updated 11:00 pm EST, Fri January 27, 2012
Chinese posts say NYT singling Apple out unfairly
An AppleInsider report by Daniel Dilger provides some illuminating insight on the recent New York Times article criticizing Apple and Foxconn and the labor practices they and the rest of the electronics industry pursue to keep innovation high and prices low. The newspaper recently reprinted its report in China, soliciting comments for use in the US. What it got -- and subsequently buried -- was charges of its own bias from Chinese workers and management.
The paper did translate and publish the comments it got from the Chinese-language business magazine Caixin, which reprinted the original article, and from the popular Chinese social site Wiebo.com, but stuck them in its "The Lede" blog, a relatively obscure section of the site and a blog devoted to covering the news industry generally, aimed more at fellow media professionals than at the public. The entry was buried compared to the prominent placement of the original scathing article, entitled "In China, Human Costs are Built Into an iPad," on its website and newspaper editions. The reaction from the Chinese workers and management was nearly unanimous: if you think life is tough for Foxconn workers, you haven't seen much of Chinese life.
"It is biased to blame Apple for everything," wrote a poster by the handle ChouzhuDaddy. "The government should supervise the companies and their conduct, not the other way around. It is natural for enterprises to pursue economic profits, but corporate social responsibility needs to be backed up and monitored by regulations and laws."
Another poster added "if people saw what kind of life workers lived before they found a job at Foxconn, they would come to an opposite conclusion of this story: that Apple is such a philanthropist," wrote "Zhengchu1982." Another named Zhou Zhimei echoed the sentiment by writing "by the way, construction workers and farmers are also living a harsh life in China. Shall we also boycott housing and grains?"
The comments overwhelmingly point to two truths seen to have been overlooked in the New York Times story: lack of government regulation or oversight, and pointing out that conditions in non-Apple factories are allegedly much worse. Though some commenters agreed that Apple and the rest of the electronics industry could do more, the root of the problem is seen by the workers themselves as a lack of enforcement by authorities. Working at plants such as Foxconn, regardless of how difficult it sounds to westerners, was generally said to be far better than the life being led by China's large rural population, from whence Foxconn and its contemporaries get most of their workers.
Even attempting to raise Chinese working standards, some readers said, would create problems: if labor protection standards and an 8-5, five-day-a-week working protocol were "strictly executed," said a poster going by "YeyeGem," workers' wages would "plunge," many of the rural and undereducated candidates would be turned back to the "hopeless" villages, and "manufacturing costs in China will increase in other ways and therefore harm its competitive advantage."
"If the story is simply blaming Apple and Foxconn," wrote a user on the Chinese social site Weibo.com, "then it is simplifying the problem. Other companies including HTC, Lenovo, HP and Sony and their OEM [subsidiaries] ... share the same situation," adding that OEM factory workers are often "working in even harsher environments and having more overtime" than Foxconn workers. The user also pointed out that labor organizations are scarce, and that the government tends to shield the companies due to their high profits.
Apple CEO Tim Cook also reacted strongly to the NYT report, calling the accusations reported in the article that Apple doesn't care about workers or working conditions in the factories "patently false and offensive to us." Cook suggested that Apple has taken all possible steps to improve conditions at its supplier facilities with as much speed as it is able to, and intimated that the NYT report omitted context (such as the lack of any regulatory environment) that distorted some of the facts it reported.
"No one has been more up front about the challenges we face. We are attacking problems aggressively with the help of the world’s foremost authorities on safety, the environment, and fair labor. It would be easy to look for problems in fewer places and report prettier results, but those would not be the actions of a leader," Cook wrote in an unusually long letter to Apple employees. "Earlier this month we opened our supply chain for independent evaluations by the Fair Labor Association. Apple was in a unique position to lead the industry by taking this step, and we did it without hesitation. This will lead to more frequent and more transparent reporting on our supply chain, which we welcome. These are the kinds of actions our customers expect from Apple, and we will take more of them in the future."
"We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. What we will not do -- and never have done -- is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain," Cook added near the end of the memo. "On this you have my word."
One user who posted a comment on Caixin was particularly scathing in his attack on the article's seeming focus on just Apple when in fact much of the rest of the tech industry also relies on Foxconn and factories like it to provide a never-ending parade of cheap consumer goods: "if not to buy Apple, what's the substitute -- Samsung?" he wrote in a translated post. "Samsung workers' income and benefits are even worse than those at Foxconn! ... Have you ever been to OEM factories for Lenovo and ASUS? ... Do you know that Aigo's Shenzhen factory will not pay their workers until the 19th of the second month? If [a worker quits before then], I'm sorry your salary will be withdrawn."
"Foxconn never dares to do such things," he continued. "First, [its] profit margin is higher than [its] peers since they manufacture for Apple. Second, at least those foreign devils will regularly audit factories ... domestic brands will never care if workers live or die ... I am just speaking as an insider of this industry, and telling you some disturbing truth," he concluded. [via AppleInsider]