana Jesuit&Masonic Nexus, “THE FAMILY” squares the circle with the ROME and the Bavarian ex-Nazi *Hitler Jugend* Pope Benedict XVI–who, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger tips his Ultraconservative /Reactionary/Fascist) hand in the book published in YORK, Pennsylvania in 1993 by “The American Society for the Defense of Tradition of FAMILY and PROPERTY–a registered name of The Foundation for a CHRISTIAN CIVILIZATION” (caps mine):

    “NOBILITY and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocution of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History” by the Jesuit-trained Portuguese servant of Rome, Plinio Correa de Oliveira. This was “Mein Kampf” for C.21.

    The anti-feminist, anti-birth control, anti-abortion CRUSADE is all about White Male Supremacy in the Global WARS for DNA POSSESSION and RULE, from the original Crusades, through The Opium Wars, unto Bush’s Wars and Obama’s Wars, to profit the Kings the 01%. and their Agents the.99% = 1%:

    See: http://www.youtube.com
    “The 12th Crusade-Zionism vs Islam-WW3” (dunky3940 on Oct 24, 2010).

    How does “*Apple* in China” fit into this picture? Were we *Mac-CONNED*?

    with all respect,
    *Shake-speare’s Fool*

  21. Marley


    It’s not so bad, seriously… so long as I get my preeeecccioooooooossssssss…

    Speaks volumes about how sad he must be as a human being.

  22. b.

    Wired is wannabe-hipster nerd’s Cosmopolitan. Article redux:

    Apple finds real fault but ignores it.
    Wired ignores reality and finds no fault.

  23. Jay Ron

    Just thought it should be pointed out that the Wired story is from *2011*, almost a year ago February 2011.

    Not that I disagree with the larger points in your piece, but it was written before the January 2012 NYTimes piece.

    1. Jay Ron

      Yes, but if you realize that the piece is criticizing a story written 12 months ago, then this paragraph makes no sense

      “The piece goes to obvious lengths to soften the perception of the situation. He frames his account in terms of the suicides, when the recent New York Times series on Apple and Foxconn did not focus on those deaths, but the extreme hours and sometimes grinding physical toll (such as workers getting swollen feet from standing and working more than 24 hours straight). So the article skips almost completely over that issue, juxtaposing the seeming niceness of the clean factory he visited versus the deaths, and only very much later gets to the conditions that produced the suicides.”

      The Wired story can’t ignore a NYTimes piece that won’t even be published for another year.

      Again, I don’t disagree with the larger point about working conditions in China – its just beating up on a 12 month old article seems like a weird way to do it.

  24. axd

    lol, bunch of idiots, all electronics you are using today are manufactured by Foxcon, not only Apple…yea go buy a different phone or computer, chances are it was made in the same factory, maybe a 20 feet away on a different production line.

  25. propertius

    I’m not sure why anyone would expect Wired to do in-depth reporting on much of anything. It’s a fan magazine for gadget-geeks, so anything that might dampen the allure of new techno-toys is pretty much off-limits for them. Criticizing them for not doing a serious investigation of manufacturing abuses is rather like criticizing Hustler for not exposing the social cost of the sex trade.

    Yves’s points are all well-taken, of course.

  26. Murray Rosner

    In the beginning God created Nike.And Nike went to Formosa,then Nike went to Korea,then Nike went to Indonesia where it got pretty nasty especially in Borneo.Then the lord shined his contenence upon Nike and they found the land of milk and honey in China where they are to this day.Praise the Lord.
    Seeing that everything was good offshore, and that American Workers were getting fat and taking their opulent lifestyle’s for granted.The lord instructed William Jefferson Clinton to pass the NAFTA and send 10’s of thousands of manufacturing jobs to Mexico.And it was good for with this action it was difficult for many to see the difference between Republicans and Democrats.It got a lot worse when many discovered there were no jobs left and you couldn’t buy a house and you needed food stamps to survive.It gets worse but I have to go to the bathroom so I can’t continue

    1. Skippy

      The funny thing is they off shored the pollution too.

      Wait till these country’s learn the lesson of industrialization for *today’s profit* with out strict controls!

      1. different clue

        Well the pollution is coming back onshore. Airborne mercury from China is reaching America in all the coal smoke for example. And CO2 from China doesn’t just warm China, it warms the whole global.

