Monday 24th of February 2020

apple, microsoft, whatever...

slave labour

  • Half of the world’s iPhones are made at a sprawling Foxconn factory complex in Zhengzhou, China.
  • It employs as many as 350,000 people and has spawned a mini city that residents have taken to calling “iPhone City.”
  • We spent a day in iPhone City, talking with residents, shop owners, and factory workers to hear about their lives.
  • The story that emerged was one of low pay and long hours, but altogether not that different from other factories in China.
  • Foxconn, the workers told us, is no better or worse than any of the other factories they had worked at.
  • But few saw a way out of the grinding factory lifestyle in which they work six days a week, see their spouses once weekly if they are lucky, and frequently work dozens of hours of overtime.

If you use an iPhone, chances are it was made at a sprawling factory complex in Zhengzhou, China, a city of about 9.5 million people in what is historically one of the country’s poorest provinces, Henan.

The factory, run by the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, employs about 350,000 people and produces about half of the world’s iPhones. In the busy summer months before the fall release of a new iPhone, the factory produces 500,000 phones a day, or up to 350 a minute.

The Foxconn Zhengzhou Science Park is actually more than 20 miles outside downtown Zhengzhou, separated by freeways, suburbs, and dirt scrublands.

But with a workforce rivaling that of many US cities, the factory has sprouted what residents have dubbed “iPhone City.” There, factory workers live in dorms in 10- or 12-story buildings outside Foxconn’s gates, while a migrating workforce of entrepreneurs and vendors sets up shop below to make a living cooking street food, offering massages, or selling socks and other knickknacks.

“These places aren’t like cities,” Thomas Dinges, a senior principal analyst at the market-research firm iSuppli, told CKGSB Knowledge of the communities that form around Foxconn’s factories, of which there are 12 in China. “They are cities.”

We recently spent a day in iPhone City talking to factory workers, restaurant owners, and the many others whose lives are affected by Foxconn. Here’s what it was like.


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The major problems are not the work itself, but the working conditions. The usage of toxic chemicals, long working hours as well as limited access to sunshine make these "privately owned" factories, akin to the building of the pyramids. This is also a contradiction in a communist country where private enterprises are welcome to make private profits — as long as they pay tax, unlike many profitable overseas enterprises operating in Australia..


So China is highly multidimensional and also highly inventive, despite some treadmills stories backlash, such as these. China as a whole is trying hard to improve conditions as well as making money. And should we feel strongly about changing this sad state of affairs, why not buy no-phone and do semaphore instead.

Picture at top, GusLeonisky: Mac (Apple) and Mac (MacDonald's), Georges Street, Sydney (with the new unfinished tramway lines, June 2018).


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paying the price...

Complicit: the workers paying the price for our mobile phone obsession.

"There were iPhone screens and Nokia screens...I held the phone screen in my left hand, and a piece of cloth in my right hand... Wiping was the only thing I did besides eating and sleeping." Teenage worker

Mobile phones, smartphones and tablets have revolutionised the way we communicate but the technology we are addicted to has had toxic consequences.

"I knew we worked with chemicals, but I had no idea that it's poison." Young worker

China produces approximately 90% of the world's consumer electronics. The factories making the components for these electronic goods are filled with young workers. Some have been exposed to poisonous chemicals, with devastating results.

"Many co-workers developed the exact same symptoms. When I walked, it looked like I had uneven legs. It would take 10 minutes to take a two-minute walk. My legs felt too heavy to move." Worker

This investigation, filmed secretly over four years, exposed the use of harmful chemicals in the factories producing the products many of us use. Hidden cameras captured the working conditions inside the factories churning out these products.

"It was the cleaning solution he used, which contained benzene, when he was working at the electronics factory that caused his disease." Father of sick worker

The film charts the growing realisation amongst the workers that their illnesses stem from their work and follows their fight for compensation.
"After we discovered so many workers with leukemia...more media reports followed up and showed that these workers were chemically poisoned." Worker activist
The landmark investigation led Apple to ban the use of benzene, a known carcinogen, and n-hexane, a chemical that damages the nervous system. 

But the ban does not apply to subcontractors who make up two-thirds of Apple's supply chain. And around 500 other chemicals are still used to produce electronics, mostly in the developing world, where there are few or no regulations to protect the workers who make them.

