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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!



Washington Post Now Hiring: Unpaid ‘Non-Employees’ To Produce Content

by on Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm EDT in Politics, Writing

In April of this year, the New York Times reported a new rising trend where for-profit companies have been taking advantage of the downtrodden labor market by using unpaid internships as a source of free labor.  The paper reported that it had both federal and state regulators worried that labor laws were being violated:

The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

The Times found, for example, that “employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford’s job board this academic year, more than triple the 174 posted two years ago.”  This led the U.S. Department of Labor to create a new set of six guidelines for companies to use in “determining whether interns must be paid the minimum wage with overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the services that they provide to ‘for-profit’ private sector employers.”  They include:

1.  The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2.  The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3.  The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4.  The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5.  The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6.  The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Which brings me to the Washington Post, and their new “Fan Blog” program.  Here is a new opportunity they are offering for Washington, DC sports fans to apply for writer positions to cover each of the Washington, DC teams:  Two writers for The Wizards, two for the Redskins, two for the Capitals, two for the Nationals, two for the United, and two for the Terps.  Only, they have no intentions of paying them even a minimum wage for their work.

On the Post’s “Fan Blog” FAQ page, they announce their guidelines for these writer positions they are trying to fill.  Here were two which happened to catch my eye:

2. Some commenters have asked if the new fan blog will replace content on our current staff-written blogs, or other Post-produced content. The answer is an unqualified “no.” We are doing this to supplement our current coverage, because it’s obvious that we have a lot of smart fans who use the web site and might like a bigger platform than the current format allows.

3. Other commenters have asked if we will pay fan bloggers. Sadly, the answer is no. We hope that for some people, the large audience a site like could provide is enough motivation to post here, but we understand that may not work for everyone.

Now I know some out there are going to protest my concerns and state that newspapers today are losing money — that they are barely scraping by and need to do whatever they can to provide content in a way that reduces their costs.  Well, on the contrary, the Washington Post Co. recently announced their second quarter earnings have gone gangbusters:

Second-quarter earnings at The Washington Post Co. rose nearly eightfold, compared with the same period of 2009, as profits soared at the company’s education division and advertising rebounded at The Post Co.’s six television stations.

The company earned $91.9 million ($10 a share) on $1.2 billion in second-quarter revenue this year, compared with $12.2 million ($1.30) in profit on $1.1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2009. […]

The company reported that “although print ad revenue at The Post was down 6 percent, online newspaper ad revenue was up 14 percent.”  This led to a total 2% increase in revenues for the Newspaper division for this second quarter.

As a Washington Wizards fan who checks in daily at the Post for team news, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest gripes from some of the regulars who flood the comment section is that the paper never delivers enough Wizards content, and doesn’t ever seem to ‘break news’ on the team.  They’re always late, and seemingly out of touch with team insiders.  Other Wizards-devoted blogs such as BulletsForever seem to do a far better job at reporting on the team, and keeping fans abreast of things like player injury status, player progression, etc. than the Washington Post does.

I’ll go as far as to say that I learn more about the happenings within the Wizards organization from the Washington Post comment section — there are some exceptionally well-informed commenters there — than from the Post’s Michael Lee, who actually covers the Wizards for the paper.  So what better way for the editorial staff to address those Wizards’ fans concerns than to expand the paper’s coverage by hiring some of these well-informed, seemingly well-connected commenters to expand the Post’s Wizards coverage — without pay!

Well, consider this, the US Department of Labor, in addition to providing the list of six guidelines outlined above, goes even further into detail to clarify when someone qualifies as a paid employee:

If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing workforce during specific time periods, these interns should be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek. If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled compensation under the FLSA.

And once again, looking back at the Washington Post’s description for these ‘positions for hire’ they state: “We are doing this to supplement our current coverage”.  And the formal definition of “supplement”:

sup·ple·ment (spl-mnt):  Something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen the whole.

Clearly the Washington Post is augmenting its existing workforce with free labor to produce content on pages to sell advertising — did I mention their online advertising revenues were up 14% this quarter?

The USDL further states:

Under these circumstances the intern does not perform the routine work of the business on a regular and recurring basis, and the business is not dependent upon the work of the intern. On the other hand, if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.

And yet, Jon Denunzio, Sports Editor for the Washington Post, in answering one of the commenters questions (in the comment section) on that same “Fan Blog” FAQ page stated  (Posted by: Jon DeNunzio | August 22, 2010 11:02 AM):

Q: “Is this going to be individual fanblogs for the major sports teams, or a ‘mash-up’ of all sports into a single fanblog?” (from BinM)

A: The latter. Because we plan some moderation of the posts (not too heavy-handed, we promise), we had to limit the scope of this blog. We’ll try to make it easy for you to find all the posts about a single team by categorizing each post, and we’re discussing having some set scheduling (a Caps post every Tuesday afternoon, etc). And as we said in a previous post, nothing is set in stone — we’ll see how it goes.

Did you get that?  The Post’s Sports Editor states they are discussing scheduling writing assignments from these hired ‘non-employees’ — which would clearly be in violation of US Labor Laws.  And seriously, just because they have strategically given this unpaid position the name “fan blogger” it in no way deflects from what the position actually is — an unpaid employee, whom they hope to generate revenue from.

To see a huge, corporate behemoth like the Washington Post Co. — just after announcing huge profits — actually trying to circumvent the labor laws by hiring ‘non-employees’ to create their content, upon which they will sell advertising, is simply disgraceful!

If this kind of practice — ‘for-profit’ private companies hiring ‘non employee writers’ — were to catch on amongst other media giants, well … there’s going to be even less opportunities for aspiring writers out there who are struggling to make a living.