  27. Swampthing

    Bunch of stupid Americans! You’ll never understand Apple and will never get the Chinees.

    Why not boycot Apple and see of those Chinees workers will like you more for doing so. Apple went overseas only because the working conditions did improve to an acceptable level in China.
    Foxconn needs 100K more workers and people flood from all over china to get a chance to work there.. Hmm wow it must really suck there.

    Wages are overall the same for this line of work in china, it’s either in electronics, clothing or toys. Chinees workers don’t tend to change between these lines of work because of it.
    You and we all need the Chinees and we need them. We (Europeans) need them because we want to keep buying reasonable priced goods. You (USA) need them because they keep you from getting bankrupt!
    The Chinees need us all to have enough payed jobs for the overload of people they have.
    It’s just Ying and Yang, so let it be!

    Greets from the Netherlands.

    1. Lex McFarley

      I totally agree with you. Its ridiculous to single out Apple. And it is not “slave labor.” It is labor below the standards of labor in the U.S. and Western Europe. The entire electronics community, including Samsung and HP etc are using Foxconn and other manufacturers in China. And if the labor is so sucky at Foxconn, why are 100k or more workers flocking to get jobs at Foxconn. The go there because the work and their lives are much bleaker in the villages they live in. Also, why doesn’t anyone instead attack the government of China, which is supposed to be communist and pro labor, for the issues at Foxconn. And how about the USA government. If there really is an issue of crappy labor rights overseas, the people should lobby are government to prevent imports of any kind from a country that doesn’t have labor conditions up to international standards. But of course we will never do that, because its all the consumers in Western Europe and U.S.A. who like the cheap goods that come out of China.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      The Chinese need not us all to have well paid jobs.

      The Chinese government, by fiat, can

      1) Make the stock market go up
      2) Make banks lend (how much, sir?)
      3) Make housing go up (how high, my great chairman?)
      4) all Chinese employed (well, used to, when they were communists)

      They don’t really need much from us.

  28. Psychoanalystus

    I think the comparison between Foxconn’s and college students’ suicide rates is misguided. A better comparison would be Foxconn’s suicide rates to those caused in Greece by sleazebags like IMF’s Christine Lagarde (whore!), Germany’s Angela Merkel (ugly whore!), France’s Nicholas Sarkoszy (a-hole!), and EU’s José Manuel Barroso (ugly gangster!).

    Now go crunch the stats, somebody.

  29. Zhu Bajie

    Promote higher wages and better working conditions, by all means. But I am afraid that the sorts of blood-thirsty do-gooders who invaded Iraq, killed a vast number of Iraqis, etc., will want to do the same in China, but on a much larger scale.

    Zhu Bajie, English teacher in China

  30. albertchampion

    and don’t forget, al gore is on the apple board. and has been for many years.

    and also, since refusing to seriously contest his defeat, he has become extremely wealthy. i wonder, could that be the consequence of his surrendering to the bushits?

  31. Chav

    I met a guy who had been to a LG plant in China, he said the child-workers slept under their work benches at night.

  32. Trestle Rider

    Yves, the author of the Wired article is right.

    Many of the blow hard commentators on this entry are truly delusional and arrogant.

    Disclaimer: I support calls for improved factory conditions and pay, and therefore support the attention to Foxconn, not that I find their conditions terribly objectionable though, but they should share the wealth more and continue to contribute to the rise of a stable middle class. What I find outrageous is the nausiatingly self righteous tone of overseas westerners, who display a complete lack of understanding of manufacturing, logistics, and economic environments in other parts of the world. In the end, you may help some Foxconn workers, but really, all their improvements were evolving naturally for the last several years anyway. Do not self congratulate yourselves, Apple has done far more to help humans in that part of the world than any of you will do in a lifetime.

    Where to begin …

    a) I would like hear from any of the limp wrists commenting on this article how they could have done a better job lifting 400 million people from dirt poor to the middle class, like China did in the last 20 years. Yeah, easy as pie.

    b) Where were any of you commenting on poor factory conditions in Japan in the 70’s, Taiwan and Korea in the 80’s? Thailand in the 90’s? What about now with clothing factories in India, fruit farms in Mexico, or vegetables from Chile.

    c) Global economy, global wage, global living conditions, it takes time to even things out. America is becoming more third world, and many of us would be glad for any job if it comes to it.

