Apple/Foxconn Promises — We’ll See

The “independent” audit of working conditions at Apple’s Chinese manufacturing supply chain is out, and it is not good. Workers are being exploited in ways that violate human rights standards and laws, and letting them get away with this is costing us our own jobs. Apple’s suppliers promise to improve conditions, make workplaces safer, stop forcing such long hours and lift wages. Foxconn even says they’ll start obeying Chinese law — but not until next year! If this really does happen can China keep its competitive advantage?
“Free Trade”
By opening up so-called “free trade” we made democracy a competitive disadvantage. We just let in goods made in places where people have no say, and as a result there is no environmental protection, little worker protection, terrible working conditions, very low wages and terrible exploitation of people. So of course that undercuts goods made where people have a say, and therefore demand better. We made We, the People having a say (democracy) into a competitive disadvantage! Because we make this mistake we lost millions of jobs, tens of thousands of factories, and entire industries. We devastated out not just towns and cities, but entire regions. (See Free Trade Or Democracy, Can’t Have Both.)
Free People Won’t Tolerate That
A recent groundbreaking New York Times story by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work, exposed how workers are treated by Apple’s suppliers. Summary: Steve Jobs told President Obama, “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” because factories in China have people living in crowded dorm rooms where they can be rousted in the middle of the night and made to work 12-14 hour shifts, 7 days a week, standing the whole time, for very little pay, using toxic chemicals, and all kinds of other violations of human rights. Corporations can’t get “performance” and “efficiency” and “productivity” — profits — like that out of free people who have a say, so they move their operations over there and lay off workers and close factories over here. (Important note: it’s not just Apple, Apple is the biggest so the company name is really shorthand for the real culprits: namely, all of them.)
The FLA Report
This NY Times story had quite an impact. Apple was worried that people’s knowledge of their exploitation of workers in China might affect profits. So Apple responded by hiring the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a “labor monitoring group” that has no actual organized labor organization participation, to conduct an audit of working conditions at Apple’s Chinese suppliers. The report found numerous violations of labor standards and even Chinese law. For example, the report found “numerous instances where Foxconn defied industry codes of conduct by having employees work more than 60 hours a week, and sometimes more than 11 days in a row.” In addition, the report “also found that 43 percent of workers had experienced or witnessed accidents, and almost two-thirds said their compensation “does not meet their basic needs.”
TPM: Apple Supplier Foxconn Violated Workers Rights, Audit Finds,

The 60-plus hour work week found at the factories is above both China’s official legal maximum, 49 hours, and the maximum standard allowable by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), the organization that Apple paid to conduct what it said would be an independent audit.
… The FLA inspection also revealed that “more than 43 percent of the workers report that they have experienced or witnessed an accident,” and “a considerable number of workers felt generally insecure regarding their health and safety,” especially pertaining to aluminum dust, which caused an explosion at a factory in the city of Chengdu in 2011 that killed four workers and injured 77, as the New York Times reported.

Apple’s Own Published Standards Violated Chinese Law!
Chinese law limits weekly work time to 49 hours but “industry code” and Apple’s standards limits weekly hours to 60. That Apple’s (and other companies) own published standards violate even Chinese law demonstrates they were aware they were ignoring the law and using what they could get out of the workers. It demonstrates that these companies are knowingly engaged in illegal exploitation of workers, for profit. It also demonstrates that the Chinese government has been ignoring its own laws.
HuffPo: Foxconn Apple Factories Violated Chinese Labor Laws, According To Fair Labor Association

The Washington-based Fair Labor Association says Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the Taiwanese company that runs the factories, is committing to reducing weekly work time to the legal Chinese maximum of 49 hours.
That limit is routinely ignored in factories throughout China. Auret van Heerden, the CEO of the FLA, said Hon Hai is the first company to commit to following the legal standard.
Apple’s and FLA’s own guidelines call for work weeks of 60 hours or less.

