If you’ve paid attention to the news following Steve Jobs announcement that he was retiring from Apple, you would have thought he was some sort of divine being. But is everyone overlooking his less than saintly deeds?
The Wall Street Journal wrote following Jobs departure news:
Every generation produces a few individuals whose will to restructure the world in their own image is so powerful that they seem to distort reality itself. They change the world, not always for the better—and that in the U.S. they often choose to pursue entrepreneurship and industry rather than politics is one of the uncelebrated blessings of American capitalism.
Mr. Jobs—who emerged from an uncertain childhood brilliant, charismatic and charged with an ambition that would make most mortals blush—is one of those figures, a fact recognized even before he reached adulthood.
PC Magazine asked:
What event could top an earthquake and a hurricane? Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s chief executive, of course.
And one publication’s headline about Jobs departure actually was:
Steve Jobs Retirement Causes Earthquakes, Rain and Hurricanes
Yes the guy revolutionized the technology we use today, but the narrative about his stewardship of Apple is missing some pretty bad stuff when it comes to labor pratices.
Apple’s operations in China, where most of the company’s products are now made, have been described as sweatshops. These facilities are so bad that last year at least 17 employees there killed themselves. But for some reason, Apple, and Jobs in particular, get a pass. If Walmart, Nike, Mattel or any other company had such skeletons in its operations’ closet, would the media and consumers be this kind?
“Probably not,” surmises Leander Kahney, editor and publisher of Cult of Mac, a news site that tracks Apple.
“They get a free ride on this,” he said about why Apple and Jobs haven’t faced more scrutiny when it comes to their labor practices. “There is such huge affection for Apple and Jobs personally.”
Kahney said his publication has written about the suicides at the Apple contractors facilities in China run by Foxconn, but the stories brought rage from readers who were angry the publication even covered the tragedies. Many readers wrote, “who cares” and “it’s not that bad,” he recalled.
Not that bad? The employees are paid about $300 a month, or about $1.22 an hour, and that was increased only after the suicides made national news. They work long hours, and live in dormitories. To deal with the rash of suicides the company installed nets at stairwells.
Here’s a story on the conditions there by the Telegraph in London:
So far, at least 16 people have jumped from high buildings at the factory so far this year, with 12 deaths. A further 20 people were stopped by the company before they could attempt to kill themselves.
The hysteria at Longhua, where between 300,000 and 400,000 employees eat, work and sleep, has grown to such a pitch that workers have twisted Foxconn’s Chinese name so that it now sounds like: “Run to your Death”.
A company that is now bigger than Exxon should do better, no?
Here’s a great editorial from the Boston Globe that sums up what Apple could do now to bring it some heavenly points titled “Advice to Apple’s new boss: bring jobs back.” It was one of the few pieces that held Apples’ feet to the fire following the Jobs retirement announcement:
Apple products cost more and command a premium price because they’re better. Sound familiar? This has traditionally been the hallmark of American goods. Buyers pay more for products made in the US, because they are superior.
Look on Apple’s label and you’ll see “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China.” Foxconn, the giant contract manufacturer that makes iPhones and iPads in China for Apple, made headlines for its notorious working conditions when a number of its workers committed suicide.
…Apple has always been a leader in the consumer electronics industry. Steve Jobs opened new markets and created demand with models that did not even exist before. Tim Cook can lead the way again with a business model that will open new markets, boost demand — and spark broader economic recovery.
What will ultimately be Apple’s labor legacy? And more importantly, does anyone care?