Dick Meister: Apple's unethical innovation

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By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 300 of his columns.

Apple's position as a worldwide leader in technological innovation has brought huge rewards to those who run the company or own stock in it, and has raised co-founder Steve Jobs to demigod status. But the men and women who manufacture Apple's highly profitable products are not doing well – and the AFL-CIO wants very much for that to change.

"When it comes to technology," notes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, " Apple has revolutionized its industry and set a standard other companies aspire to meet . It is now the biggest publicly traded company in the world, worth a whopping $465 billion."

But, adds Trumka, "Apple's record-breaking success comes at a back-breaking price."

He cites news reports that workers who assemble iPhones, iPads and iPods at Foxconn, Apple's major supplier in China, "have needlessly suffered lifelong injuries, and even died from avoidable tragedies, including suicides, explosions and exhaustion from 30- to 60- hour shifts." There also have been reports of some workers suffering repetitive motion injuries that caused them to permanently lose use of their hands. Others have suffered from exposure to chemical toxins.

The manufacturing plants run by Foxconn clearly are sweatshops of the worst sort, relying heavily on child labor and rampant violation of basic labor rights. The working conditions are truly horrendous and brutal.

So what to do? For starters, the AFL-CIO is joining a global movement aimed at presenting hundreds of thousands of petitions from activists worldwide to Apple CEO Tim Cook. The petitions tell Cook to make sure that the workers who manufacture Apple's products are treated fairly and ethically. Their work, after all, is essential to Apple's success and its development of products happily bought and used by millions of people.

Trumka himself is one of those satisfied Apple customers. He uses an Apple iPhone, which he describes as "intuitive and powerful – an incredible piece of machinery."

But the AFL-CIO insists that Apple "transform its industry by being ethical and innovative . . . to ensure the quality of its working conditions matches the quality of its products."

The AFL-CIO wants Apple "to immediately allow genuine unions, with truly independent factory inspections and worker trainings" in its plants in China and elsewhere.

Apple obviously could afford the reforms demanded – and then some. Manufacturing costs, as the AFL-CIO's Trumka notes, "are only a very small portion of Apple's expenses. Chinese workers are paid just $8 to manufacture a $499 iPad, for example, while Apple pockets $150 of the retail price. And the company is sitting on nearly $100 billion in cash."

Apple also could tell suppliers to improve their working conditions or lose Apple's business. As one anonymous Apple executive told the New York Times recently, "suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice."

The Times cited another revealing quote from another anonymous Apple executive, which contradicts the AFL-CIO contention that Apple could be both innovative and ethical. The executive claimed there's a trade-off between working conditions and innovation: "You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories," or you can "make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards."

Apple's choice, of course, has been to move its manufacturing to overseas facilities where it can indeed get work done "faster and cheaper" by highly exploited and easily manipulated workers under conditions that would not be tolerated in the United States.

Apple has been trying to fend off complaints by joining an employer group, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to arrange for inspection of Apple suppliers' factories. That's unlikely to change anything, however, since the FLA is funded and controlled by the multinational corporations that it's charged with investigating.

As Richard Trumka points out, "What leaders do matters. And Apple is now the leader in its industry. That's why the AFL-CIO will be watching Apple closely to make sure the company does right by the workers who make its products – no matter where they live."

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 300 of his columns.

Comments

The suicides at Foxconn were not caused by poor working conditions or employee abuse. Where true sweatshop conditions have existed, such as the garment industry in New York, there have never been suicides reported. But at France Telecom, with a 35 hour work week and union negotiated wages there have been 60 suicide attempts and 30 deaths reported. When you compare the size of Foxconn's and France Telecom's work force the number of suicides in France dwarfs the suicides at Foxconn.

Pictures and video taken by TV news crews in both countries show that Subliminal Distraction conditions are present to cause a believed harmless temporary episode of psychotic-like confusion discovered in office workers forty years ago. Those pictures are linked at the top of my Home page.

An incident at 14 Ontario, Canada elementary schools last year show what low level SD exposure can do .

The same "special circumstances" can be created by college students if they study or use a computer where there is repeating detectable movement in peripheral vision. The plantation of the problem is on my "Letters" page also linked at the top of my Home page.

Schools I have written refused to even consider investigating this even though the problem is explained in first semester college psychology under subliminal sight.

Anyone with a computer at home or a child in high school - college should have the information on my site.

When this happened to my wife she heard voices and had severe depressive crying episodes about impossible situations she hallucinated. That same outcome is causing suicides at colleges. Preventing this problem does not require treatment and should not cost anything. A simple pair of safety glasses with the wide temple arms blacked out to block peripheral vision would prevent exposure where the seating conditions can't be changed such as in classrooms. (Examples of suicides where classroom exposure reaches 30 hours in three days are also on the "Letters" page. The number of people so effected is rated at 1/1000 of 1% by the company with the seminar that causes mental breaks, Landmark Education).

Just telling college students the problem was discovered and solved forty years ago would allow them to learn to avoid it cost free.

Posted by Guest L K Tucker on Mar. 03, 2012 @ 5:38 am

For that purpose, it doesn't much matter whether they work for Apple or some near bankrupt company. Their work is only worth what it is worth in that particualr time and place.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2012 @ 8:47 am