A few weeks ago, media reports surfaced which accused Apple Computer of employing children in Chinese sweatshops to manufacture its iPods. The reports also alleged that working conditions were well below acceptable standards and that the workers were overworked and underpaid.

The headlines were typically vicious: ‘China’s young make them, America’s youth buy them’, ‘Apple slaves’, ‘iPod Children’. The company promised to investigate the claims, and gave its response today via a press release.

Before we take a look at it, here’s a short primer. There are a lot of people who hate the idea of corporations and big business, even though they buy their products and services everyday. Whether they are the unwashed, anti-capitalist, hippie socialists who join protests in their free time but basically live in the wrong decade, or, more commonly, people who essentially subscribe to a leftist political philosophy but find themselves strung along in this mixed economy, people who call themselves ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’, ‘social democrat’; anti-corporate types don’t like to be pigeonholed but are easy to spot. So I use the word ‘Left’ to describe their position on the political spectrum, and they’ve never much liked corporations.

Now. I’m aware that, in the past month, I’ve come to the defence of several corporations in this blog and that that leaves me open to charges that I merely find it pleasurable to suckle at the hairy corporate nipple. Not so, my friends. I enjoy the results of capitalism, I believe that a free market is fair, and I think that those who have worked hardest to achieve their success deserve to be defended in political debate: those people comprise corporations. Mine happens to be one of the few philosophically congruous political ideologies that explicitly supports private property and the right to create wealth. It’s only right that I dwell in this political minefield and bring a common sense perspective: that businesses are comprised of society’s most valuable people, people who create wealth.

Silicon Valley, California is composed entirely out of such created wealth. It isn’t built from excessive hoards of natural resources like minerals or fossil fuels. It isn’t built from old money made elsewhere. It wasn’t taxed, it wasn’t stolen. The wealth in Silicon Valley was created! It once didn’t exist; human creativity brought it into existence. That’s exciting, for it proves that we don’t have a finite economic supply that we must all share around: wealth can be created, and is, everyday. Apple invented the personal computer in the 1970’s, changing for good the way human beings live their lives. Sensible people would say that they earned their profit for that, fair and square. But the Left demonise them for it.

A later and more recent Apple innovation was the iPod, a product whose influence cannot be adequately emphasised. There is now an entire iPod mini-economy, and a majority of US automobiles manufactured in 2007 will now have optional iPod integration. Not since the radio has a product been offered so unanimously by car manufacturers. Millions now have iPods. Now that’s a successful product.

But, typically, the Left have found a problem.

You see, in the global economy, it is cheaper for Apple to have its products, which are created in California, actually manufactured in the inexpensive, unskilled Chinese job market. Leftists don’t like this at all. The problem is that there is a perceived inequality inherent in globalisation, and so it’s become a favourite hunting ground for social horror stories with which to spank the corporate ass. Fortunately, there’s usually not much substance to them.

“Lunchtime arrives and hundreds of young, weary workers in company shirts flood through factory gates and out into the sweltering southern air,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. I feel sorry for them already. “Born poor in rural China, they have come to this manufacturing mecca to make the latest gadgets for the world – the iPods, cell phones and laptops that, of course, they can’t afford.”

Man, the least Apple could do is throw ‘em an iPod or two for their efforts. The allegations are that the workers at Foxconn (which manufactures components for Silicon Valley) are forced to work too much, and that they get paid too little. Oh, and that their working conditions are crap. So let’s look at what Apple found out:

First, they interviewed a bunch of employees. After several weeks, they realised they couldn’t understand a word the employees were saying, so they hired an interpreter.

Okay, I’ll take this seriously, I’m sorry. It’s just so ridiculous. Okay, let me start again.

They interviewed the employees. They reviewed thousands of documents “…including personnel files, payroll data, time cards, and security logs. In total, the audit spanned over 1200 person-hours and covered over one million square feet of facilities.” But was that enough? Maybe the spanking machines are taken away just before the investigators come in?

Importantly, “The team reviewed personnel files and hiring practices and found no evidence whatsoever of the use of child labor or any form of forced labor.” Well, I didn’t expect that they would.

As for the charge that working conditions are crap, check it out: “The campus includes factories, employee housing, banks, a post office, a hospital, supermarkets, and a variety of recreational facilities including soccer fields, a swimming pool, TV lounges and internet cafes. Ten cafeterias are also located throughout the campus offering a variety of menu choices such as fresh vegetables, beef, seafood, rice, poultry, and stir-fry noodles. In addition, employees have access to 13 different restaurants on campus. Employees were pleased with the variety and quality of food offerings…” – well of course they were! The working conditions are better working on an American contract than they would be working for almost any Chinese company.

On December 15th, 2003, I wrote an article titled ‘Don’t Knock Globalisation!’ In it, I cited a Reader’s Digest piece by Johan Norberg, a reporter in Vietnam, who chronicled the effects of Western companies who have factories in countries with a cheap labour market. All the effects were good. They’re paid better than they would be by other companies. They’re buying cars, where before they could barely afford bicycles. They’re building extensions to their houses. They’re given benefits and education. There is often a waiting list for applicants. The local economy is thriving and poverty is falling: a phenomenon Adam Smith called “The Invisible Hand” because it did social good, despite the fact that its only intention was to make money.

“We found no instances of forced overtime and employees confirmed in interviews that they could decline overtime requests without penalty. We did, however, find that employees worked longer hours than permitted by our Code of Conduct, which limits normal workweeks to 60 hours…” – sixty hours?! Surely they’re being forced to work that much? Nobody would want to work over 60 hours on an assembly line, surely, of their own volition! Apple must have discovered Chinese water torture or something! These capitalist thugs!

Actually: “The single largest complaint [from workers at Foxconn] was the LACK OF OVERTIME during non-peak periods…” [emphasis proudly mine]. These people want to work! I know this must be terribly difficult for Lazy, Lethargical Leftism at Large to understand – since their idea of work is to chain themselves to cedar trees and smoke pot – but these workers are enjoying the money it makes them and want more hours – it’s everything Foxconn can do to keep it below 60 hours per week!

“We explicitly asked every line worker whether they had ever been subjected to or witnessed objectionable disciplinary punishment. Two employees reported that they had been disciplined by being made to stand at attention.” No! To stand at attention? What the workers are clearly frightened to share is that, while they were standing at attention, their pants were probably removed using scissors and they were most likely forced to go for days, blindfolded with no pants. Why, if only we could see what really goes on in these sweatshops.

Let’s be totally, brutally honest here, folks. The only ones with no idea what socially responsibility means are the Left. They claim to speak for the worker but are ignorant about what it is that creates work. They claim to want to eradicate poverty but want to hinder the work of those who have most effectively done so. They claim to be ‘progressive’ while their policies would prohibit those in developing countries or regions from developing as the West have done.

I’ll leave you with some descriptions, from Apple, of the worksite and dormitories that are owned and leased by Foxconn for the workers who build iPods everyday. Much to the disappointment of our anti-corporate friends, life in a ‘sweatshop’ looks something like this:

“The dorms have TV rooms, potable water, private lockers, free laundry service, and public telephones. Many also have ping-pong and snooker tables, and sitting/reading areas. All of the on-campus dorms have air conditioning. … Employees work in factories that are generally bright, clean and modern with air-conditioned assembly line areas, and are provided with protective gear. … Workers are not required to live [on campus], though a majority do.”

Makes you wish the leftists were in charge, huh?

John Wright