Apple Fights Back over iPod Factory Claims

You may have read about a report in the UK’s Mail on Sunday ‘newspaper’ at the weekend, entitled ‘iPod City’. The article described working conditions in a factory in China in which they make, among other things, iPods.

It detailed the conditions under which workers lived and performed their duties, and how much they are paid. To anyone who has ever visited a factory in China or read about one, there was nothing new in the story. To me, it seemed to be a pretty scurrilous attempt by a tabloid newspaper to create a scandal on the back of the iPod’s fame in order to sell copies. What was disappointing was the way in which it was picked up and reported by websites without any comment on the source or the context. Macworld UK and MacNN, in particular seemed happy to re-print the accusations verbatim.

Now Apple has responded saying “Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible.”

It also points anyone who’s interested to its code of conduct for suppliers which can be read here

If you read the code you’ll see that it’s very specific on the living and working conditions of suppliers’ employees. Apple has also said that it is investigating the allegations made in the story and I, for one, am pretty confident that if it finds breaches of the code of conduct, it will take action.

Now I don’t know whether the Mail on Sunday attempted to get comment from Apple for the story. Having dealt with Apple many times in the last ten years, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had and Apple had refused to say anything. Equally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the MoS decide that the story wouldn’t be quite so dramatic if it included a line saying that Apple was very strict about suppliers conduct and would investigate the claims.

Now that Apple has made it clear publicly how seriously it takes the conditions of workers in its suppliers’ factories, what are the chances of the Mail on Sunday running a follow-up? No, thought not.

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9 Responses to “Apple Fights Back over iPod Factory Claims”

  1. Christiaan Says:

    Apple has also said that it is investigating the allegations made in the story and I, for one, am pretty confident that if it finds breaches of the code of conduct, it will take action.

    Of course they’re going to investigate. If they ignored it they would have a public relations disaster cooked to perfection. It will be interesting to see if it takes another newspaper to find out if they’re open with their findings.

    Apple has responded saying “Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible.” … Now that Apple has made it clear publicly how seriously it takes the conditions of workers in its suppliers’ factories …

    So Apple makes a PR statement and you consider this evidence that they’re serious about the treatment of workers?

    Isn’t it more likely, being that they’re a profit-driven organisation, that first and foremost they’re serious about making profits and that they’re therefore serious about anything that may hinder that goal, such as, say, a public relations disaster, or maybe even decent workers wages?

    If Apple are so serious about the lives of its assembly workers why wasn’t Apple monitoring this in the first place? Why did it take a newspaper to divulge this information? These are questions worth asking yourself if it turns out that the Mail on Sunday was correct.

  2. JB Says:

    First, I have not visited the factory in question but I can add some answers in general. But yes, before you leap to any conclusions, there are facts to consider. The cost of living is vastly different. I’m Chinese-American and I actually ate a breakfast with my family) for $1 TOTAL or $.25 each for dim sum. Now, that is not typical but that should give you an idea - even the cheapest breakfast at McD’s will set you back $15 for 4 people (and yes, there are plenty of McD’s in China) … the factories that I have seen and visted are not Dickension - they’re not particularly exciting … they are giant Ikea looking buildings and the dorms are like dorms or summer camps of 50 years ago. They get 3 meals a day and medical care. Are there abuses and unfair bosses? I’m sure there are - just like anywhere in the world. China is really fascinating because it’s 1910, 1855 and 2006 all going on at the same time … it’s 1910 in this situation - it is like the industrial revolution where instead of working the small family farm and literally making pennies per day, here is an opportunity to make much more. Of course, there is a tradeoff. You have to leave your home and go work in a factory - it’s not a great deal of money to you or I but you can literally make more in a month than your family farm can in a year - do you do it? And there is opportunity. If you are good, you get promoted to superviser, shift manager, etc … and actually, there is a shortage of factory workers so there is even job opportunities to move around for a pay raise. You have a place to live, eat, a uniform and not much privavcy and yes, you do have to take the bus into town to get anything else but is that better or worse than working the family farm or being unemployed in some small town? But the upside is maybe you also learn what you loath - like working for others and being a factory employee … and that’s the part of China in 1955 or 2006. You can save some money, pool some money with family and start your own business. just like the seeds of the industrai revolution sowned the sees of entrepenurship and easier credit … in Shanghai, there are 4,000 skyscrapers and another 1,000 going up this year - the peope who start out at factories … at least the smart & interested ones are going to move into those next and then who knows … no one is saying it’s not hard work to be at the factory but you do have to see what the alternatives are … just like the coal miners here in West Virginia or the crab fisherman of Alaska … people do what they can to make a living …

  3. mac4xpd Says:

    If they ignored it they would have a public relations disaster cooked to perfection.

