Steve Jobs's Death and the Legacy of the Foxconn Factory Suicides

SteveJobsFoxconn.png
It was a big day for American capitalism yesterday. Nothing captured the dichotomy of how citizens were thinking about it better than the above tweet on how a captain of industry was being eulogized (after the suicides of his de-facto factory workers have largely been ignored), on the same day Wall Street was under an assault like it's never seen at the hands of the American public*.

The tweet, written by Oakland, California based Colorlines.com writer and videographer Channing Kennedy, raises a very interesting question. The downtown march and rally of October 5th may or may not be remembered someday as a significant turning point in the Occupy Wall Street movement. But it's certainly the biggest battle cry "the 99 percent" has waged against the 1 percent in New York City so far.

And right in the middle of the action, while the police department commanded by one of the richest men in the country was starting to get violent, came news that Steve Jobs, one of the biggest titans of the 1 percent (whose net worth was less than the Mayor's but whose cool factor exceded Bloomberg's by several orders of magnitude) had died.

It was interesting, as Channing pointed out, to watch the outpouring of mourning for Jobs, whom even the White House called "among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it."

The White House statement went on:

By building one of the planet's most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

The world has lost a visionary.

It was disorienting to watch twitter streams last night that were alternately reporting on the increasingly chaotic clash between the police and the protestors who were questioning how American capitalism works, and hagiographic memories of one of American capitalism's greatest heros.

But left out from Jobs' legacy for the most part was a dark skeleton Kennedy brought up: the Foxconn suicides. Jobs did publicly address (albeit in a somewhat ham-fisted fashion) the spate of suicides by employees of Foxconn, the company where the iPhone and iPad are actually manufactured in China, before he stepped down as CEO of Apple this summer. Foxconn, one of the largest makers of electronics in the world, makes products for Apple and many other computer companies. Some 18 employees attempted to kill themselves and 14 were successful in 2010.

And while Jobs (who pointed out that the Foxconn suicide rate was "below the China average") will be eulogized at length today for his undeniable advancements to technology and American enterprise, his death at age 56 will be seen as tragic. But the people who committed suicide at the plants which made his products -- themselves ages 18 to 25 -- are all unknown by name, their deaths simply accepted as an unfortunate but acceptable by product of industrial progress.

Those members of the 99 percent are merely the collateral damage for our Apple devices.

Updated: Just a few weeks ago, Apple reportedly banned an iPhone app called "Phone Story," which portrayed the working conditions at Foxconn through a game. Here's a video of the Android version. According to the website Tom's Guide:

"Apple claims that the app was pulled because it violated four rules for iOS app creation: depictions of child abuse (code 15.2), objectionable or crude content (16.1) and promises to turn over a portion of the money to charity (21.1 and 21.2). According to the developer, 70-percent of the app revenue will pay the bills and salaries. The other 30-percent will supposedly be redirected to organizations that are fighting corporate abuses."

*Some disclosures showing my own dichotomy: This was typed on a MacBook Pro. As the White House said, "There may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented." I, too, learned of it this way, also using my iPhone to read up on Foxconn and follow my colleagues covering Occupy Wall Street.

Also, as an employee of the Village Voice I am a member of UAW Local 2110, which participated in yesterday's march.

sthrasher@villagevoice.com | @steven_thrasher


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33 comments
Kajeeva
Kajeeva

The motion is even higher as technological innovation pushes ahead and more men and women are viewing Television on their Personal computer. Not surprisingly, in case you have cable or satellite Tv, it is possible to view whatever is on ESPN - hopefully it's your group that's playing, but no guarantees! But, if you really want to look at genuine Pascal vs Hopkins motion - dwell, you actually should consider observing your Pascal vs Hopkins on your Computer system.

italy fashion
italy fashion

Current estimates for world production are about 25 million tonnes annually, accounting for 2.5% of the world's arable land. China is the world's largest producer of cotton, but most of this is used domestically. The United States has been the largest exporter for many years.

brochure printing
brochure printing

It took a somewhat longer time for print to penetrate Russia while it appeared a little earlier in the rest of Orthodox Christian world, a region (including modern Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria). First book printed by Serbs appeared in 1493, but Serbian printing, as well as that of other Balkan states, was largely extinguished by the arrival of Ottoman oppressors. Serbian and Greek books were also printed in printing houses run by Serbs and Greeks in Venice, and later Austria-Hungary.

