We’re Buying and They’re Dying.

Something you need to know about the Elecpencil is that he is a Luddite. I may be the only person left in the developing world without a cell phone. A few years back I heard a guy say that real men don’t own cell phones. I’d be willing to bet that guy now has a cell phone. I’m disgusted by the way people have to constantly look at their cell phone. I just don’t need anything in my life that has that much power over me. I also think that in a decade I will be the only person around without a tumor for an ear. I just don’t trust the technology.

I’ll tell you who does trust the technology and who’s  very being revolves around having the newest phone on the market. That would be the 600,000 who ordered the Apple iPhone 4 in one day. AT&T the exclusive iPhone 4 carrier in the U.S. stopped taking orders, saying it had to focus on fulfilling orders already received. AT&T also had more than 13 million visits to a Web page where current customers can see if they’re eligible for a subsidized upgrade to the new phone. The price of the phone starts at $199 if you qualify for the upgrade. Those customers who aren’t eligible for upgrades will pay $200 more.

I won’t be buying an iPhone 4 as I have no desire to be part of Apple’s “cool club culture” that have the need to buy Apples latest disposable devices. I’d instead refer to them as Apple’s consumer sheep. Do you know who else won’t be buying an iPhone 4?  Sun Tanyong, a 25-year-old who worked at the Foxconn factory in the Chinese town of Shenzhen. The Foxconn factory makes most of the parts for Apple’s iPhone, and the iPad along with products for Nokia, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

Sun won’t be buying an iPhone4 because like Foxconn’s other 400,000 workers at the huge factory he made only a base salary of $132 month which is the legal minimum wage. While Foxconn pays minimum wage they earn profits of $565 million per quarter. Sun no longer works at the huge factory because he is one of thirteen employees who jumped from the company dormitories in suicide attempts during a five month period in 2010; only three survived and are in critical condition. All of the deaths have been of young men and women between 18 and 25 years old. The suicides have been happening for a few years but have increased dramatically this year.

The Chinese state-run media have said that working conditions are harsh at Foxconn factories, with extraordinarily long hours, crowded dormitories, and strict enforcement of discipline on the assembly lines. Activists have argued that Foxconn is one of the worst factories in terms of its high-speed assembly line and 70 hour work weeks. Workers are forced to work standing the whole time with no breaks. These young workers are far from their homes living in dorms with armed guards, with no social life, no friends and no time to think for themselves . They have no free time beyond sleeping and eating. All they have is work and they are being worked to death. Recently a young worker died from exhaustion after working 36 hours nonstop.

Why am I picking on Apple instead of  Nokia, Hewlett-Packard and Dell? It’s because for 5 years Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) have been after Apple to stop the abuses at Foxconn. Until just a few days ago Apple CEO Steve Jobs had been denying Foxconn was a sweatshop and dismissing the suicides as insignificant. CEO’s like Steve Jobs waste their time asking the executives running Foxconn how things at the plant are going. If these CEO’s really wanted the truth they’d ask the workers.

One stupid idea to stop the suicides was a company plan to install safety nets to catch the workers who jump from the tall dormitories. They have also invited Buddhist monks to pray for the factory and set up a help phone line. Still no one has asked the workers what can be done.

The other problem I have with Apple is their “cool culture club” consumers that have to have the latest electronics and wanted them delivered yesterday. I’m talking about those sad sack sheep that line up for hours to get the latest Apple electronics. Their demand for the latest product to fulfill their empty soulless existence is creating a “death club” for China’s young workers. Do you iPhone 4 buyers think you’re buying a quality product when the workers making them hate the life they are leading?

When we buy goods that others have suffered for, we are prolonging that suffering. Do you care about the working conditions of our working-class brothers and sisters? Or do you only care about owning the latest disposable idevices?

Here is what you can do to help.

Timbuktu and Chords: “Appetite for Consumption

The iPhone Song

Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice. ~ Anita Roddick



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4 responses to “We’re Buying and They’re Dying.

  1. Mike Stout

    Excellent rant, Jim, I will disseminate your cellphone op-ed widely. Folks need to know the production pain on the other end of their little pleasure addiction. I can’t wait for the day (and it WILL COME) when the Chinese workers rise up, and the cost of these dehumanizing impersonal gadgets becomes prohibitive. It never really hit me till one day I was walking out of a speaking engagement at IUP this past winter and when the students poured out of their class rooms into a gigantic courtyard, more than 50% of dozens of them were yapping on their cell phones and no one was talking to each other. While they certainly have some communication use for business and emergency situations, they are the ultimate in human alienation!

  2. elecpencil

    Thanks Mike. These huge Chinese sweatshops are like company towns in the U.S. a 100 years ago. Things will come full circle and the Chinese will have labor uprisings just like our country did. In fact they are already starting to happen. You can bet there is already a Chinese Joe Hill and Mother Jones.

  3. This is an excellent counter point to the Apple commercials with their cutesy indie rock and hippsters finger swiping their way around their newest gadget.

    I don’t begrudge Apple making bucket loads of cash but to discover it comes from factories where the workers are treated no better than miners were in this country a hundred years ago is disturbing. I’m surprised they aren’t paid in company script that can only be used at the company store.

    I’ll definitely be thinking about their plight when the time comes to replace my iPod.

  4. elecpencil

    Thanks for the comment Mike. I was at Legacy Village yesterday with my wife. We saw people in a huge line at the Apple store waiting to get the new iPhone. People who had somehow registered online were able to walk past others who had stood in line for hours. One guy claimed he was in line for 11 hours. Anyone who is willing to stand in line for 11 hours to buy over priced electronics needs to get a life.

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