Updated: Inspector Says Apple's iPad Factories in China are 'First-Class' (Liberals Can STFU Now)

February 16, 2012 - Is Apple using slave labor in its Chinese Foxconn plants to manufacture iPads in harsh work conditions?

You might think so if you believe the liberal media. Many lefty media outlets have recently been accusing Apple of crimes against humanity, including a work environment so bad that it allegedly drives workers to despair and even suicide. But are the accusations true? No, it turns out, they are false.

In fact, the head of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an independent, non-profit labor group, says things at Foxconn are hunky-dorey. Auret van Heerden, president of the FLA, says that  the stress that led some workers to kill themselves was probably caused by "boredom and alienation," according to Reuters.

"Working conditions at Chinese manufacturing plants where Apple Inc's iPads and iPhones are made are far better than those at garment factories or other facilities elsewhere in the country, according to the head of a non-profit agency investigating the plants," Reuters reported yesterday. "The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is beginning a study of the working conditions of Apple's top eight suppliers in China, following reports of worker suicides, a plant explosion and slave-like conditions at one of those suppliers, Foxconn Technology Group." You can see a Foxconn press release about that here.  Each Foxconn plant has about 100,000 workers. The Shenzhen plant employs some 230,000 people. Foxconn, in total, employs approximately one million people. You could say they're big.

There has been a lot made of the 17 Foxconn employee suicides. But let's put that into perspective: 17 suicides in a population of one million is a rate of 1.7 per 100,000. Compare that to New Jersey. In 2009 data reporting, NJ had a suicide rate of 6.4 per 100,000 people. That's nearly four times higher than the Foxconn employee suicide rate, and NJ has one of the lowest rate of suicide of any state in the U.S. One of the highest state suicide rates is found in Montana, at 22.5 per 100,000 people, over 13 times higher than the Foxconn rate. (Data from the Centers for Disease Control for the year 2009, found at the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.) In this light, the low suicide rate at Foxconn is enviable.

Although the inspections have not yet resulted in a formal report, van Heerden spent several days personally visiting Foxconn facilities. He was pleasantly surprised by what he found and said that the production floor at Foxconn was "tranquil" compared to a garment factory.

Van Heerden concludes that the workers are not suffering from "the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory. . It's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."  He added that, "You have lot of young people, coming from rural areas, away from families for the first time," he said. "They're taken from a rural into an industrial lifestyle, often quite an intense one, and that's quite a shock to these young workers. And we find that they often need some kind of emotional support, and they can't get it," he added.

Foxconn workers: Do you see any whips?
Would somebody please explain to me how a kid from rural China who winds up working in a factory is more traumatized or distressed than a farm kid in Iowa going to work in a factory in Des Moines. Sure, there are people who stress out easily, but it's not as though there aren't boring, repetitive jobs the world over.  I wish someone would explain to me how handful of people who have killed themselves couldn't find emotional support from people of similar backgrounds in a group of 230,000? How is that the fault of the Apple or Foxconn?

The issue of wage exploitation won't go away with this FLA's findings, even if it manages to squelch the liberals' charges of bad working conditions. Once the left starts a libelous myth, it likes to perpetuate it even after it's been shown to be false. Myths aside, the $17.00 per day that Foxconn workers are paid are, by local standards, not bad at all.

"It does rather knock the whole exploitation story on the head, doesn’t it?" asks The Anorak. "Just a couple of facts for those who doubt this. The suicide rate in Foxconn factories is below the suicide rate for China as a whole. Wages at Foxconn are much higher than the average Chinese wages and they’re also higher than average Chinese manufacturing wages. Oh, and Chinese manufacturing wages in general have gone up by four times (yes, really, four times, after inflation) in the past decade as people build huge girt factories and start employing people."

An interesting perspective can be found in a May, 2010 article in the Shenzhen Post. Simply titled "Foxconn Suicides," writer "Jon T" gave his unique perspective:

"I happen to know personally few of the past and current management as well as line employees that had shared freely on this topic," Jon wrote. "What I’ve come to learn is a far different story than that of what is found on publication for the general public. You see employees will say one thing to reporters and to investigators under treat of the company’s pendulum and a whole another thing to a friend of a friend over Johnny Walker. However, since this company preaches themselves, that they’ve single handedly saved this region out of depression and paved the way of progress and government through projects, scholarships, taxes, civil infrastructure, etc. You can guess that whatever I report will be limited to commentary of my own opinions and what he said, she said. But you will get an idea that your iPhones and the like comes at the expense of not animal testing but of human suffering."

"The Military does a great job addressing these issues; I should know I served in the US armed forces in time of war," said Jon. "But none of the military members I knew tried to commit suicide even under the heaviest stress of them all, the possibility of death or dismemberment."

Finally, let's put the 17 suicides in perspective. A nicley written but whiny article by Joel Johnson at Wired notes that 17 suicides out of the one million Foxconn employees "isn’t much—indeed, American college students kill themselves at four times that rate." Still, Johnson falls apart like a little girl, getting all weepy-wimpy-lefty at the end of his article when he wonders whether American consumers - he says we are "soaked in materialism" - share some of the blame for those suicides.

"When 17 people take their lives," Johnson asks himself, "did I in my desire hurt them? Even just a little? And of course the answer, inevitable and immeasurable as the fluttering silence of our sun, is yes. Just a little."

Ye gods, Johnson, man up. If not for the materialism of the West, the newfound materialism in China would not be producing the miracle there that has eliminated mass starvation. It's our materialism soaked way of life that the Chinese themselves are working so hard to emulate. Suppose, Joel Johnson, that our materialistic cravings had bypassed China altogether and those 17 Foxconn suicides were, instead, 1.7 million victims of starvation. Would your lack of materialism, Joel, be to blame, even just a little? And of course the answer is yes.
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