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VIDEO: Here Is What Unregulated, Non-Unionized Capitalism Looks Like: Apple’s iFactory In China

by on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm EDT in Economy, Labor, Politics

Suicide nets under every window.

Conservatives have long derided organized labor and business regulations as some sort of insidious ‘socialist’ cancer that stymies innovation, fleeces hardworking business owners, crushes prosperity and investment capital, and dampens economies with high inflation and high unemployment.

They contend that when corporations are left unburdened by oversight and regulations, to pursue their own profit-maximizing interests, that this will always — as if by an invisible magical hand — optimize the interests of the society in which they operate. 

Obscenely naive or deeply disingenuous, this ideology has been disproved over and over again, since the beginning of the industrial age. In a global economy, the moment a nation catches on — usually when its citizens’ quality of life deteriorates to the point of social unrest — and moves to remedy the situation with more regulations, and by easing organized labor restrictions, the corporations begin to look around to other developing countries for exploitative opportunities.

This now familiar business cycle is especially prominent in sectors that require an educated and highly skilled workforce. This is because higher education is generally funded, not by corporations or government, but by labor itself. This limits the supply of skilled labor, and forces corporations to compete with one another for these self-educated workers, thereby pushing wages upwards.

But unlike labor, who are restricted by national borders in search for employment, corporations are free to roam the world for cheap labor. And corporations have no loyalty to the citizens who reside within the countries they operate. Why pay a premium for an employee with a unique level of expertise, when potential employees with similar skill-sets are being grotesquely undervalued overseas? After all, a corporation’s charter commands it to exploit resources and labor as cheaply as is possible in order to maximize profits. 

At the moment, China happens to be one of those developing nations with a massive poverty-stricken population — ripe for corporate exploitation. 

And what better iconic ‘American’ corporation, but Apple — manufacturer of the world’s most beloved technology products and gadgets — to demonstrate this corporate flight towards labor-exploitative opportunities.

China is a country which conservatives would consider an ideal, unregulated, business-friendly environment. Rather than demanding China raise its labor standards, conservatives would rather weaken U.S. labor standards to be more like China. The conservative plan for bringing jobs home is little more than a race to the bottom. By union busting, cutting government jobs, and further deregulation, American workers will find themselves as powerless and exploitable as our counterparts in developing countries. This, they believe, will make America more ‘competitive.’ This is their ‘free market’ ideology, in a nutshell.

In the following video, ABC’s Nightline was granted unprecedented access to Apple’s factories (owned by FoxCon) inside China. When you see the conditions in which these employees operate, you realize why decent paying American jobs are disappearing, and, as Apple’s recently-deceased CEO admitted to President Obama, “they aren’t coming back.” You begin to understand why young Americans are now questioning whether it even makes economic sense to assume huge amounts of debt in pursuit of higher education.

If you take one thing away from this video, I hope it is that this is not merely an American problem. It is a world problem. The only way to raise the living standards of Americans will be to raise it for everyone else in the world, because this is truly a global economy. And that process begins with rewriting all of our trade deals in ways that empower workers in every single nation, across the world. 

Some highlights from Nightline’s reporting:

  • Apple’s Chinese employees work 12-hour shifts, broken up by two-hour meal breaks, and often seven days per week.
  • Employees work so long and so hard on the assembly line, that most eat their 70 cent meals at the company canteen quickly, so they can catch up on lost sleep at their work stations. (the video shows them all sleeping side-by-side during their lunch break)
  • Many employees live in dorm rooms, shared by seven other workers, and will each pay $17.50 per month for this. This allows Apple to have workers on-call 24-7, in case they ever need to quickly scale-up production, at a moment’s notice.
  • Most employees have left their families to work here.
  • Suicide nets‘ have been installed under the windows of all FoxCon employees to prevent them from killing themselves. A year ago, nine employees jumped to their deaths in the span of 3 months.
  • Last year, poorly ventilated aluminum ducts, which the company had been warned about by human rights groups (an accusation the company does not deny), caused two separate explosions in iPad polishing stations, killing four employees and injuring seventy-seven.
  • Literally thousands of people (over three thousand on this particular Monday) line up daily at FoxCon’s recruitment center, waiting hours on end, and many carrying suitcases. They are desperate to work there for $1.78 per hour. Demand for Apple products is so high, that FoxCon will hire 80% of them.
  • To help manage the controversy that erupted after the NY Times’ recent article, In China, Human Costs Are Built Into An iPod, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association. But Apple paid the group $250k to join, and also pays for all its pre-arranged — never by surprise — audits, leading many to believe there is a deep conflict of interest, and is little more than a ploy to whitewash their labor practices.
  • ABC revealed most all of the employees they spoke with complained about their low-pay, expensive lunch prices, and crowded dorms, but there was nothing they could do about it, as unions don’t exist there.

