Thursday, June 15, 2006

Apple ethics

Apple, it turns out, is a bit like Nike. Very shiny, but if you look under the hood you find it’s all made in sweat shop camps in China and it’s not a very pleasant business.

iPods are made in a plant housing 200,000 workers in a five-storey factory secured by police officers. That's bigger than Newcastle. They are made by factory workers in China's huge no-go "enterprise zones" earning as little as £27 a month, doing 15-hour shifts, living in dormitories housing making the MP3 player.

Some wags have said that if they save for 10 months they'll be able to afford to buy one. This is true, but of course it will take another year to buy the PC needed to upload the songs.

Frankly, these reports about Apple are all a huge relief. I want to say, I told you so, I can't help myself.

Apple is one of those companies that bugs me. It has for so long been revered by geeks, nerds and techies, who have always held it up to be a company apart. A sort of rebel corporation among a sea of sameness.

You bought Apple as it said something. You know like "Hey, I'm not a PC Clone!".

Think different? Right? Well that's what the ads told the geeks and Mac heads to do, but that's just a cool marketing trick that helped to sell that idea that Apple is more decent than other corporations.

And ever more so now that Apple has gone all Intel and capable of running Windows.

When it's not. The iPod, which pretty much saved the company, has shown this in so many ways. It might be a nicely designed piece of technology, but that's pretty much it. It's also over-priced, with a poor feature set, totally unreliable and with a poor battery life.

Should you have a problem with it, good luck. It seems to me that Apple don't really want to help you. They want you to buy another one, which is what people do rather than endure poor customer care and a six-month wait.

I digress sort of. I've had two iPods. I know, it's all my own fault. I would never buy an Apple Mac, but I fell for the hype. I'm such a sucker, I feel bad.

To be fair, I only fell for the cool design and the Me2ness of it all. I wasn't under any illusion that Apple was somehow an ethical right-on company. I never saw it as any different to a Microsoft or Big Blue and the stories coming out of China this week demonstrate this quite clearly.

You know why Apple likes China. It's the low wages, long hours and China's industrial secrecy. The Chinese love police and security.

It should say so on the back of all its products with a big smiley face.

Instead, all it says on the back of your iPod should you take a look is this: "Designed in California, Made in China".

But then maybe it doesn't need to, everyone can read between the lines these days.


At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay so they've been caught out, Apple aren't, allegedly, rigourous enough in ensuring working conditions in China are appropriate. But what is to be done? As the corporation says:

"Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible."

But of course there's a massive amount of complication involved in fulfilling this pledge.

How does one police the global economy and ensure working standards in China are brought into the 21st century?

At 7:31 PM, Blogger ChinaLawBlog said...

The wages at these Apple plants are indeed low, even by local standards. This is particularly true with respect to American companies who do not use Taiwan companies as middlemen.


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