In a PR attempt to soften the impact of the FLA report, Apple’s suppliers made promises to improve.
NY Times, Electronic Giant Vowing Reforms in China Plants,

Responding to a critical investigation of its factories, the manufacturing giant Foxconn has pledged to sharply curtail working hours and significantly increase wages inside Chinese plants making electronic products for Apple and others. The move could improve working conditions across China.

And, get this, they promise to start obeying the law — by July of next year,

Foxconn’s promises include a commitment that by July of next year, no worker will labor for more than 49 hours per week — the limit set by Chinese law.

WaPo: Pledge by Apple’s iPhone manufacturer in China could set off new round of wage hikes,

Foxconn, owned by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., promised to limit hours while keeping total pay the same, effectively paying more per hour. Foxconn is one of China’s biggest employers, with 1.2 million workers who also assemble products for Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

From the HuffPo story,

“The report will include new promises by Apple that stand to be just as empty as the ones made over the past 5 years,” said, a coalition of trade unions and consumer groups, ahead of the release of the report.

And from the TPM story,

“For months now, members have been calling on Apple to clean up the working conditions in its supply chain in time to produce the next iPhone be the first ethical iPhone,” the spokesperson told TPM, “That hasn’t changed at all. Our campaign is going to continue until real workers see real improvements — and so far Apple has been all talk and no action.”

We’ll See
This is one of those “believe it when we see it” situations. Phrases like “lip service” come to mind. We’ll see. Apple’s supplier promises to start obeying the lay — by July of next year! Wow.
But here is a question: where is our government on this? American companies are breaking laws overseas, exploiting workers and violating human rights standards. They are hoarding the resulting cash offshore to avoid paying their taxes, when we have a national deficit. These actions by these companies are wiping out our jobs and communities. Where is our government on this?
Click here to see the Fair Labor Association report.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Free Trade Or Democracy, Can’t Have Both

Recent stories about the conditions of Apple’s contractors in China have opened many people’s eyes about where our jobs, factories, industries and economy have been going, and why. The stories exposed that workers live 6-to-12-to-a-room in dormitories, get rousted at midnight to work surprise 12-hour shifts, get paid very little, use toxic chemicals, suffer extreme pollution of the environment, etc. Is this “trade?” Or is it something else?
Is This “Trade?”
“Trade” means to exchange, to buy and sell, you buy from me and I buy from you. I have something you want and you have something I want, and we exchange. We both end up better off than where we started.
Is it “trade” to close a factory here and move it to a country where people don’t have a say? It is “trade” to just move all of the machines from a factory here to a factory there, send the same parts and raw materials over there, and then bring bring back whatever it was the factory used to make and sell it in the same places here? Is that really “trade?” Or would another word be more appropriate?
When People Have A Say
When people have a say we insist on good wages, benefits, safe working conditions, and a clean environment. We even go so far as to say we want good public schools, parks and opportunities for our smaller businesses. When We, the People have a say we get so uppity and ask for the most outrageous things!
Efficiency vs. Humanity
Yes, countries where people do not have a say are more “efficient” and “business friendly.” Countries where people do not have a say can make things at a much lower cost than workers where people have rights. But when we let exploitation of human beings be a competitive advantage it undermines our own democracy. It means that democracy is a competitive disadvantage in world markets.
We Can’t “Compete” With This, We Have To Fight It
Let’s get right to the core of this. Suppose the South actually did rise again, and they reimposed all-out slavery. Would it be “trade” to close factories here and move them south, so the companies would have lower costs?
When we allow companies to just import stuff that is made by exploited workers in countries where people do not have a say, we are granting not-having-a-say an advantage over having a say. We make democracy a competitive disadvantage.
This Is About Preserving Democracy, Not About “Trade”
How often do you come across arguments that “globalization” and “free trade” mean that America’s workers have to accept that the days of good-paying jobs and US-based manufacturing are over? We hear that countries like China are more “competitive.” We hear that “trade” means that because it’s cheaper to make things over there we all benefit from lower-cost goods that we import.
How often do you hear that we need to cut wages and benefits, work longer hours, get rid of overtime and sick pay? They say we should shed unions, get rid of environmental and safety regulations, gut government services, and especially, especially, especially we should cut taxes.
What they are saying is that we need to shed our democracy, to be more competitive.
P.S. Tell Congress and the White House to Stop China’s Illegal and Unfair Trade Practices
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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China Is Very “Business-Friendly”