"Many of the workers that I've helped got occupational diseases due to exposure to toxic chemicals. Many are from the electronics industry. They made cell phones, computers, semiconductors etc." Worker activist

Complicit, directed by Heather White & Lynn Zhang and presented by Sarah Ferguson, goes to air on Monday 21st May at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 22nd May at 1.00pm and Wednesday 23rd at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iviewand at


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denouncing the imperium...

The late Anthony Bourdain was travel guide to the Netflix generation. He was a polymath of appetites, with his relentless output of food, surprisingly elegant prose, and, of course, televised travelogues that took us everywhere in trademark don’t-give-a-shit style. He had the perpetual look of the cool uncle who shows up once a year at the family cookout, Corona dangling effortlessly from his fingers as he regales the kids with vaguely edgy stories of his travels while Mom and Dad listen in with equal parts amusement and alarm. He was the hedonist we imagined we once were and the world traveler we always wanted to be.

He is dead now at the age of 61. His fellow chef Eric Ripert, with whom he’d struck up one of the most imperishable (and silver-haired) buddy comedy acts on television, found him hanging in a French hotel room. The news was announced early this morning by CNN, which airs his show Parts Unknown. And while I’m behind on its latest season, the episode I want to see most is the one where Bourdain visits West Virginia and does his best to understand Trump voters, which can only cement his status as CNN’s best correspondent. While cable news typically represents Trump Country with hack pundits thrust into three-minute American Gladiator-style debates, Bourdain had the audacity to actually go there and listen, as he so often has, secondary to but never invisible amidst those he covers.


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What happened?... As Bourdain had been giving the US empire the finger with his anti-multinational products such as MacDonald's sugar buns, in favour of local flambés food fanfares, he decides to top himself? What was wrong? Something was wrong obviously, but what???? Did he discover that his act was all a shonky alley show, when getting involved with the real French cooking of Pellaprat and Curnonsky?

Condolences to his family... and to his friends and to all food lovers of the world...

a cuppa tax at cupertino...


The United States’ first trillion-dollar company by market capitalization, Apple, told tax collectors that buildings in and around the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, were worth just $200 in an effort to save money on its tax bill.

According to a review carried out by the San Francisco Chronicle, the California iPhone and Macbook maker said that its properties clumped around Apple Park were worth $200, even though the county assessor had put the value of the same properties at $384 million. At Apple's prices, it would be cheaper to scoop up the physical property around its headquarters than it would be to buy a laptop from the tech giant.


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not so mac-secure...

A Melbourne private schoolboy who repeatedly broke into Apple’s secure computer systems is facing criminal charges after the technology giant called in the FBI.

The teen, who cannot be named for legal reasons, broke into Apple’s mainframe from his suburban home on multiple occasions over a year because he was such a fan of the company, according to his lawyer.


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a rotten apple going irish pear-shape?...

On August 30, 2016, Brussels ordered Apple to refund to the Irish tax authorities a sum of 13 billion euros corresponding to the tax benefits granted to the American giant by Dublin. Apple (and Ireland) are asking for this decision to be overturned.

Summoned by the European Commission since the summer of 2016, to repay Ireland 13 billion euros of tax benefits, the US giant Apple has, on September 17 before the EU Court, asked to cancel this decision.

"Did Apple design and develop the iPhone in Ireland? The iPad or the iPod? No. The answer is written on every Apple product: "Designed by Apple California", said Daniel Beard, the representative of Apple, before the European judges. Representatives of Ireland, who stand on the side of the company Tim Cook, for their part felt that in wanting to impose such a fine to the US giant, the Commission was mistaken "fundamentally" and had "ignored Irish law".

Apple's demonstration is "irrelevant", according to Richard Lyal, representing the Commission, who criticizes the American company for making arrangements with Ireland which has created a situation of unfair tax competition vis-à-vis other countries of the EU. By repatriating, for more than a decade, all of its European revenues in Ireland, Apple for example benefited from a tax rate ranging from 0.05% in 2011 to 0.005% in 2014.

An advantage which for Brussels therefore constitutes "illegal state aid" while the income of the American company was "made outside" Ireland, "but which existed, according to the Commission, only on paper" as reported by Swiss Radio Television.


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