    d) I have witnessed entire cafeterias filled with new trainees, 400-600 at a time, the new trainees come in the thousands, some just to replace the 15% that quit over New Years, like usual. I have eaten in cafeterias that can seat near a thousand, eat fast, the next shift arrives in 18 minutes. :) For years 1200 RMB a month was 4x what they could make back home, now that the middle class is picking up steam, parity is approaching, so the factories are increasing pay regardless of western media.

    e) Foxconn can be a tough place to work, but their value proposition is very high volume and low cost compared to their peers in China. Their peers are Inventec, Quanta, Mitac, Flextronics, many others.

    f) The vast sea of workers in their Longhua Shenzhen plant are very young, 18-26, and are glad to build up savings during their time there, buy a phone, enjoy big city conditions. Many have moved on to better factories, usually up north, or took their savings back to the home province to buy an apartment and get married. Only recently have the throngs wanting in began to diminish, as the unlimited supply of workers is now exhausting, and because better jobs can be found elsewhere. Again, a natural adjustment as China’s middle class continues to expand, there are more competitive options for the workers.

    g) Each Foxconn building is mini feifdom, even each floor, okay I am over postioning it, but at least some are managed as if each is a small Profit and Loss station, so conditions vary from floor to floor, building to building, and customer to customer. I know, I have been in a few of their buildings, and observed condition for my company, and competitor companies. The conditions I see are the same for factories I have seen the world over, except for more reliance on people rather than automation, since a person is more flexible and cheaper than a robot. Longhua itself is a bit of an armpit, its like a college town with 250,000 youth who do not want to spend much and prefer to save.

    h) I have interacted with Foxconn managers, engineers, and technicians on an almost daily basis for years, and admire and extol their committments and sacrifices. They have earned the right to be called the manufacturing center of the world. Yes, there are pockets of third world thinking, thuggish management, lack of compasssion for the human condition, but if any of you know anything about China, it is a relative garden compared to much more difficult conditions found in the 80’s and 90’s. Life was considered very cheap in China if you grew up there. That takes time to change.

    i) It is not the Foxconns you should worry about, it is the subtier suppliers to the Foxconns where some more outrageous things happen. However, now the discussion turns to China itself, and not a western lightning rod such as Apple. In this area, being a change agent yet not antagonizing China is easy, but apparently few in a west extend the effort.

    j) If the west knew so much about how to run manufacturing, then why aren’t they doing it here? Factors beyond our control, right? Most customers will not be in North America, why should the factories?

    k) It is not western companies preying on the asian poor workers. The true inhuman treatments come from Chinese on Chinese, how else to explain why a few Chinese companies justify mixing toxics in milk for babies, or chemical leaching plastics for bottles, or paper in food. Backward and cruel thinking abounds in some feral types older than 40, but then again, they suffered through the cultural revolution, so their disregard is an echo of the past. Those younger than 35 actually might have heard of sports in schools, leisure time, unlimited possibilities to escape being dirt poor.

    Who am I? I have been involved in manaufacturing for computers since 1984. I work for a large MNC you would recognize, but its not Apple. I have participated in product launches in factories in Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and China, as well as the US.

    My first factory visit to China was in 1991. I have spent many months there over the years, have been to 12 provinces, and was usually the only white on the bus or the train or the airliner. My wife is from Beijing, I spent my sabatical in China, and am due for another trip to Foxconn two weeks from now.

    Please tell your gentle readers to get out and see the world more, it looks different when you are there, compared to the view from the computer screen at home.

    1. Foppe

      Ah, yes. “Only Arrogant Westerners Who Do Nothing To Raise People Out of Poverty Cheaply Criticize Companies doing God’s work by force-teaching them how to be wage slaves”, “the others are worse” “and anyway, it’s the Chinese who are doing this to other Chinese; it’s not like we westerners encourage such behavior by going looking for slave labor”. And the biggest whopper of them all, the implicit one: it is better for the Chinese to go through a half-century or more of being exploited than to “modernize” at a slower pace, because it’s just so fantastic living in “modern society”.
      Ever occur to you that all of these things might’ve happened in different ways, that are rather more humane?

      1. Trestle Rider

        Re: Foppe

        China modernized at the fastest pace in human history for the largest amount of people.

        Yes, you yourself could do far better than Apple, we all know that now.

        You are another blowhard, get out more.

        1. Foppe

          Yes, yes. We all know that economics is “beyond morality”. God forbid people suggest that what you’re doing is abetting slave labor in the name of higher profits for middle and upper management.