China is very, very “business-friendly.” Corporate conservatives lecture us that we should be more “business-friendly,” in order to “compete” with China. They say we need to cut wages and benefits, work longer hours, get rid of overtime and sick pay — even lunch breaks. They say we should shed unions, get rid of environmental and safety regulations, gut government services, and especially, especially, especially we should cut taxes. But America can never be “business-friendly” enough to compete with China, and here is why.
Workers In Dormatories, 12 To A Room, Rousted At Midnight
China is very, very “business friendly.” Recent stories about Apple’s manufacturing contractors have started to reveal just how “business-friendly” China is. Recently the NY Times’ Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher exposed the conditions of workers at Apple’s Chinese suppliers, in How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. They describe how China’s massive government subsidies and exploitation of workers mean, as Steve Jobs told President Obama, “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”

One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. … New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Right. No American plant can roust workers out of nearby dorms at midnight to force them onto a 12-hour shift. And the corporate conservatives criticize America for this, not China, saying we are not “business-friendly” enough to compete. This is because we are a place where We, the People still have at least some say in how things are done. (Don’t we?) Later in the story,

The first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones.

“Business-friendly” = living 12 to a room in dorms, rousted out of bed at midnight for 12-hour shifts, working in a plant paid for by the government, using a neurotoxin cleaner that harms people but enables more production for companies like Apple.
Forced Labor Is The Real “Business-Friendly”
Arun Gupta at AlterNet, in iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think, writes,

Researchers with the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) say that legions of vocational and university students, some as young as 16, are forced to take months’-long “internships” in Foxconn’s mainland China factories assembling Apple products. The details of the internship program paint a far more disturbing picture than the Times does of how Foxconn, “the Chinese hell factory,” treats its workers, relying on public humiliation, military discipline, forced labor and physical abuse as management tools to hold down costs and extract maximum profits for Apple.
… Foxconn and Apple depend on tax breaks, repression of labor, subsidies and Chinese government aid, including housing, infrastructure, transportation and recruitment, to fatten their corporate treasuries. As the students function as seasonal employees to meet increased demand for new product rollouts, Apple is directly dependent on forced labor.
… The use of hundreds of thousands of students is one way in which China’s state regulates labor in the interests of Foxconn and Apple. Other measures include banning independent unions and enforcing a household registration system that denies migrants social services and many political rights once they leave their home region, ensuring they can be easily exploited. In Shenzhen about 85 percent of the 14 million residents are migrants. Migrants work on average 286 hours a month and earn less than 60 percent of what urban workers make. Half of migrants are owed back wages and only one in 10 has health insurance. They are socially marginalized, live in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions, perform the most dangerous and deadly jobs, and are more vulnerable to crime.

Please read the entire AlterNet piece, iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think. These things are not “costs” that we can compete with by lowering our wages, these things are something else.
Not JUST Low Taxes — Massive Government Subsidies
These stories also describe how the Chinese government massively subsidizes these operations, assists their low-wage labor-recruitment schemes, and looks the other way at violations of labor and trade policies. The Chinese government is very “business-friendly.” They hand money to businesses so they are much more able to “compete.” They are so friendly to business that they even own many businesses.
Trade Secret Theft
Another area where China has very “business-friendly” policies is when their own businesses steal from non-Chinese businesses. This NY Times story, U.S. to Share Cautionary Tale of Trade Secret Theft With Chinese Official details just one case of the “unbelievably endemic” problem of Chinese theft of “intellectual property” — the trade secrets that keep businesses competitive. In this case China’s Sinovel sole the software that ran an American company’s products, and immediately cancelled their orders for those products because they could now make them in China:

Last March, China’s Sinovel, the world’s second largest wind turbine manufacturer, abruptly refused shipments of American Superconductor’s wind turbine electrical systems and control software. The blow was devastating; Sinovel provided more than 70 percent of the firm’s revenues.
… Last summer, evidence emerged that Sinovel had promised $1.5 million to Dejan Karabasevic, a Serbian employee of American Superconductor in Austria.

