The Macalope Daily: Easy answers

Boy, it sure would be nice if we had a silver bullet that would magically improve working conditions at Chinese factories.

Well, good news, everybody! InfoWorld’s Bill Snyder’s got one!

Boycott Apple until it fixes its China labor problem

In the space of a few months, Apple has gone from being the recipient of cloying, over-the-top adulation when co-founder Steve Jobs died to being the victim of furious attacks for its labor practices in China.

OK, we’re one sentence in and you’re already wrong. Apple’s been criticized for months, if not years, about working conditions at its Chinese suppliers, and Apple didn’t receive the supposedly “cloying” adulation, Steve Jobs did.

I’m neither a fanboy…

BZZZT.

…nor an Apple basher…

Oh? Really. You just write negative reviews of products Apple hasn’t even announced yet. That’s a rather interesting and self-serving distinction you’re drawing there, Bill.

The China issue arose again on Tuesday when ABC’s “Nightline” aired a 17-minute segment based on a visit to the Foxconn factory in Shenzen, China, where many Apple products are made and where workers have been known to jump off the roof in despair. (For the record, the Foxconn factories in China are owned by Taiwan’s Hon Hai. Taiwan doesn’t tolerate such working conditions in its own factories.)

For the record, the suicide rate at Foxconn is lower than the national average in China.

For example, the Times wrote about an explosion at another Foxconn plant in Chengdu, China, caused when a cloud of aluminum dust ignited, killing four workers. You simply can’t see dangerous conditions like that during an escorted tour.

Right. Because they schedule all the accidental aluminum dust fires for when they’re not conducting tours.

We already knew that conditions at the Foxconn factory in Shenzen, China, are dehumanizing, to say the least.

News flash to Bill Snyder: Conditions in China are dehumanizing, to say the least.

We also knew that for many Chinese workers, the factory—as tough as it is—offers a big step up from grinding rural poverty; in fact, Foxconn pays its workers 20 percent more than the national average in China. But that’s a low bar.

This is the maddening part of this incredibly ignorant dialog. What is the bar here? First it’s working conditions and now it’s also wages? Is Apple supposed to demand western standards for Chinese workers across the board?

What also gives me pause is the fact that the FLA calls the Foxconn plant that Apple uses “first class.” If so, I shudder to think what a second-class plant in China—the kind of facilities where much of our consumer electronics are made—is like.

But instead of finding out which companies are sourcing things from second-class plants and advocating a boycott of their products, Snyder finds it easier to hit the broad side of the barn that has a better paint job.

The issue remains: Is Apple any worse than its competitors, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, that also use Foxconn as its contract manufacturer? I doubt it.

Actually, there’s a lot of evidence that Apple is better than its competitors. Some of which Snyder himself notes! Yet, we’re still supposed to boycott Apple because it’s supposedly the only actor that can do anything about Chinese labor conditions.

Could a boycott work? It could. American consumers helped put an end to Nike’s use of child labor in Southeast Asia.

And put an end to child labor in Southeast Asia forever.

What? Oh, it didn’t?

Well, whatever, let’s just go on treating symptoms like the short-attention-span sufferers we’re always accused of being LOOK A SQUIRREL!

Until Apple convinces me it is doing everything it can to markedly improve those conditions, I won’t buy either [a new iPhone or a new iPad], at any price. How about you?

So, is Snyder going to buy a competitor’s product instead? One sold by a company with a worse record on pressuring its Chinese suppliers? Does that make any sense? If he’s just going to take up Luddism, though, more power to him. Or, well, less, as the case may be.

Apple is already doing more than other companies, and has promised to do even more. What is it, exactly, that Snyder wants? He doesn’t really say. More than more. From this one company and no one else. This simply isn’t a serious proposition, it’s just throwing spitballs.

Not that it’s any different than his iPad review.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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