    2. Lyle

      A foxconn like environment exists in most societies as the kids move off the farm. Look at Lowell Ma in the 1830s dorms housemothers, curfews and the like (and a 73 hour work week) . As hinted in the comment in one sense at least its comparing countries at two different stages of economic development and applying the more developed economy standards to the less developed economy. Actually one question is to compare the life of a worker at foxcon to the life they would have had back on the farm. That is the comparison the folks make, and I suspect the living conditions at foxcon exceed those where they came from.

  33. reprobate

    So, you have a close enough business relationship with Foxconn that you visit them regularly. That means you are hardly objective.

    And you gloss over that Foxconn has been found repeatedly to be in violation of Apple’s standards for vendors (but Apple has chosen not to do anything about it).

    The sweeping “how is China supposed to industrialize” is not relevant to the question of workplace abuses paid for by consumers in advanced economies. Working 24-36 hours straight, which apparently happens at Foxconn, is and should not be acceptable to multinational buyers. They are culpable in casting a blind eye on and profiting from these work conditions. The Alea chart makes clear that these companies would not have to give up much to produce better working conditions (which would cost a LOT less than a pay raise of the magnitude suggested).

  34. Trestle Rider


    I have worked in US factories were crazy overtimes were called for, including demanding all whitecollars to join in to meet end of quarter or a huge order.

    However, you prove yourself delusional by believing routine 24-36 hours shifts are required at Foxconn. Their products would probably fail any inspection if they were that sleepy.

    All factories have some sort of violation, and improvements are made. From what I read, Apple and Foxconn take steps to address each new survey. Ever notice how most restaurants in the US also fail some violation or code as well? The purpose of the standards is to identify issues, seems like that is working.

    I do not disagree with Apple plowing money, incrementally, back to Foxconn’s workers. I do disagree with pious blowhards like yourself who do not realize what it took to get here, but that does not stop them from bloviating endlessly about what should be done, and that a profitable company is healthy and lives on, while unprofitable dies and then there is no work. Apple almost went under several times back in the day, they are very careful to commit resources of the shareholders into sustainable business ventures and arrangements, so I do not question their contracts with Foxconn made years ago, or that both Foxconn and Apple are adjusting the pay and benefits or factory workers on an ongoing basis to match the increase of the middle class of China, with or without western media attention.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      We at NC consider ad hominem attacks rather *low rent*. Please consider returning to your kingdom on your high horse, where your authority surely holds more sway.

      1. Trestle Rider

        Re: Lenova

        So you do not disagree with any of my positions, except for me calling Rep a pious blowhard. I see, thanks.

        Yet, that does not stop you from doing the same thing to me.

        Really? I think many of you do not come to learn from others, but to argue for the sake of arguing.

        I read NC, like many other financial blogs, for the rounded views I get, even if I sometimes disagree.

        1. John Firestone

          I gleaned a lot out of useful ideas and information from reading your comments, much more than from the much longer Wired article. I hope you will stay around.

          I did a fair amount of engineering work over five years for a housewares manufacturer, and got used to production side folk sometimes being a little blunt. You might, however, be a little more diplomatic or indirect in calling out people for their comments. I think there’s ample time for everyone to consider and absorb the many good observations you make. It’s not like you have to correct a machine or an operator, NOW, to keep thousands of defective ideas from piling up in rework, or quickly argue how to. :) At least I hope so.

        2. ebear

          >>>Really? I think many of you do not come to learn from others, but to argue for the sake of arguing.<<<

          That's pretty much the case on the internet . Marshal McLuhan (yeah, him) pointed out many years ago that the medium is the message. If any of you need proof of that, just shut it off for a week and see what it feels like.

          Thanks for the breath of fresh air TR. It was getting a bit stale in here.


  35. exspn

    Ok so raise the average wage of al china by double. what then? I’ll tell you. Commodoties will go up huge, why? construction fuel etc, china becoming america. Then what? Prices go up in the US for same. American buying power -down, inflation -up. At same time, all things chinese may go up in value slightly or alot, depends. A double whammy. And then, as the wages improve in China, opportunites for more R&D and Marketing, in china. And America will have calling centers, phone mills, and data-banks. Nice….

    First to the table gets the biggest piece. The supply on the table isn’t infinite, you know? And sometimes it is better to leave big when others don’t.

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