    No, I don’t think they would. Most people, in the UK at least, understand the Mail on Sunday’s agenda and it would have been old news by the weekend.

    So Apple makes a PR statement and you consider this evidence that they’re serious about the treatment of workers?

    Yes - until I see something that gives me reason to believe otherwise.

    Isn’t it more likely, being that they’re a profit-driven organisation, that first and foremost they’re serious about making profits and that they’re therefore serious about anything that may hinder that goal, such as, say, a public relations disaster, or maybe even decent workers wages?

    No, I don’t believe Apple is that cynical.

    If Apple are so serious about the lives of its assembly workers why wasn’t Apple monitoring this in the first place?

    I’m sure that it was. We only have the Mail on Sunday’s version of events at the moment, and that’s not something I’d give a great deal of credence to. You seem happy to accuse Apple fo the cynical pursuit of profits but believe that the MoS is some sort of guardian of ethics.

    Why did it take a newspaper to divulge this information?

    It didn’t. Conidtions in Chinese factories aren’t exactly a state secret. They’re well-known. Anyone could have visited the factory in question at any time and told the story. The fact that the Mail on Sunday did was more to do with its own desire to sell newspapers than anyything else. It’s been quite happy to publish positive iPod stories whenever it thinks it would be advantageous, Now it senses there is a turning of the tide against iTunes and the iPod, and, in typical British newspaper fashion, it’s decided to turn hero into villain.

    I have no doubt that the conditions in the factories that make iPods are way below what most of us in the West would be happy with. But that’s the same for all factories in the Far East. You’re naive if you think otherwise. By all means criticise Apple, but remember to criticise every other consumer electronics and mass-market cothing manufacturer while you’re at it.

  4. Christiaan Says:

    It had already been reported on Wired and popular Mac sites. Google “iPod City”. The story had traction. Apple could not ignore it. Period.

    As to Apple not being “cynical”. It’s not about cynicism. Apple, by law, is first and foremost required to make profits. That’s how the system works. You’re living a in a fantasy world if you believe otherwise.

    As to my last two questions, as I said, “These are questions worth asking yourself if it turns out that the Mail on Sunday was correct,” so instead of falsing asserting that I accused Apple of anything, or going off on a rant trying to minimise Apple’s alleged collusion with sweatshops, why don’t you wait until there’s more information?

  5. mac4xpd Says:

    Apple could not ignore it.

    Apple and many other companies frequently ignore stories about them that are copied and pasted from site to site. They always go away eventually. Don’t think that just becasue Wired or The Guardian or Macworld pick up on a story and re-print it that it has substance. They don’t re-check the original sources, so there’s no more substance in their copy than in the original story.

    Apple, by law, is first and foremost required to make profits. That’s how the system works.

    No, it’s not. Check your facts. Apple is by law required to act in the best interests of its shareholders. Sure, making a profit is part of that. But so is long term growth, strengthening the brand, and protecting the good name of the company.

    so instead of falsing asserting that I accused Apple of anything

    You said:

    Isn’t it more likely, being that they’re a profit-driven organisation, that first and foremost they’re serious about making profits and that they’re therefore serious about anything that may hinder that goal, such as, say, a public relations disaster, or maybe even decent workers wages?

    In my book, that’s an accusation.

    “These are questions worth asking yourself if it turns out that the Mail on Sunday was correct,”

    Correct about what? That Apple uses Foxconn, one of the biggest contractors in China, to produce iPods. Or that conditions in Foxconn’s factories are no better than every other factory in China? Do you own a mobile phone, a fridge, a TV? Where was it made and under what conditions.

    If the MoS had been interested in publishing a balanced story it would have referred to Apple’s Terms and Consitions for suppliers and quoted the relevant clauses. It would also have pointed out that Fosconn’s working conditions are fairly standard in China and it would have made the points that JB makes in the comment above.

  6. Christiaan Says:

    Apple and many other companies frequently ignore stories … Don’t think that just becasue Wired or The Guardian or Macworld pick up on a story and re-print it that it has substance.