Menu Printing
Menu Printing

I totally agree that some early investments lay down the foudation of innovation and do not always yield tangible & profitable results. However, a lot of companies are not comfortable with this kind of investment. And some companies are too focused on "innovations" that are acheivable in a year. Opportunies are lost when great ideas only achievable further down the road (2-3 years) are put aside.

Plus Size Lingerie
Plus Size Lingerie

In the 1st cent. Arab traders brought fine Muslin and Calico to Italy and Spain. The Moors introduced the cultivation of cotton into Spain in the 9th cent. Fustians and dimities were woven there and in the 14th cent. in Venice and Milan, at first with a linen warp. Little cotton cloth was imported to England before the 15th cent., although small amounts were obtained chiefly for candlewicks.

Monalisa_1968
Monalisa_1968

This same type of conduct goes on at many top corporations, overseas and here in the Continental US.  United Parcel Service (UPS) conducts their business here in this very country like a plantation/sweatshop.  Workers have to run for bathroom breaks, work long hours with little pay and are not afforded rest/work periods that a normal employee would expect.  The workers are worked from the time they arrive till they leave with no breaks.  Work is constantly flowing.  Management micromanages and perpetuates the situation.  UPS prides itself on getting packages all over the world faster than other shippers, partially do to abusive labor practices.  When we constantly demand faster and faster, and cheaper and cheaper, we fail to realize that some worker is going to have to work like a machine to make it happen, usually for very little pay.  So Apple and other corporations are far from alone in the treatment of workers, or of the knowledge of treatment of their subsidiary companies/vendor companies.

Mark A. Griffin
Mark A. Griffin

It is interesting to read a Tweet from someone who is sending it from the protest in NYC on their iPhone in a Starbucks wearing jeans from Areopostle that were made in Bangladesh and a shirt from Vietnam…. Amazingly hypocritical.  How about protesting the college you just left that pays their President 300K and has raised their tuition 15% a year the last 20 years!  As the 20 something’s say… Just sayin.

Geschäftsidee
Geschäftsidee

There were no better recognition than most of the people find out of his death on the device, which he has developed.

Cvan
Cvan

"Did you really need it (smartphone)?  Of course you did.  We invested a lot of money to instill this desire in you."

Well
Well

This is one of the most important articles I've read this year. Fantastic work.

emmAnon
emmAnon

it's not just about the suicides, it's the horrific working conditions, the lack of OHS etc

AndrewMilner
AndrewMilner

It's not JUST the suicides that pissed people off,  it was the well-documented lousy living conditions of the Foxconn workers -- their 70-80 hour workweeks, the cockroach-infested dorms they're obliged to live in, all for a glorious $130 a month salary. 

Sling Trebuchet
Sling Trebuchet

That statement on suicide rates - an abuse of statistics - was disgraceful.It implies that 1 in every X of an arbitrary gathering of Chinese will with absolute certainty commit suicide.http://news.xinhuanet.com/engl..."Seventy-five percent of suicide cases occur in rural areas, three times the number of suicides committed in cities, according to statistics posted on the website of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.""Females are about 25 percent more likely to commit suicide than males in China, while in developed countries, male suicide rates are three times higher than female suicide rates,"So.. males in urban settings would not conform to national average rates. They would be *significantly* lower.Using a global x% to downplay a problem is extremely dishonest.

JB
JB

Touting that the suicide rate is lower than the rest of the country is not an acceptable defense, it's an excuse. Yay, we're a little less evil!

tedra osell
tedra osell

I think the conclusion to be drawn is that even the richest and most successful people in the world are, like the poorest and struggling, enmeshed in a system that exploits the latter for the benefit of the former (and, as I type on my MacBook Air, the benefit of most of us in the "industrialized nations", as well).

