$40 000/ year – what Apple’s ipod city labourers could be earning

Apple recently reported $13.06 billion in profits on $46.3 billion in sales – and these are just the figures for the last three months alone!
This is, of course, thanks to the iphone and ipad – (Apple has sold 183 million iphones since its launch 5 years ago) which together now make up about 70% of the companies revenue.
There is mounting evidence that the chinese workers who manufacture apple products aren’t exactly benefitting from that £13 billion profit – in fact, it’s becoming apparent that many of them suffer human rights abuses – To list just a selection of the mounting evidence – (much of which is take from this New York Times Report and this summary from digital journey)
  • 17 Foxconn employees have killed themselves in the past 7 decades
  • Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms
  • Some workers say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk.
  • Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products
  • Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iphone screens.
  • Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions.
  • Finally – A message displayed on a banner above one ‘ipod factory’ reads “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”  

The scary thing about all of the above is that we probably only know about these abuses because the iphone is so high profile – the actual company that manufactures the ipad concerned, its actually a Taiwanese company called Foxconn  

Foxconn's Chengdu plant

Foxconn happens to manufacture a whole load of other well- known brands – including the Kindle, the Xbox, and Playstation 3, and its customers also include other big name phone manufacturers – such as Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung

Foxconn has an annual revenue around $60 billion dollars, employs about 1 million people and has factories in China, India, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Brazil, but the bulk of its manufacturing is based in China where it has 11 factories – the biggest of which is estimated to have between 250 – 400 000 workers in residence. 

Now if we know that Foxconn and Chinese government collude to allow worker-abuse in the manufacture of apple products, my suspicion is that it probably goes on with other products too…!

I started off this post wanting to calculate how much surplus value is being extracted by Apple from its workers, but I quickly realised this is impossible – In order to calculate this accurately we’d have to know precisely what proportion of workers in those Foxconn factories are working exlusively on apple products – rather than making products for all the other companies that Foxconn supplies. This, along with the actual numbers of workers in these factories, are not available.

What I can do, however, is calculate how much apple could afford to give to each worker if we assume that every Foxconn worker works on apple products – and that figure stands at about $13 000 – for the last quarter! – based on

  • $13 000 000 000 – Apple’s profits for one quarter – divided by
  • 1 000 000- the global total of Foxconn employees

If you quadruple that – and reduce it slightly to reflect the fact that last quarter was ‘Christmas quarter’ – you end up with the $40 000 figure at the top of this post. Obviously these stats underemphasise what each worker could be paid out of that profit pool – if you factor in the profits from Foxconn itself and all the other electronics ‘branding companies’ the figure would increase!

To finish, just a final postscript on surpluss value. If you didn’t already hate Apple enough –  if you just look at Apple employees – Apple extracted more than $400 000 from each employee last year…

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