If you steal the ideas, processes, techniques, expertise, plans, designs, software and the other things that give companies a competitive edge, then you don’t have to pay them and you can just make the things yourself. When you get in bed with a very “business-friendly” country, you might find that they are more friendly to their own businesses. Because they consider themselves to be a country with a national strategy, not a self-balancing, self-regulating “market.”
Trade Deficit Drains Our Economy
As a result of our ideological blindness, refusing to understand China’s game, we have a massive trade deficit with them. This means hundreds of billions of dollars are drained from our economy, year after year. And to make up for this we borrow from them in order to keep buying from them. But this does not cause their currency to strengthen in the “markets” because China loves this game the way it is going, and intervenes against the markets to keep their currency low. And so it continues, year after year. We believe in “markets” they believe in rigging markets so they come out ahead…
Markets Can’t “Compete” With This
Corporate conservatives tell us we need to be more “business-friendly” to “compete” with China. But at the same time Steve Jobs was being a realist when he said “the jobs are never coming back” because he understood that the current political climate, controlled by a wealthy few who benefit from China’s “business-friendly” policies will not let us fight this. Why should these companies bring jobs back here, when over there they can roust thousands from dorms at midnight and make them use toxic chemicals for 12 hours a day for very low pay to make iPhone screens that he can sell at fantastically high prices? Why should they, unless We, the People tell them they can’t do that to people, and that we won’t let them profit from it?
As long as we continue to think that this is about “markets” competing, we will lose. China sees itself as a nation, and they have a national strategy to continue to be so “business-friendly” that our businesses can’t compete. Our leaders and corporations may have “moved on” past this quaint nation thing but China has not.
We, The People Need To Act To Fix This
As long as we continue to send our companies out there alone against national economic strategies that engage entire national systems utilizing the resources of nations, our companies will lose. But the executives at those companies are currently getting very rich now from these schemes, so what happens in the future is not their problem. Maybe the companies they manage won’t be around later, but that is not their problem. Others are concerned, but are forced to play the game because no one can compete with national systems like China’s.
When everyone is in a position where something isn’t their problem, or where they can’t do anything about it on their own, it means this is a larger problem, and this is where government — We, the People — needs to get involved. It is our problem but we have been convinced that we — government — shouldn’t interfere, or “protect” our industries, because “the markets” don’t like “government” — We, the People — butting in. This is a very convenient viewpoint for few who are geting very, very wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
We Need A Plan
In U.S. must end China’s rulers’ free pass at Politico, AAM’s Scott Paul writes, Read it, read it, read it!)

We shouldn’t fear China’s citizens. But we should be worried about the actions of its authoritarian — and, yes, still communist — regime that tightly controls the People’s Republic. And we should be downright terrified by some of our own leaders’ attitudes toward China.
… China is not merely the key U.S. supplier of cheap toys, clothing and electronics: Its government is also one of our foreign financiers. China achieved this status by defying the free market and its international obligations toward more open trade and investment.
[. . .] History didn’t do in the Soviet Union. A sustained and aggressive strategy did. China engaged our business and political elites — and seduced them into believing these policies were no longer necessary.
… There has been no strategy, no effort to prevail economically.
… No one is suggesting that China is an enemy and we should just update our Cold War strategies. No one can accurately define what China’s intentions are in terms of foreign policy or defense. But on the economic front, the lessons of the past are instructive: We need a plan.

We need a plan. We need to understand that China is not competing with us in “markets’ they are competing with us as a nation. We need a national economic/industrial strategy that understands the urgent need to fight as a country to win the industries of the future.
It’s not just price, it is things a democracy cannot allow. We can’t ever be “business-friendly” ENOUGH. We have to do something else. We have to understand that We, the People — the 99% — are in a real fight here to keep our democracy, or we will lose what is left of it.
Democracy Is The Best Economics
When people have a say they demand good wages, benefits, reasonable working conditions, a clean environment, workplace safety and dignity on the job. We need more of that, not less of that. We must demand that goods made in places where people who do not have a say do not have a competitive advantage over goods made in places where people do have a say. And we must demand that those places give their people a say.
As long as we let democracy be a competitive disadvantage, We, the People will lose.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Apple’s New Tiny, Thin Notebook Computer

Who will buy Apple’s new expensive, ultrathin laptop? It doesn’t even have a CD drive! This post gets it exactly right: Why does the MacBook Air make so many so dumb?