Sounds like a Conservative Utopia!



Why Is Chris Hedges A Lone Voice In Criticizing Huffington Post’s Business Model?

by on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 11:37 am EDT in Politics, Writing

Chris Hedges’ new TruthDig column, Huffington’s Plunder, raises a topic that seems to provoke a lot of uneasiness in the liberal blogosphere. It points a spotlight on the business model pioneered by one of the country’s most prominent progressive voices, Arianna Huffington.

Huffington recently released a book entitled “Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream”. In it she argues that our trade and economic policies have focused on corporate profits at the expense of the American worker. She posted at the Huffington Post her reasons for writing the book. Here, she describes a rigged system:

it’s become a bad carnival game where the rich always get the grand prize and the average American walks away empty-handed.

Hedges criticizes Huffington for engaging in the exact same business practices that she publicly denounces:

Any business owner who uses largely unpaid labor, with a handful of underpaid, nonunion employees, to build a company that is sold for a few hundred million dollars, no matter how he or she is introduced to you on the television screen, is not a liberal or a progressive. Those who take advantage of workers, whatever their outward ideological veneer, to make profits of that magnitude are charter members of the exploitative class. Dust off your Karl Marx. They are the enemies of working men and women. And they are also, in this case, sucking the life blood out of a trade I care deeply about.

The gist of the argument offered by those who defend the Huffington Post business model is that all the writers who contributed chose to write for free. No one forced them. They agreed, because they viewed it as an opportunity to expand their visibility as writers. This is true, and I doubt anyone would debate this point.

But Hedges responds that this line of argument is used by every company that exploits its workers:

The argument made to defend this exploitation is that the writers had a choice. It is an argument I also heard made by the managers of sweatshops in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, the coal companies in West Virginia or Kentucky and huge poultry farms in Maine. It is the argument made by the comfortable, by those who do not know what it is to be hard up, desperate or driven by a passion to express one’s self and the world through journalism or art. It is the argument the wealthy elite, who have cemented in place an oligarchic system under which there are no real choices, use to justify their oppression.

Who would not want to be able to carry out his or her trade and make enough to pay the bills? What worker would decline the possibility of job protection, health care and a pension? Why do these people think tens of millions of Americans endure substandard employment?

It is rather difficult to square away what is arguably the central tenet of progressive idealism — workers’ rights should not be sacrificed in the name of corporate profits — with Huffington Post’s business model.

Why is this an important discussion for those on the Left to be having? Because this issue is far bigger than the Huffington Post.

As newspapers and magazines continue to transition their core operations from paper to online content, they too will follow this business model. To fatten profits, they too will begin to rename traditionally paid positions like ‘journalist’, ‘columnist’ and ‘reporter’ to job titles such as ‘citizen journalist‘, ‘blogger’, and ‘fan blogger’.

It’s a crafty slight-of-hand, where these new titles give the impression they’re not ‘real’ employees, even though they are in fact doing work that has traditionally been performed by paid workers.

Think this won’t happen? Think again. The Washington Post took a test drive on the Huffington Post business model as early as last August, with its unpaid ‘Fan Blogger’ program. Writers were asked to submit writing samples to be ‘hired’ by the Washington Post to cover each of the major Washington, DC sports teams (I wrote about it HERE).

