Rotten Apple? Is Your iPhone Like A Bad Boyfriend?
Yesterday I took an early morning walk to try and get myself kick started. I used to do this all the time, but I’ve kind of gone off the boil since the busy-ness of the wedding. I gave myself a bit of a boot out of bed and off I went. (As an aside, how ugly are exercise clothes?! I just wear a dress and a jacket and sneakers. I am SUCH a dork!)
Anyhoo, so there I was, striding down my street, iPhone plugged in to ears, This American Life podcast playing. Feeling sleepy. Getting steppy. Looking dorky. That kinda thing. The podcast was about an apple factory, or so I thought. I was looking forward to finding out about how they peeled the apples. Perhaps some information about how they make apple sauce. Maybe some ideas on picking out apple seeds… BUT atually, it was about THE Apple Factory. As in Steve Jobs, RIP. As in iPod, iPad, iPhone. There were no jars, no tins, no amazing apple coring robots. Nope. Instead I found myself listening to a podcast about how they make iPhones… on my iPhone. Weird. And no apple juice in sight.
I listened with interest as Mike Daisey recounted his trip to Foxconn in Shenzhen, China. This is the place where they make the iPhones and not the apple pie. Mike talked about how we lament that things aren’t handmade, but reasoned that devices like the aforementioned techy Apples and, in fact, most of our technology, are painstakingly made by hand, by a staff of thousands in HUGE facilities like Foxconn. I guess it’s not the kind of handmade we mean?
Mike talked about the production lines, the cafeterias to seat 4000 (possibly 10 000!) workers, the tiny dormitories. I listened ON MY iPHONE. The very reason for the production lines. I heard about how workers (who will never own an iThing) were suiciding at quite unreasonable rates, how these people were not allowed to speak as they worked, about how the production line was completely silent except for the sound of bodies putting parts together or polishing little iDevice screens or carving out the Apple logos perfectly. I learned about the very long hours worked for very low wages by people as young as 12 years old. I heard of the damage repetitive tasks over long hours take on workers’ bodies. And about how they become incapacitated after hours, days, weeks, months of working at the same task. I found out that many workers are so injured by their work that they will lose their jobs before they are 30, unable to carry out the very tasks that have crippled them. It was not what I was expecting. It was not apple sauce.
Argh. It struck me that in our quest to have what we want, where we want, when we want, we are contributing to this. And then I felt pretty helpless. But I kept listening. On my iPhone. Argh.
I like my iPhone. I love my iPad, too. I am a huge fan of the iDevice and how they’ve enabled us to personalize our lives, listening, watching, fun. But I’d never really thought about/read about/heard about the flip side of the Apple love story. I guess I had my head in the sand.
I came home, iDeflated and googled about a bit. I found out that it’s been reported pretty widely that Apple products may be made by children, and in pretty oppressive conditions. It’s been reported widely, too, that there are suicide prevention nets at Foxconn, where not only Apple products, but those by other technology companies are manufactured too. I read some stuff about the toxic chemicals and dust that exists in these plants, and how dangerous/flammable they are.
I also thought about Steve Jobs and what great things he has achieved. And I tried to reconcile all that. It is not easy to do.
I found out some stuff. Last year, petitions were delivered to Apple stores in the US asking Apple to improve working conditions in their overseas plants. There’s an online petition here too (do online petitions have much sway?) Recent reports say that the overseas Apple workers are experiencing better conditions than sweatshop workers. The non-profit Fair Labor Association president Auret van Heerden says that Foxconn facilities are first class and that the problems that were cropping up there are not unique to Foxconn and happen at factories all over China. An ABC documentary crew was recently allowed into the facility and discovered no workers under the age of 16, despite many reports to the contrary. Perhaps Foxconn is putting on a little show for us?
The New York Times covered this worrying issue here. The NY Times then reported that Apple had called for an inspection of its OS facilities by an independent body, here. And then they raised questions about the hasty reports of positive working conditions at Foxconn by Mr van Heerden here. ( Hmm. Insert quote about one bad Apple spoiling the bunch here…)
So what do we do? I mean, if you are anything like me, you love technology. You are reading this on technology right now, in fact. That’s how much you love it. I think I might love it EVEN MORE than that. BUT how can I love something that might be exploitative? And why are my own hoardy penchants for tracks, apps, eps and flicks so important? And why have I had my head buried in the sand and not known about this before? And how can I foster my unbridled affection for technology, whilst taking care of the basic human rights of the people who make it? Is awareness and education the first step? Should I sign the online petition? (I think YES!) Should I stop buying technology and start writing letters? (I think NO!)
It’s not okay to put on my headphones, close my eyes and turn my iPod up to drown this out. This is not Year 7 Science Homework. (Although it may resemble that for some of the Chinese workers.) This is not something we should ignore.
Apple are a hugely profitable company, aren’t they? Surely they need to be more vigilant about what goes on within these plants? And more caring? And more present?
And what can WE do about this? How can we covet new technology and still sleep at night?? Does this make you love your iPhone less? Or is it like a bad boyfriend, you know there are issues, but it’s just so great at times, you try to ignore the glitches? How is it for you JustBees? Apple crumble? Yes/No?
PS : Top image of wooden iPhone cover is via PhotoJoJo : other iPhone images? Click for credits!