How Apple's Foxconn Problem Is Like Nike's Sweatshop Problem, And Why The Outcome Is The Same

In recent weeks, we’ve heard news of riots and strikes at some Foxconn plants in China that are making Apple products. Earlier in the year, the New York Times ran a massive feature story detailing working conditions at Foxconn, which left readers with the impression that Foxconn’s plants, while not exactly “sweat shops,” reflect the vast and often troubling differences in workplace standards between China and the U.S. While Foxconn workers did reasonably well compared to their peers, they endured brutal hours and dismal living conditions to achieve it. The situation initially made news in the West after a string of suicides at the plants; the unrest at the end of September put Foxconn back in the news cycle – with one major difference. This time around, coverage was a likely to be about how the riots were effecting Apple’s delivery of the iPhone 5 as it was to be about conditions in the factories.

According to a survey by, the typical Apple consumer is a little more affluent than average. They tend to be college educated (67%) and lean more to the left of centre politically (58% characterise themselves as liberal). In other words, the kind of people that – if you’ll pardon the generalization – would seem to concern themselves with the working conditions in second and third-world countries.

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