Where Macs come from

January 9, 2012

in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters, Law, Politics

This week’s episode of This American Life is powerful and thought- provoking. It’s about manufacturing in China, the ten million person city of Shenzhen, and how most of our computers and phones and miscellaneous gadgets are made by hand by millions of workers working at least twelve hours a day.

Apple has been conducting its own investigations of labour practices among its suppliers and has been publishing annual reports about them since 2007.


Posted from my iPhone

[Update: 25 March 2012] This American Life discovered that the episode they broadcast on Apple factories contained a number of fabrications. They have retracted the episode and released another detailing what went wrong in their fact checking process: “We’ve discovered that one of our most popular episodes contained numerous fabrications. This week, we detail the errors in Mike Daisey’s story about visiting Foxconn, which makes iPads and other products for Apple in China. Marketplace’s China correspondent Rob Schmitz discovered the fabrications.”

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

. January 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm

The Apple Factory Responds

In a move seemingly inspired by the This American Life episode Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory (previously), Apple has released a list of its suppliers (PDF) around the world and is voluntarily allowing a third party to audit the working conditions at those factories and make the results available to the public. The third party will be the Fair Labor Association, who also monitor Nike, New Balance, and Adidas.

. February 8, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Labor Activist: Apple May Be Terrible, But All Others Are Worse

Labor Activist Li Qiang wants you to know that the iPhone 4 in his pocket is not an endorsement of Apple’s policies, just an acknowledgment that the company is doing a better job of monitoring factory conditions than its peers. The founder of leading advocacy group China Labor Watch (CLW) told us that, though the Cupertino company does more-thorough inspections than competitors, it is responsible for poor working conditions at its suppliers’ factories and needs to invest some of its record-breaking profits in improving them. ‘Although I know that the iPhone 4 is made at sweat shop factories in China, I still think that this is the only choice, because Apple is actually one of the best. Actually before I made a decision, I compared Apple with other cell phone companies, such as Nokia,’ he said through a translator. ‘And the conditions in those factories are worse than the ones of Apple.’

. March 18, 2012 at 1:14 pm

This American Life Retracts Episode On Apple Factories In China

“This American Life aired an episode in January about visiting Foxconn’s factory in Shenzhen China that supplies Apple with iPhones and iPads. It was the most downloaded of all of its episodes. That show helped prompt Apple to release, for the first time, a list of its suppliers and allow outside audits of working conditions at its suppliers. This American Life has now retracted the episode after finding out that Mike Daisey, whose visit to the factory the show was based on, fabricated portions of the story. This included a number of minor items, but also major ones such as his saying that he personally met underage workers and those poisoned by hexane exposure. To set the record straight, this weekend’s episode of This American Life will present how they were mislead into airing a flawed story (PDF).”

. March 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm

All of which is simply to say: it’s in the nature of grand structural transformations that we will always have great difficulty picturing what the end-state would look like. And because we feel we have to, we tend not to, falling back on the narrative patterns we know better. It’s hard to imagine a future without militaries or a world without capitalist production, because we don’t live in that world, or that future; everything we do know about the range of possibilities we inhabit is derived from the economic and political conditions of it, of our knowable world. And since we live in a world that produces capitalist exploitation as reliably and as organically as militaries produce conflict and police produce criminals, we will always have difficulty in imagining what a system that didn’t organically do so would look like; we will always be confined to the solutions which that system produces for itself, which the world we live in makes thinkable, possible. In short: we can imagine killing Kony, or fining or shunning Apple only because doing so would do nothing to disable the systemic forces that make Kony possible in the first place, would do nothing to change the system that makes it economically “necessary” to treat workers the way Foxconn does.

. April 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week’s episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”

Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.

We’re horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors – our friends and colleagues – have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It’s trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.

A press release with more details about all this is below. We’ll be posting the audio of the program and the transcript on Friday night this week, instead of waiting till Sunday.

. April 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm
. May 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm

If China accounts for such a small share of the overall labour costs, surely Apple could afford to make iPads in America? It turns out that low wages are not the only attraction. What Shenzhen has to offer on top is 30 years’ experience of producing electronics. It has a network of firms with sophisticated supply chains, multiple design and engineering skills, intimate knowledge of their production processes and the willingness to leap into action if asked to scale up production.

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