Thursday, February 02, 2012

Rotten to the Core

Dear Apple defenders,

I don't give a damn about Apple as a corporation. I am only interested in Apple as a cultural phenomenon. However, if you wish to encounter real criticism of Apple's corporate practices, not some fluff by the NYT, please read William Black's two analysis pieces about Apple as a criminal fraud operation:
  • Anti-employee Control Fraud - In this article, Black discusses the nature of this kind of white-collar crime, how it functions, why it drives ethical corporations out of business, and how international supply chains encourage this behavior.
  • The New York Times’ Ode to Foxconn and Anti-Employee Control Fraud - In the second article, Black goes through the New York Time's article and it's failure to really interrogate the discrepancies in the accounts given by and about Foxconn. 

Black's evaluation of Apple is unyielding: "Apple creates a criminogenic environment in its supplier selection process that leads it to, pervasively, hire criminal suppliers." The explicit and documented treatment of labor in this supply chain is, on the face of it, criminal.

So, go argue with him about the facts of the case. My interest in Apple is as a signifier of a particular mentality among the cultural elite - let's call them Whole Foods Nation - that wants others (like me) to ratify their consumer purchases (phones, canned beans, presidents) as markers of cultural, moral and intellectual superiority.

Use whatever gadget you want, but don't lie to yourself about the very brutal world of global manufacturing where it was produced.



Miss Malevolent said...

Yeah good luck with getting a response other than, "Ur a hater and a Windoze user".

At the end of the day it's all about people not wanting to admit they've been conned.

I was recently on Consumerist and someone made a comment about Apple products being made with better materials than other phone/laptop/desktop manufacturers.

And I had to laugh as Quanta, Compal Foxconn etc...basically 8 ODMs make ALL the products for the OEMs like Apple, Sony, HP, Dell what "special" materials could they possibly put in Apple products over the others? Ridiculous.

Like what you like, but to say or even think you're superior because you fell for some name branding laughable.

NĂ¡mo Mandos said...

For once I am in a billion percent agreement with you, especially on the Apple thing. I also find their design philosophy *itself* rather pernicious. Getting people accustomed and acculturated to boxes they can't open.

Watching Apple fanpeople defend the iBooks agreement was deeply sad and comical all at once.

redscott said...

I agree and the more I read about Apple's environmental and labor practices, the less I want to support it. Plus the hype gives me the hives as well. On a more (but not completely) superficial note, I'm changing my 10 y/o Gateway desktop for a laptop and was wondering (other than Apple) what to look at. Are there slightly less evil but still OK alternatives I could explore? I know you're an IT guru and would value your opinion. Thank you!

Anglachel said...

redscott, I'm no expert on manufacturing processes. I don't think there are many electronics supply chains that don't use the equivalent of a Foxconn for at least some components. Anything portable is usually produced outside the US.

All I can speak to with some authority is the quality of the end product. For laptops, the most durable have been ThinkPads (I have one that is 12 years old and works great) while I think Toshiba produces some with the best value. HPs are trash (my company uses them, blergh...) while Sonys always look better than they work. I don't have luck with Apple, but people I know say the high-end laptops are very solid. I have used ASUS and Acer machines and have always been disappointed with their overall design - awkward keyboards, meh screens, uneven performance. Dells are a mixed bag - those that are good are *very* good, but they have had quality control problems.

What I strongly recommend is buying the laptop through the Microsoft store rather than a vendor or reseller. We recently bought a Toshiba Portege R835-P83 notebook at the local MS store (it's available online, too) and it is a great machine. 3.2 pounds, 8 hours of battery life, full notebook (not netbook) and because we got it from the MS Store NO VENDOR CRAPWARE INSTALLED. That alone was worth the purchase price ($800). This is the "Microsoft Signature" guarantee and probably accounts for why the machine runs so well. Costco has begun carrying MS Signature machines - look on the shelf tags and system specifications. Also, Windows 7 Home Premium is good, but the Professional OS is better. Don't bother with Ultimate, I don't think it's worth the extra cost.

Ultrabooks are very cool, but not quite there. If you are giving up a desktop system entirely, go for a little more substantial laptop to get more conenction and drive options.

Hope this helps,


redscott said...

Thank you - it certainly does!

Unknown said...

Prophylactic: Steve Jobe sas probably a very selfish capitalist mam.

But in popular culture Bill Bates is always set u as his rival; yet I predict Gate wil leave a mark much greater than Steve did. I submit the following not in any kind of argument but for your consideration and, hopefully, public comment. You powers of analysis are awesome.

Pardon the cut and paste

Unknown said...

