Looking for a fair trade iPod Nano

How cool is working on an iPod Nano assembly line?


Andrew Leonard
June 14, 2006 8:55PM (UTC)

Almost exactly one year ago, I kicked off my explorations of globalization with a long article that used the manufacturing and design of Apple's iPod as a narrative vehicle for understanding how the world currently works. So naturally I was intrigued to learn about a similar article published over the weekend in the U.K.'s Mail on Sunday that, according to Macworld, describes the iPod Nano "as reflecting the global way business works today."

Except, the Mail on Sunday did me one better -- it sent reporters to the factory in China where the iPod Nano is manufactured, and provided details about labor conditions that were sadly lacking in my original piece. The original story is not online, but Ars Technica has excerpts and scans of some of the pictures. The bottom line: The Mail on Sunday claims that thousands of young women housed in dormitories work 15 hours a day for as little as 27 pounds a month. Ars Technica quotes the original article:

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"We have to work too hard and I am always tired. It's like being in the army. They make us stand still for hours. If we move, we are punished by being made to stand still for longer ... We have to work overtime if we are told to and can only go back to the dormitories when our boss gives us permission ... If they ask for overtime we must do it. After working 15 hours until 11:30 p.m., we feel so tired."

The company running the factory is Taiwan's Foxconn, which bills itself as the world's largest contract manufacturer, and which I've written about before. The popularity (and increasing scarcity) of young women as factory laborers in China has also been covered in this space recently. Apple has responded to the story and cited its own adherence to a strict supplier code of conduct and declared, reports Macworld, that it is "currently investigating the allegations regarding working conditions in the iPod manufacturing plant in China."

That Western corporations are exploiting cheap labor in China through Taiwanese proxies is not breaking news. Apple is hardly different from scores of other corporations, and, if it actually does adhere to the letter of its code of conduct, may be better than most. But Apple is also a prime example of a company that counts on being perceived as "cool" as part of its business plan. And exploitation, no matter how you slice it, ain't cool. The U.S. government and Wall Street clearly don't care about working conditions abroad. In our late-capitalist, consumer-driven society, it's up to the consumers to call the shots. We can buy fair trade coffee beans. Where's our fair trade iPod Nano?

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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