    You’re missing the point as to why it would be a public relations disaster for Apple. Apple’s self-image is one of “hip,” which doesn’t gel while with “low, even for China” “sweatshop exploitation.”

    But so is long term growth, strengthening the brand, and protecting the good name of the company.

    Heh, yes, all in order to make more profits. Capitalist institutions and actual laws ensure that profits are the main driver of business. Really, you’re living in a fantasy world if you think otherwise.

    In my book, that’s an accusation.

    If your book says a question is an accusation then you need to revise your book.

    Correct about what? That Apple uses Foxconn, one of the biggest contractors in China, to produce iPods. Or that conditions in Foxconn’s factories are no better than every other factory in China? Do you own a mobile phone, a fridge, a TV? Where was it made and under what conditions.

    If the MoS had been interested in publishing a balanced story it would have referred to Apple’s Terms and Consitions for suppliers and quoted the relevant clauses. It would also have pointed out that Fosconn’s working conditions are fairly standard in China and it would have made the points that JB makes in the comment above.

    The point of the story was that wages and conditions were “low, even for China.”

    Don’t you think it’s a little contradictory to conclude that it’s “scurrilous” that a paper makes a “scandal on the back of the iPod’s fame in order to sell copies” while you simultaneously dismiss Apple’s exploitation of workers to make profit as “nothing new” and then go on to admit that you think Apple are “serious” about the treatment of workers on the basis of a PR statement?

  7. Christiaan Says:

    By the way, how do you correlate your comment that you’re “pretty confident that if it finds breaches of the code of conduct, it will take action” with “I’m sure that [Apple was monitoring the working lives of its assembly workers].”

    If you’re “sure” Apple was monitoring working conditions why do you entertain the idea that they might find a breach of their code of conduct?

  8. mac4xpd Says:

    Christiaan - I’ve read your blog. I know your agenda. Specifically this:

    The marketplace of ideas, like any marketplace, is fit only for looting.

    Nothing I say is ever going to convince you that anything to do with capitalism could ever be good.

    For the record. Yes, a question can be an accusation. In the same way that adding the word ‘allegedly’ is no protection from a defamation claim, adding a question mark doesn’t absolve from you the responsibility of making an accusatory statement.

    Are the wages ‘low even for China’? Do you know that for a fact, or are you taking the MoS’s word for it?

    Whay are you so keen to believe a scandal rag, yet dismiss Apple’s comment as a ‘PR statement’? The MoS is quite happy to ignore the exploitation of Chinese workers who make the DVDs and CDs they give away with the newspaper. They’re quite happy to run competitions for prizes made in ’sweatshops’ and accept advertising from companies whose records are far worse than Apple’s. What is it about the MoS that makes you so keen to take their word?

    If you’re “sure” Apple was monitoring working conditions why do you entertain the idea that they might find a breach of their code of conduct?

    The clue is in your statement, but if you’re still unsure, look up ‘monitor’ and ‘investigate’ in the dictionary and compare their definitions.

    Finally - who makes the computer you use? Who makes the machines that your blog is hosted on? Who makes your monitor? Where do they make them and what are the conditions like in the factories?

    As you’ll see if you re-rea my original post, I don’t defend the poor conditions in factories in the Far East, I merely think it’s cheap to single out Apple purely because the iPod is popular.

  9. Christiaan Says:

    For the record. Yes, a question can be an accusation.

    Then read my question again. For the record it’s not an accusation. It was a question directed at you.

    Are the wages ‘low even for China’? Do you know that for a fact, or are you taking the MoS’s word for it?

    Of course I don’t know for a fact either way, and nor have I said or implied that I did. In fact it’s implicit in my posts that I don’t have this information.

    Whay are you so keen to believe a scandal rag, yet dismiss Apple’s comment as a ‘PR statement’?

    I don’t “believe” either party. I started commenting here because I was surprised you were so willing to believe Apple without any evidence (in fact evidence, however badly motivated, to the contrary), dismissing the report as “scurrilous,” the abuse as “nothing new” and holding Apple up as “serious” about the worker’s conditions.

    I merely think it’s cheap to single out Apple purely because the iPod is popular.

    Don’t you think that’s a little naive? The more lucrative a company is the more impact they have and the more high profile a company is the more likely a story about their abuses will get traction and have some effect, maybe on other less well known companies too.

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