I wish Bill Black wasn't a pariah in the MSM. Lambert used to chart haw long Krugman had gone without mentioning black. The articles here are an eye opener. The focus on Apple is ok I guess based on what I guess is analogous to the "deep pockets" principle in liability law.

The following is not a defense of a corporation but illustrates how "conventional wisdom" can be deceptive

Cut and paste:
Foxconn's stringent military-like culture is one of surveillance, obedience and not challenging authority. Workers are told obey or leave.

Buried lede:
Despite widespread reports of poor working conditions, some experts say Foxconn factories still offer better benefits and surroundings than most factories in China -- providing air conditioning, heating and clean dorms for its employees.

Labor Activist Li Qiang wants you to know that the iPhone 4 in his pocket is not an endorsement of Apple’s policies, just an acknowledgement that the company is doing a better job of monitoring factory conditions than its peers… 

“Although I know that the iPhone 4 is made at sweat shop factories in China, I still think that this is the only choice, because Apple is actually one of the best. Actually before I made a decision, I compared Apple with other cell phone companies, such as Nokia,” he said through a translator. “And the conditions in those factories are worse than the ones of Apple.”

Foxconn One of the Best
According to employees  interviewed by China Labor Watch, the conditions at many suppliers’ factories are far worse than those found at Foxconn, a company that has become infamous because of a series of high-profile incidents such as employee suicides and a fatal explosion. However, according to the China Labor Watch report “Tragedies of Globalization: The Truth Behind Electronics Sweatshops,” workers at the two Foxconn plants they investigated received health and safety training, along with all necessary gear, before starting work. Machines at the plants are reportedly maintained and checked for safety every day. According to the report, Foxconn workers even have a trade union with a workers’ care center hotline for reporting problems.

All of this is not to say Foxconn, which manufactures products for Apple, HP, Dell, and many other OEMs,  is a pleasant place to work. As with other plants, the managers are reportedly verbally abusive, the work is grueling, and one of the Foxconn factories apparently required a lot of overtime with few breaks. However, workers at the Longhua Foxconn plant received better wages and benefits than those at any of the 10 factories China Labor Watch investigated.

Unknown said...

I am a fellow Californian who is aghast that there is slave labor right here in our backyard:

Race and Prison | Drug War FactsCompared to Non-blacks, California’s African-American population are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned for a marijuana felony arrest, and 3 times more likely to be imprisoned per marijuana possession arrest.

Each month, California inmates process more than 680,000 pounds of beef, 400,000 pounds of chicken products, 450,000 gallons of milk, 280,000 loaves of bread, and 2.9 million eggs (from 160,000 inmate-raised hens

Unknown said...

Captive Labor Is The New Corporate Exploited Resource:

"It is some twisted irony that large sections of the workforce in America’s alleged free-market are shackled in chains."

-Profit Driven Prison Industrial Complex: The Economics of Incarceration in the USA

In case you are interested, here is a partial list of companies that use prison labor.

BOEING, COMPAQ, Texas Instrument, Honeywell, Microsoft, DELL, Starbucks, Motorola, Nintendo, Forever 21, Planet Hollywood, Eddie Bauer, Victoria’s Secret, HP , Toys R Us, Konica, Chevron, IBM, and Trans World Airlines.

References and related articles:

Mike Elk’s excellent interview on Democracy Now!

The Karen Miller article with excellent analysis and history.

Anglachel said...


I am releasing your comments (but not any other pro-Apple commenters - you people are crazy and need to get back on your meds) since you are making an attempt to address the true issue, which is exploitation of labor. I won't release another batch of comments. If you want to offer an argument, you need to blog this yourself.

For me, the point that Bill Black made about the way in which criminal supply chain behavior drives out ethical supply chain behavior is crucial. This is a qualitatively different argument than saying labor conditions are bad. If there is a "bad apple", the presumption is you can discipline that actor into improving its behavior. However, if they suffer no penalties AND ethical actors are punished by losing market share because they cannot compete while upholding minimal labor and environmental standards, then there is zero incentive to improve. Black's claim is that defrauding labor is rewarded by the product owner/seller.

The challenge, then, is not to try to argue that company A isn't *quite* as abusive as company B (they only flog workers HALF as much!), but to find a way to punish the corporate owners for encouraging unethical companies. That would require upper-middle class consumers around the globe to deny themselves their favorite toy long enough to damage the pockets of the seller. The other part of that is to find a way to organize labor to refuse to work under fraud conditions, and that means pressure on governments (starting with the US) to quit attacking labor.


Bob Harrison said...

I use an Alienware m11x for everything now days.

Anglachel said...

Bob, Alienware is amazing. It looks evil and performs like nothing else. Laptops can be a little on the hernia inducing side, but if you don't need to pack it around, pure fun.