Nonfiction and interviews.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Influential and Immoral Legacy of Steve Jobs

     Steve Jobs, one of Apple Computer’s founders and lead idea men, died yesterday. As someone who developed products that changed American culture, Jobs’ death got the lion’s share of the headlines from The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Virtually every story praised the “artist, role model, innovator, [and] life-changer” in the highest possible terms. Even the President took time out of his day to laud Mr. Jobs as “one of ‘the greatest American inventors,’” and The New York Times online went interactive, inviting readers to vote on their favorite Apple product or “to share a picture that illustrates the impact of his life and legacy.” However, no one in the corporate-run media wants to remember the unpleasant side of Jobs’ legacy, including seventeen suicides that took place last year in the Foxconn mega-factories where an estimated 70% of Apple products are built.
     In response to the dozen suicide attempts in the first half of 2010, Jobs’ said, “Foxconn is not a sweatshop … You go in this place and it’s a factory but, my gosh, they’ve got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it’s pretty nice.” Tom Foremski of ZDNet and Patrick Mattimore, a fellow at the Institute for Analytic Journalism, also argue that the suicides must be put in context with numbers: the suicide rate among the general population of China is higher than it is for Foxconn employees, therefore Foxconn must not be a bad place to work. But Jobs’ comments and the numbers smokescreen fall flat in light of the fact that Apple’s contractor sought to remedy the suicides – all jumpers, all done in the same gruesome, public way - with 30% higher pay (up from about $130 a month) and counseling services for its employees, indicating that Foxconn officials themselves linked these deaths to working conditions. I do however agree that these suicides should be put in their cultural context, so naturally it is important to look at Chinese sources who know the culture better.
     A few months after Jobs’ defended the secretive Apple contractor, researchers representing twenty universities from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the mainland released a report describing Foxconn factories as “labor camps” which severely violate a whole host of Chinese labor laws. In addition: "the 83-page report draws on interviews with more than 1,800 workers from 12 Foxconn-owned factories in nine Chinese cities. It found fresh evidence that the Taiwanese company forces assembly-line employees to work double or triple the legal limit on overtime. It describes a Spartan management style, extensive employment of teenage students, and failure to report a considerable number of industrial injuries for which workers were unable to receive statutory compensation." Only months after the study, in May of 2011, an explosion resulting from poor maintenance (see video below) rocked a Foxconn factory making the I-pad 2 in Chengdu, killing three workers and injuring fifteen more. Apple also waited a year before finally acknowledging last spring, that 137 employees at another one of its contractors, Wintek, had been poisoned while making I-phones. After a meager $1.5 million settlement that did not cover the health expenditures of the sick employees, Jobs and Apple were blasted by labor group Students & Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour as well as a number of poisoned Wintek workers who claim Jobs was indifferent to their plight.
     With contracting the manufacture of his company’s products to Foxconn and Wintek, Jobs also had one of the most miserly philanthropic records of any major CEO. CNN Money reports, “The founder of The Stanford Social Innovation Review called Apple one of ‘America’s Least Philanthropic Companies.’ Jobs had terminated all of Apple's long-standing corporate philanthropy programs within weeks after returning to Apple in 1997, citing the need to cut costs until profitability rebounded. But the programs have never been restored.” These are the facets of Jobs’ legacy that pass with almost no comment from the corporate media, illustrating Jean Baudrillard’s point that “planetary communications abolish distance. But the impact of catastrophes remains inversely proportional to distance; 5,000 dead in China are not the equivalent of ten western lives.” He continues, “In this regard, things are even worse than they once were, since in the past indifference could be put down to a lack of communication. With that obstacle removed, we can confirm that, beneath the formal solidarity, the discrimination is absolute.”

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