Still Collecting Their Winnings: A Response to Recent Apple Exposés

by: Jimmy Garfield

I’ve been thinking a lot about a scene at the beginning of Casablanca.  Captain Renault has been gambling at Rick’s Bar when he is ordered to shut the whole place down, so he walks over to Rick and orders the bar closed.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a valet hands Renault a pile of money]
Valet: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [quietly] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

This scene reminds me of the situation with Apple’s contracted factory in China.  There have been stories of the abuses going on there for years.  There have been news stories of the workers who killed themselves because of the working conditions.  But only recently did Apple make any comment.  And what did they say? 

That they were shocked, shocked, at this news.  Well, they were the only ones.  Now, as a corporation, we can hardly be surprised by this action.  It is their legal obligation, as a publicly traded company, to try to make the most money they can, short of breaking the law.  Well, usually.

If that means that their products are “Designed in California” but “Made in China” then so be it.  However, you don’t become one of the largest tech companies on the planet ($26 Billion in profit in 2011) by not knowing what’s going on in your company and its subsidiaries.

In an interview done by Nightline, it as revealed that “the average starting salary at Foxconn is around $285 a month or $1.78 an hour.”  To say that this is insane from an American point of view is an understatement.  What was the last job that paid you $285 a month?  Could you afford to live on that?  I know that the cost of living is somewhat different here in the US, but the point remains.  The cost of one iPad — which, according to Apple’s website, ranges from $500 to $830 — is two- or three-months salary for the people who make them.

ABC World News visited the Foxconn plant.  They showed a completed iPad to one of the workers.  Her job was — I wish I was making this up — to smooth the edge of the cut-out Apple on the back of the iPad where the plastic logo is going to go.  Now, nothing in that seems that out of the norm for a production line.  Except that the interview was the first time she had ever seen a completed device.  She couldn’t afford one herself with less than three full month’s salaries.  Oh, and the fact that the factory is an entire complex, employing 230,000 people living in mass dorms, and having installed nets on the outside of the building in case more workers throw themselves out the window in an attempt to kill themselves because of the 12-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week schedule.

Apple could have cared about these workers before they were put in the spotlight.  Just as Nike could have cared about their workers back in the ‘90s and BP could have cared before the Gulf of Mexico became a giant oil slick.  We have allowed a corporate culture in which it is cheaper to clean up a mess once it is found than to prevent it from happening in the first place.  Look how badly it’s affected Apple.

Did you see that congressional panel investigating them?  Neither did I.  Did you see the protesters outside of Apple stores?  No?  Well, surely there’s a boycott of Apple products in light of this new revelation.  What’s that?  Sale of Apple products hasn’t slowed at all?

I truly believe that Americans care.  We do.  We want those workers to be treated better.  We want human rights and human dignity to be upheld.  We want corporations to be good citizens.  However, this shows that we also want that new iPhone because “OMG, have you seen how awesome that thing is?”

I’m thrilled that Apple has launched an investigation into the conditions at their manufacturing sites.  I truly am.  However, I am not even slightly convinced that they didn’t know about these conditions before.  Apple isn’t sad that these workers are in these conditions, they’re sad that they got caught in bad press.  So, as long as the media is looking things will be investigated.  Who knows, maybe conditions will even improve slightly for the workers there.  However, in the long run, conditions won’t actually get any better until we make laws that say that companies that want to sell their products in America must make sure that, regardless of where on the planet their products are made, it is with the same standards for workers that exist here.

Apple may be shocked, shocked, that there was gambling in that establishment, but since I’m typing this on my beloved MacBook Pro, here are their winnings.

Jimmy Garfield is a DePaul University graduate in Communications.  A full-time political guru who worked in politics for 5 years, he now gets paid in the IT field.  He reads more than is good for him, and loves having somewhere to vent his outrage at the world.

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