… [T]his notebook will be Apple’s next step in a strategy to infiltrate the enterprise.
[. . .] [T]he MacBook Air is aimed at a narrow upscale segment of the market. These customers care about style and what that style says about them. It’s all a part of their personal brand.
. . . When they open this machine at a meeting, it may say more about them than a $300 haircut, or a bespoke suit.
Will these users worry about connecting FireWire for digital video or external storage? They may worry more that a heavy briefcase filled with a heavy notebook could wrinkle their suit before a meeting. Listen, if one of these persons needs an power outlet because the battery is heading towards critical, someone will find them an outlet. And besides, there’s plenty of juice for notebooks and mimosas in the first class cabin.
What’s great about the MacBook Air is that this machine appears to be a new twist in Apple’s stealth campaign into the enterprise. The MacBook Air is all about switchers.
Who will be customers of this classy machine? Captains of enterprise and commerce. Traditionally, these customers have been Windows users. But now they will buy Apple’s new ultralight and join the ranks of switchers.

Yes, that’s me all right.
But I do want one.

Macworld Expo

I went to Macworld Expo yesterday. Here are my notes.
Boring show, many companies not there. Many booths selling luggage. Lots of empty space. Average attendee age 50+. Ecosystem is dying. The second hall didn’t have paying companies at all, was dedicated to lots of chairs while someone showed how to edit photos…
the iPhone looks great – extremely expensive, is it true only Cingular will have it? Ugh. Isn’t that what they call an attractive nuisance — luring people into something that can harm them?
… later:
The Mac ecosystem did NOT look healthy. Few 3rd-party products at all. Apple itself is clearly refocusing on consumer goods. They even took “computer” out of the name. Must have been ten booths offering iPod skins.
Several companies showing products not related to Mac or iPod – like cameras. Several booths of printers, some also sell cameras.
Apple understands that people are locked into their software, especially if they have paid their thousands and thousands for the Adobe monopoly and the upgrade payment scheme. So instead of boosting market share they stick it to the users who are stuck. I saw an ad in the paper – PC desktops with everything including 19 inch LCD monitors were $700, a Mac desktop was $2500. Etc…
Update – One more thing. The Apple TV device — I still can’t figure out what it does. It does NOT have a TV tuner. It does not do what a Tivo does. It doesn’t do what Windows Media Center does. It has a hard drive and wireless. An Apple marketing guy was explaining it to me and he couldn’t come up with a coherent explanation. He kept talking about how it lets me show things that I have to PAY FOR from iTunes, on my big TV. It appears to be a scheme to get me into one more subscription service that drains my checking account every month. I think.

Buying Music Online

My wife said this the other day:

“I will never buy another album online again. I feel ripped off. All I got are some lines on my iTunes. When I buy a CD I have the CD and I can do what I want with it. I don’t want to look at pictures of albums someone is trying to get me to buy. I don’t want anything where people are trying to get me to buy something and I don’t want to pay another subscription fee. I want to see and feel the music I have.”

That was all BEFORE what happened last night.
My wife is in a belly-dance troupe and they rehearse at our house. Each week she burns a CD of the night’s dance music and puts in into the little stereo in the rehearsal room because the speakers are loud enough for the dance practice, and the buttons for replay, advance, etc. are easy to use. But last night the computer refused to make the CD. It said she had already burned seven CDs with a certain tune on them. She had purchased the album containing that tune at iTunes. ‘Rented’ might be a better term than purchased, I guess. Or maybe I should say that she was alowed to listen to it a few times, for her money.
Do I need to add that now she is even less thrilled with the idea of getting her music online?