So why isn’t anyone on the Left (outside of Chris Hedges and a few others) willing to discuss the fact that a supposed ‘champion for the American worker’ is reportedly netting $20-30 million dollars as her personal take from the AOL acquisition, off the backs of non-paid writers? The liberal blogosphere is a group hellbent on formulating candid opinions on just about anything and everything, but instead of hearing outrage, you hear … (listen closely) … crickets.

Here is why, I believe, the liberal blogosphere has chosen to shy away from this topic:

The grim reality of the political blogosphere is that it is something of a loosely-knit, homegrown, media environment where little if any money ever gets made. Well-trafficked bloggers tend to ask their readers for donations each holiday (sometimes every quarter) to help cover the hosting and maintenance of their sites, as well as for living expenses. Larger sites ask for donations to help pay staff writers. For this very reason, many blog site owners would feel a bit hypocritical jumping on Huffington for not paying her contributors when they truly cannot afford to pay their own.

Another reason is political in nature. Huffington Post is a liberal powerhouse, and it is true: many of us who blog would be honored to have our work appear there — paid or unpaid — just for the massive exposure it would offer us. Few want to risk jeopardizing this kind of opportunity, by criticizing such a highly-trafficked blogging institution.

But consider the irony of that logic. It could be said, that that’s what the blogosphere was supposed to be all about: pursuing truth wherever it might take you, and regardless of whom it might embarrass. The blogosphere was a reaction to what the main stream media wasn’t providing: honest journalism.

If bloggers refrain from criticizing the top power players within their own political network for fear of losing opportunities which they otherwise might have provided them, then how can they criticize the main stream media for not asking the tough questions of the political establishment for fear of losing access?

I sense there’s also a sentimental reason why the Left won’t discuss the Huffington Post business model. After the editorial pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times shifted to the hard-right during the Bush years, the left-leaning Huffington Post filled that void for many. And unlike those papers, the Huffington Post felt more communal, less corporate.

Most bloggers visit and read the Huffington Post daily, and so they don’t want to believe its business practices actually contradict the very progressive ideals they hold dear. It would be like shopping for organic, fair-trade products at your local co-op to then discover their produce was purchased from farmers whom they knew exploited undocumented workers. In some ways, progressives are in denial.

The Left has long celebrated Huffington Post’s success. Sam Stein (who writes for the Huffington Post) became the first blogger in history to ask a question at a Presidential news conference. Each success by the Huffington Post has been viewed by many progressive bloggers as a giant leap for the entire blogosphere.

I share a great deal of this sentimentality.

But the moment the Huffington Post accepted $315 million to get swallowed by AOL it went from being a fledgling, progressively-communal, news-editorial site to a deep-pocketed corporate entity (whose priority has now shifted to fattening profits). So the good will that had been granted to them before — no money, so we can’t afford to pay anyone — has suddenly become a major issue, as it very well should be.

I do hope that Huffington spreads some of her newfound fortune to those unpaid writers whose work helped to make Huffington Post what it is today.

And for the aspiring writers out there who choose to remain silent on this, just remember that when all the other publishers follow her lead, and the few paying writer jobs that are still available also vanish.

Because the Huffington Post business model actually devalues writing as a paid profession. According to this business model, writers at every established publication should be grateful to write for free, because their writings are being granted exposure to many readers (and so that in itself should constitute payment). Never mind the fact Huffington is actually luring all those readers (and advertisers), because of that very content she didn’t have to pay for.

And when you really think about it, you can extend this sort of rationale to just about any professional field. Hair stylists who want to work at popular trendy establishments should probably also be expected to work for free, because working there helps to introduce them to a client-base they otherwise might not have had access to. Film studios probably shouldn’t ever have to pay employees, because there are many independently wealthy people out there who would be willing to work without pay, just to hob-knob with celebrities.

It’s a rationale that always leads to the same outcome. Again, to quote Arianna Huffington: “the rich always get the grand prize, and the average American walks away empty-handed.”


Alison Rose Levy, a Health Journalist who writes for the Huffington Post, just wrote a powerful article on this topic which I highly recommend.

UPDATE 2 (Feb. 28, 2011):

Raw Story is reporting that the Newspaper Guild, ArtScene and Visual Art Source are now ramping up the pressure on Arianna Huffington to pay her writers and to modify her ‘unethical’ business model.