iPod sweatshops

Fans of Apple’s ridiculously popular iPods have long been called “slaves” to their gadgets, even by their own admission. A report this weekend in the British Mail on Sunday suggests there might be more to that charge, at least for the people who assemble some of the machines. The article, which isn’t available online, profiles ...

607307_ipod_final5.jpg
607307_ipod_final5.jpg

Fans of Apple's ridiculously popular iPods have long been called "slaves" to their gadgets, even by their own admission. A report this weekend in the British Mail on Sunday suggests there might be more to that charge, at least for the people who assemble some of the machines.

The article, which isn't available online, profiles several factories in China where the iPods are assembled, and finds that the largely female workforce resides in "iPod cities" with as many as 200,000 employees. Outsiders are forbidden, and 15-hour workdays are the norm. As you might expect, the wages are low, even for China. The average income of $50 a month means that a worker in one of these factories would have to work eight months to buy a top-of-the-line iPod that she assembles.

The report also offers rare interviews with some of these workers:

Fans of Apple’s ridiculously popular iPods have long been called “slaves” to their gadgets, even by their own admission. A report this weekend in the British Mail on Sunday suggests there might be more to that charge, at least for the people who assemble some of the

machines.

The article, which isn’t available online, profiles several factories in China where the iPods are assembled, and finds that the largely female workforce resides in “iPod cities” with as many as 200,000 employees. Outsiders are forbidden, and 15-hour workdays are the norm. As you might expect, the wages are low, even for China. The average income of $50 a month means that a worker in one of these factories would have to work eight months to buy a top-of-the-line iPod that she assembles.

The report also offers rare interviews with some of these workers:

“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.”

The charges sound deplorable, in that they could reveal the sad truth that Apple is not unlike any other successful global company that relies on cheap labor in poor countries to produce its machines. It might particularly shock the relatively wealthy customers whose attractive little iPod packages proudly proclaim that they are “Designed for Apple in California.”

Wired‘s Leander Kahney dissects the charge in the magazine’s blog today. He makes the excellent point that, while it’s too early to make a sweeping judgment about Apple’s labor practices, “for a company that has staked its image on progressive politics, Apple has set itself up as a potential lightning rod on global labor standards.”

Apple has yet to respond to the article, but we’ll certainly follow this story as it develops. Check out Macworld‘s Web site for another summary of the report. 

Photo courtesy of China Labor Watch; photo illustration by FP.

Kate Palmer is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy.

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