By Kianna Acevedo, Claudia Benito, and Katie Hallman (SUNY Cortland)
Apple is a company that’s consistently in high demand because of their products. Long lines of people camp out in undesirable weather to purchase an expensive phone to satisfy materialistic needs. However, many people who desire the newest Apple product worldwide often do not ponder the journey behind Apple products: starting from the employees experiencing inhumane working conditions, to the mass production detail, the profit of their products, and the role of packing. Most of Apple’s supplier companies and factory employees are located in China (majority), Korea, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, Taiwan, and the Philippines (#Apple). Apple manufacturers took over multiple spots in Asia, while many of the Apple pieces are shipped to the U.S. for reselling. It is stated on the Apple box, blending in with the rest of the text: “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China.” Apple professes its products to be patriotically made in the United States. Yet, California is only part of the beginning storyline regarding the Apple company. The immense popularity of Apple products links to the mass production of not only one, but multiple trendy and top-rated products because of how all Apple products are made to work together under the same unique software and features. What customers do not get to see is how the appetite for Apple products, such as the iPhone that comes out with newer, slightly differently designed, added on features, creates a wildly unhealthy work climate for the employees who make the vision of the iPhone a physical item. Consumers are aware that Apple products are “made in California,” yet, it was the idea that was birthed in California. While the majority of the phone, along with its small gadgets, are manufactured across Asia and other undeveloped areas in multiple countries.
There have been #press articles released depicting the factories in Asia where parts of the iPhone are built. Journalists revealed that female employees hired in these factories are prone to work in harsh conditions and receive a significantly lower wage, considering that Apple is a multi-billion-dollar company. As three SUNY Cortland English majors whom all own the iPhone, we decided to explore how this luxurious electronic was made so accessible for us to achieve with a few hundred dollars. The personal story of every consumer’s iPhone is a piece of what the consumer is buying. In this blog, we aim to enlighten our readers about the immense, strenuous, and cautious labor, linked to the billion-dollar production of the iPhone.
Mistreatment in the Workplace
Many Asian workers face inhumane working conditions in Apple association manufacturing companies. In these factories, employees spend around twelve hours a day, six days a week at the factory plant working so hard that they “may develop psychological problems,” due to the unrealistic quota expected for each worker (Levidow). Thousands of workers have been hired and coerced into free dorm housing, yet find out that they have 12 other roommates in what mirrors a jail cell, and they’re forced into paying exorbitantly high bills for electricity and water.
Apple is one of the wealthiest companies on the entire planet. According to #Statista, “In 2018, Apple announced its highest annual revenue to date with 265.6 billion U.S. dollars generated in revenue. About 218 billion U.S. dollars of this was generated by sales of the iPhone, meaning that the smart device was responsible for an average of around 82 percent of the company’s total global revenue.” However, the employees are not paid fairly for their hard labor. It turns out that the China Labor Watch found “evidence that the use of dispatch workers and the number of hours of overtime work carried out by employees... was not consistent with company guidelines” (CNBC). In addition, the working conditions in the Foxconn location at Zhengzhou were no better: they had issues that violated Apple’s code of conduct regarding wages, employers, and labor hours. Apple’s code of conduct states: “Apple is committed to the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility and ethical conduct,” as well as promising the contrasted actions happening at Foxconn (Apple). However, Apple has released statements regarding their acceptance of breaking Chinese Labor Laws. Apple’s supplier code of conduct states: “Workers must be treated with the utmost dignity and respect...Workers shall have the right to refuse unsafe work and to report unhealthy working conditions” (CNBC).
According to various sources, these inhumane working conditions have resulted in multiple deaths and suicides in factories. As Brian Merchant writes in The Guardian, “In 2010, Longhua assembly-line workers began killing themselves... There were 18 reported suicide attempts that year alone, and 14 confirmed deaths. Twenty more workers were talked down by Foxconn officials.” Workers develop hysteria working in an area so secluded that in 2010, workers on the Longhua assembly-line began killing themselves, in tragic displays of desperation. These tragedies took place in Foxconn’s enormous Longhua plant, which is a major manufacturer of Apple products, with an estimated 450,000 workers (Merchant). Most of the production that takes place for the assembly of iPhones is rooted in racial and gender discrimination, and the inhumane treatment of workers whose lives are valued less than the mass production of electronics. According to Levidow, hard-working immigrants are paid below average and are “prime targets for each firm’s attempts to minimize its labor costs in a highly competitive market.” The industry admitted to the preference of hiring more women than men. Why?: “Because they are naturally suited to the routinized work of the electronics assembly line: nimble fingers, acute eyesight, greater patience” and “because they have less energy, and are more disciplined and are easier to control” (Levidow). As Levidow interviewed the surviving workers of the electronic factory, they were willing to share their stories of immense stress, overpowering, harsh authority, a humiliation in front of peers, and broken promises of benefits.
The creation of a personal iPhone for a single user is beyond leisure. Consumers and the general public must recognize the relationship between the luxuriousness of the iPhone and the environment in which it is assembled: “not a good place for human beings” (Merchant).
Apple claims to be an ethical, sustainable company. The priorities that guide their efforts towards packaging involve: reducing the company’s impact on climate change by being energy efficient, recycling products while recovering materials, and identifying, developing, and utilizing safer materials in our products and processes (Apple). Apple claims: “every year, we improve upon the progress we make to protect the people in our supply chain and the planet. Progress is made possible by a deep partnership with our suppliers, and by setting high standards, suppliers must meet.” Nevertheless, the safety and health of their workers across the seas is not the top priority. It is the mass production of parts and electronic assembly that goes to the consumers’ hands, in which they are blinded to the process on the other side. The “Apple Supplier List” that is posted publicly online by the company represents 98 percent of procurement expenditures for materials, manufacturing, and assembly of their products worldwide for the fiscal year 2018. In all the countries where each piece of the iPhone is being produced, Apple’s statements on procedures for equity should outrule the reality of what's happening in the factories.
The Role of Packaging
A “sensory experience” is the first experiment that customers face when they interact with a product for the first time. The slogan: “don’t judge a book by its cover” is what society tries to live by, but in reality, the packaging of a product usually makes or breaks a consumer’s decision whether to purchase the product. According to Personalics, “Shoppers look at a package about 5 seconds deciding whether to pick it up.” It is what the product displays about itself and how appealing the packaging is to the customer. Apple’s packaging is so iconic that people of all ages, and around the world can pick out Apple’s products out of a sea of electronic devices. With Apple, the artistic and the visually sleek, futuristic appeal is something that is elegantly presented to consumers as a luxury. As three students concerned with the exploitative labor practices behind Apple products, we thought that redesigning the iPhone box could raise awareness about these issues.
Together, we invented an example of a new packaging design for the iPhone. We aim to highlight the stories of the people who made the product come to life, just for the consumer’s enjoyment. Our prototype of the packaging consists of the following details described. On the front of the packaging box for Apple’s iPhones, “Designed in California, Assembled in parts of Asia” will be clearly stated to clarify the locations of production. The employee’s personal story of their journey with the consumer’s iPhone and a portrait of them working on the device will be
on the inside of the box, seen when the packaging is opened. Lastly, an informational background on the factory, the worker, and how this matters to the consumer will be on the bottom box that holds the iPhone. Through the new packaging, knowledge will spread on the matters of exploitative labor conditions so that we can make more ethical, informed decisions about the products we purchase. The public must argue for stronger regulations that prohibit major technology companies from exploiting workers in these ways.
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