The protesters are doing what they can to draw attention to this unpleasant fact. They've been criticized for not having a clear message; but coming up with a clear alternative to worldwide capitalism is a pretty tall order. Clearly, though--given that even (or especially) the very rich and successful can't single-handedly alter the conditions their success and wealth are built on--the only way things will improve is if we collectively struggle towards a more equitable world.

Mattan Ingram
Mattan Ingram

The instant it became apparent that the suicide rate was LOWER than elsewhere in the country, shouldn't it have become clear that this is not something to criticize? This was not something that Steve Jobs or Apple alone pointed out, A LOT of people pointed out that it was a low suicide rate.

Furthermore Apple is one of the few companies who actually behaves ethically, particularly compared to other companies in this country and around the world. Is it really fair to suggest one can't be both against corporate political influence as well as admire a man for building such an innovative and good company?

Epac
Epac

Almost all large US companies do business with overseas "partners" who go about things in a highly unethical manner. But until these practices are uncovered (and it becomes inconvenient), our elected representatives look the other way and allow this to take place.

Daveinoz
Daveinoz

Suicide is a fact of life in all cultures. The question should be, was this suicide rate greater than normal? What should be asked is what services are available for depression in china and for that matter what is available here in Australia. Seeing as we leave a large number of our mentally ill in jail or homeless, I hardly think that we can criticise one factory in one country when the problem is systemic and wide spread worldwide. I mean, the US still executes child offenders, could anything be more barbaric?

cwaggy
cwaggy

blaming Steve Jobs for someone's personal decision to take their own life is quite a stretch.  My friends ex-wife committed suicide; is he to blame?  Don't be ridiculous. 

Eric van Kirk
Eric van Kirk

How about showing me a smart phone made in the US?  Show me clothing readily available that is made in the US?  I think ALL of these things need to be addressed, but instead let's not do anything, and if a group decides to speak out against what is happeneing then let's demonize them...I cannot control the conditions in which companies place their employees in other countries, but our government that is supposedly by and for the people can, but they won't because of their desire and need for power...When did moral obligation become taboo?...Just sayin...

Cvan
Cvan

It is the same rationale the Bush administration used when accused of torture, "Well, at least we're not as bad as ______"

Eric van Kirk
Eric van Kirk

The best way to measure morality is to be just a little more moral than the next, good idea...So if the murder rate is low enough we ignore it?   If child molestation is at a certain level it is acceptable?  Your employees can kill themselves for WHATEVER reason, as long as the rate at which they kill themselves is even or less than elsewhere...Sounds reasoning to be sure...

Cvan
Cvan

What you call innovation, I call consumerism.  There's little Jobs did of lasting benefit for our minds, only consumer convenience.

Eric van Kirk
Eric van Kirk

Good point, since it happens all over and for many reasons let's just let it go and keep happening...I mean to actually find out WHY would not only be time consuming but who cares why anyway?  And what COULD be more barbaric than killing a murderer just because they are a few years younger than we would like?  Let's just lock them up so they can teach/be taught how to steal/kill better so if they get out they won't get caught so quickly, or, if they never get out, they will have the skills to teach other revolving door inmates those same skills...And maybe rape or murder another inmate or two while they are in there, or a guard of they are lucky..Prison, it's more humane than a bullet...

Kyle
Kyle

I don't execute anyone, and I will feel free to condemn both the death penalty and Apple for using factories like the Foxconn factory.

jeremysiron
jeremysiron

did you even read the article? gawd.

Mark A. Griffin
Mark A. Griffin

I hardly demonized them; I have respect that they are speaking out on something they believe in.  I just know that many of them don’t know what’s behind it all.  The problems we have in this country are not hard to understand, it all stems from greed and power. Yes the Dems are just as greedy as the repubs are (of course not all).  The sad thing is in the end, they will have neither.  Mr. Jobs didn’t take his money nor his power with him, and neither will I.

Jonjosuf
Jonjosuf

The question really should be...did you?

Lawyoe
Lawyoe

blaming steve jobs for pressuring to decrease costs which makes him a global billionaire and forces foxconn to employ cost cutting strategies that resulted in the suicides doesnt make sense to you?

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