Financial Securities Article Assignment
Apple’s China factory conditions
By Peter Nowak – January 31, 2012
The New York Times tried to stir things up over the weekend with a lengthy
investigation into the working conditions at Apple’s manufacturing plants in China.
The story detailed all the gruesome details at supplier companies such as Foxconn:
unsafe working environments, unfair overtime, overcrowding in dormitories, violations
of employments codes and so on.
It’s a damning story, intended to appeal to peoples’ consciences when it comes to the
electronics they buy. It is, after all, hard to feel warm and fuzzy about your
new iPad when you think of the human cost that went into making it.
But the article is also a good example of tall poppy syndrome, where the media builds
someone or something up, only to cut them down. Few newspapers have
cheered Apple on more over the years than the Times‘ through columnists such
as David Pogue, who frequently gets accused of being a fanboy. It’s funny, then, that
the factory story contains little context and historical perspective.
For one, there’s little mention of what Foxconn employees make and how that
compares to the average Chinese worker. Such details are a little harder to find in
mainstream media articles, which seem to relish in reporting just how bad workers at
Apple’s suppliers have it.
The Times story cites one worker who makes about $22 (U.S.) a day, or about $400 a
month, which is close to other examples. The most recent story I could find, on
ITProPortal from a year ago, reported that Foxconn was luring workers to its factory in
Wuhan – a city of 9 million roughly right in the middle of the country – with a monthly
salary of about $420. The average salary in the city, meanwhile, is $224, which
means Foxconn pays its employees about 86% more than the typical worker. That
particular factory also pays about 18% higher than the national average, according
The numbers jibe with a similar story on Foxconn’s Shenzhen factory that appeared
in Wired a year ago. Writer Joel Johnson got a fuller picture than the Times did by
speaking with a Taiwanese guide named Paul and others:
Paul has seen his share of factories in Shenzhen over the years. I ask him about
Foxconn, and he echoes the sentiment I’ve heard from others: Whatever problems Shangara Flora
Foxconn has, it’s still one of the top places to work in the area. “In terms of
infrastructure, Foxconn is by far the best factory in China,” he says.
That’s a perspective that shouldn’t be forgotten by those looking to damn Foxconn
and Apple by association. Working conditions are clearly not up to the same level as
those in the West, but that’s an impossible expectation since China is still a
developing country.These are the same, or possibly even better conditions than many
Western counties had during their development.
Obviously, every effort should be made to continually improve the situation, but the
real question media should be asking is whether Chinese workers are better off for
those factories being there in the first place.
I’ve never been to a Foxconn factory but I did travel all around China in the year that I
lived there. After seeing the astonishing depths of poverty in rural areas, particularly
in the west, there’s no question that many people living and working in the relatively
modern urban hubs of the east have it better.
The situation is similar when it comes to global warming. The U.S. and other Western
governments have beenquick to condemn China on its greenhouse gas emissions, but
Chinese officials are right to point out that their country has a right to go through the
same growing pains as developed nations did during their own industrialization.
There’s certainly room for improvement but when it comes to things such as labour
conditions and pollution, it’s hypocritical for Western governments and media to play
the blame-and-shame game with China, not to mention their own companies that
operate there. Shangara Flora
Apple’s China factory conditions need perspective
This article outlines an investigation by the New York Times into the working conditions
of Foxconn employees at Apple Inc’s manufacturing plants throughout China. Similarily to some
of the world’s largest corporations such as Nike, Enron or Shell, Apple is also leaving its millions
of consumers second guessing the right in enjoying their products when it may have been produced
at the expense of another human being.
The overwhelming ethical issue is that employees at Foxconn plants are being exploited,
and maximizing profit for Apple is being prioritized ahead of the safety of its employees. This is
an issue that addresses the wellbeing of human beings and disregards the general rights of a
worker, such as work breaks and safe working conditions. In addition, the wage rates these
employees are receiving are not reflective of their hard work or, the profits that Apple will make.
These employees may not have other job options, which enable large corporations to take
advantage of them.
The complexity within this issue is that Apple has an obligation to fulfill the interests of
various stakeholders, such as company shareholders, consumers and potential investors. Their
primary focus may lie in maximizing profits, which can only be attained from making extensive
use of much cheaper labour abroad in China manufacturing plants. In addition, the estimated 22$
per day that employees receive is in fact much higher than other manufacturing jobs in China. It
can be argued that these workers are not experiencing conditions as poor and intolerable as other
workers. However, the fact that the 22$ per day is in fact 86% less than the average legal worker in
China limits such an argument. Similarly to many business ethics issues, by placing more emphasis
on better wages and working condition