Annette Bernhardt, Flickr
By Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan, for Truthout
Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.
For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones, (1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.
But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.
The current issue of the journal New Technology, Work and Employment features two articles on Foxconn in China, both of which are free for one month.
As described in the editorial to the issue by Debra Howcroft and Phil Taylor:
“These papers in different ways are concerned with the production of electronic consumables by Foxconn,the Taiwanese-owned multinational supplier, which is China’s leading exporter. … The first of the articles provides the remarkable testimony of Tian Yu, a young female migrant worker, who attempted suicide by jumping from the fourth floor of her dormitory accommodation. Tian’s account has been crafted with great skill and sympathy by Jenny Chan.”
“The second article locates this narrative in the broader political-economic context of the buyer-driven value chain, in which Apple establishes parameters and control over price-setting, production processes and product delivery from its suppliers, notably Foxconn. Based on extensive fieldwork and thorough documentary analysis, Chan, Ngai and Selden analyse the consequences of this asymmetrical power relationship.As the scale of production has ramped up, Apple’s ‘value capture’ and profits have soared while Foxconn’s margins have flatlined, the outcome being massive intensification of work and a harsh workplace managerial regime.”