Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apple Products, Teaching and FoxConn Workers

I prefer Apple to PCs. I used PC for years before my wife got one. I borrowed her computer "all the time" to her annoyance and my joy. Recently, I realized that computers are like food. We don't know where they come from, and once you learn about the conditions of some livestock, you begin to wonder about eating meat. Today, I read an article, and while I'll admit about being a "smart guy", I never would have thought that Apple products were made in China. More to my dismay, I would have never thought Apple would put profits before the value of treating workers fairly. I assumed naively they were made in pristine conditions. It is one thing for someone else to get dooped, but not me. I should have known better. I should have had some cynicism about the world philosophy usually provides to know that things need questioned. With Apple, you always see a pristine product, clean surfaces and geometric lines that impose upon you a clean ideal of its inception. This is false now, and forever in the back of my head as I go about teaching and interacting with likely students that are mesmerized by Apple products. Among the many examples, consider this excerpt from the article:
Daisey [the journalist involved in the report from the article] interviews dozens of (former) workers who are secretly supporting a union. One group talked about using "hexane," an iPhone screen cleaner. Hexane evaporates faster than other screen cleaners, which allows the production line to go faster. Hexane is also a neuro-toxin. The hands of the workers who tell him about it shake uncontrollably.
So the people that clean the screens are using a neuro-toxin! That just takes my breathe away and now, I will be e-mailing Apple a link to this blog entry. I would welcome any response about the treatment of workers in China. I especially think it germane they respond with positive change, and not some liberal platitude. Otherwise, I -- as a PhD Candidate writing my dissertation and a professional that will have contact with numerous young minds -- will always use the FoxConn treatment of workers as an example of how someone ought not act. As a graduate student, I have already taught 650+ students, and will teach many more in the years to come. Let us say I get a job teaching a 4/4 load at a university that does semesters. Here, around 35 students is a maxed out capacity for teaching Intro to Philosophy. Let's say I did only intro courses each time. That would be 240 students per year, and any time I do Intro, I always cover moral philosophy. Moreover, my favorite teaching preference is always Intro to Ethics where one could do case studies of company practices, and talk about what ought to be. Let us assume this to be consistent for 30 years until I retire. In that time, I would have contact with 7200 students in my classroom in one lifetime. This is also not the number one actually encounters at a university that are not the ones you are teaching.

Here are some of the pictures and reporting from a sister article.

So how about it Apple? Address the conditions of FoxConn and the working conditions of the Chinese, and specifically if you do respond. Follow the article's suggestion:
 Unlike some electronics manufacturers, Apple's profit margins are so high that they could go down a lot and still be high. And some Americans would presumably feel better about loving their iPhones and iPads if they knew that the products had been built using American labor rules.
In other words, Apple could probably afford to use American labor rules when building iPhones and iPads without destroying its business.
So it seems reasonable to ask why Apple is choosing NOT to do that.
(Not that Apple is the only company choosing to avoid American labor rules and costs, of course — almost all manufacturing companies that want to survive, let alone thrive, have to reduce production costs and standards by making their products elsewhere.)
The bottom line is that iPhones and iPads cost what they do because they are built using labor practices that would be illegal in this country — because people in this country consider those practices grossly unfair.
That's not a value judgment. It's a fact.
There are always independent minds in a computer science department willing to build you a computer for far less than you pay a company to make one.

This article is making me literally sick that I am writing my dissertation on an Apple. It is a very visceral thing, and Apple needs to respond now. To be clear, it is not just me they ought to respond, but permanent reform and apologies to the workers. I feel deeply bitter and betrayed. Moreover, joining the FLA as detailed here is not a real start until Apple pushes the Chinese government to treat its workers better. A Washington DC-based monitoring group is a platitude.

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