Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Getting to the bottom of Apple and human cost

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  • Andrew C, in reply to DexterX,

    An example of getting the little stuff wrong is abolishing LAQC so that someone setting up their own business in any year does not get to offset their loss against their taxable income – this will stop people from starting out in small business and have a detrimental effect on economic growth.

    I thought the main reason they got rid of it was because of the breathtaking amounts of losses mum and dad property investors were funneling through LAQC's, and it tied nicely in with the Govt's view that investing in non-productive property has a detrimental effect on economic growth. Maybe you're damned no matter what you do...

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Reid, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Water, especially.

    The NY Times says "half the nation’s rivers and lakes are unfit for human contact"

    And "Cadmium poisoning has been a persistent problem, especially among those working at battery plants or living near them."

    South Africa • Since Nov 2006 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Andrew C,

    Yup, once you make a tax loophole, it'll be used for all sorts of things. Like setting up a fishing charter business so you can buy a boat - you do two or three charter trips a year to put some runs on the board, but basically it's a hobby. Or indeed, building a couple of websites and then expensing your entire toy collection.

    If a business doesn't work without a taxpayer subsidy, it probably wasn't that good an idea to start with.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4209 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    I didn’t mean to imply that we were somehow managing to shoot water out into space or otherwise disappear it. Rather that there’s only a certain amount of water available, most of that is not immediately useable other than for floating boats on, and we really do need to be a lot more careful with the very limited resources we do have.

    As for here in Beijing, we certainly seem to be not just reducing the amount of useable water locally available, but the total amount of water. It’s being pumped out of reservoirs and aquifers, used domestically, agriculturally and industrially, then the waste dumped back into rivers to work its way down to Tianjin and the Bohai Sea faster than it’s being replaced. As a result, the entire North China Plain is sinking.

    Oops, almost forgot: As for Beijing's largest reservoir, a police helicopter crashed in it last year, and just a few days ago a rather dimwitted taxi driver decided to take his family for a spin on the ice. The ice cracked, taxi fell in, driver managed to get out but his wife and 18/19 year old son drowned (the imprecise age is understandable when you consider that China has two distinct methods for measuring age and the obvious emotional trauma of the grandparent being interviewed).

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 1729 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yup. Add in the minor political parties, protest (those I’ve seen have been limited to groups of unhappy-looking people standing around outside the local government hq being watched by a few cops, posters pasted next to a public notice, or grafitti, and at least one was very successful), a nascent civil society in the form of NGOs and various associated movements, and the internet. I personally suspect China will eventually democratise, but the resulting democracy will look and function very differently from anything outside Mainland China as it will very gradually evolve to suit Chinese conditions.

    ETA: and thanks.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 1729 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    The water transfer projects currently being built are pretty incredible, though. There's some serious commitment in projects that take many decades. Environmental concerns have held them up, but anywhere else they would have killed them stone dead, not to mention financial objections to the cost.

    Only in China could you solve the problem of the entire North being too dry by building aqueducts big enough to feed such an immense region.

    Seems like a strange solution - I'd have thought if you can't get water somewhere, then that means don't make things there that need lots of water. But when you're from a communist mentality, and the Chairman, he say "Southern water is plentiful, northern water scarce. If at all possible, borrowing some water would be good.", then that's what's gonna happen.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8015 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to BenWilson,

    And on the less crazy end of the scale, they're also investing in water recycling, efficiency (e.g. drip irrigation), rainwater collection, and adjusting the massively subsidised water prices, like hiking the price/cutting the subsidy to water-intensive businesses (including car washes and bathhouses). I'm picking desalination plants will start to appear in coastal regions in the near future, too. Personally, I suspect those smaller-scale, local projects will have a greater effect than the South-North water diversion. After all, the Yangtze has its source in the same Himalayan glaciers as the Yellow and Huai (and Mekong, Irrawaddy, Salween, Bhramaputra, Ganges, Indus...).

    Still, one thing NZ's leadership really should learn from China's central leadership, far from being bullying and intimidation of journalists, is the value of strategic thinking. The South-North Water Diversion is crazy, but it has a certain logic, and along with all this other investment in cleaning the place up and securing water supplies, it shows a lot of attention is being paid to fixing some very long term problems and ensuring a viable future. "More dairy farms, and put them in areas unsuited to dairy farming!" seems to be more on the level of township and village governments here. But although China is very authoritarian, I don't think it's down to the ability of the Chairman to simply order things done - decision making, especially now that each administration serves two consecutive five year terms during which the successor administration is set and cultivated, seems to involve a lot more hashing things out through committees and between factions over quite an extended period than bellowing orders like a bully boy village leader.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 1729 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to BenWilson,

    Chairman, he say “Southern water is plentiful, northern water scarce. If at all possible, borrowing some water would be good.”

    Well, as you can probably figure out for yourselves this is a brilliant idea because once you have used the water up north it flows back down south again thus creating great production for the Peoples Republic.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4445 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    although China is very authoritarian, I don't think it's down to the ability of the Chairman to simply order things done - decision making, especially now that each administration serves two consecutive five year terms during which the successor administration is set and cultivated

    It's one of history's greatest ironies that a system designed (mostly) by Lenin in order to enable communism to establish itself in the face of reaction from bourgeois and lumpen-proletarian elements has become the most effective means of managing late industrial capitalism.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4209 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Hmm. BSR, a labour rights and social responsibility group, has complained about the way an unnamed "BSR consultant" was quoted repeatedly in the second of the Times' stories. I kind of think they have a point. I read that as being indicative of the organisation's view, but it appears this wasn't an employee.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Hmph, facts, schmacts.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Anyone interested in knowing a bit more about the shocking conditions in the US meat processing industry should read
    fast food nation' (if you haven't already).

    Also, 'methland', which notes the close links between the amphetamine trade in the US, and the meatpacking industry. Basically, the only way to make a living wage and get through the shifts that workers are asked to do...is to take speed. Given the piss-poor conditions, the industry is dominated by illegal immigrants, upper management actively conniving to keep this the case (they're far cheaper than legals, cos they don't have rights, see?).

    Not surprisingly, large numbers turn to dealing, initially to supplement their income, and then move on to dealing full time. If the choice is between working legally in a place where at intervals you have to pour boiling water over your steel boots to stop your feet freezing, or dealing? Not so much of a choice, really.

    The networks of factories and their workforces provide a ready-made market and supply network. Not incidentally, the by-products of illegal meth manufacture are often dumped in the nearest rivers, and are slowly poisoning water supplies in the US.

    A couple of people have mentioned industrial revolution-type population shifts from country to city. Probably worth considering as well immigrant conditions in New Yorks garment district around the turn of last century, and conditions in Chicago's meat-packing plants around the same time. We'll probably see the same sort of shifts to better conditions in China over time as the middle class expands, but it does rather beg the question of whose shoulders they will be standing on to get their cheap goods.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2292 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Getting manufacturing out of China isn’t the answer. People come from China’s provinces to work in these factories because it gives them some chance to aspire. They’re as entitled to those aspirations as much as any American worker is.

    Sure, and just between us, I suspect those workers would love significantly better pay and conditions. Talking about "getting manufacturing out of China" is not only missing the point, but pointing at the wrong end of the chain. If you want cheap shit from China, end-consumers like you and me really shouldn't come over all surprised when we're reminded who's really paying for it.

    It's just possible that a shirt manufactured in the EU is more expensive than one made in a sweatshop because (surprise!) an atelier in Paris or a plant in Milan can't pay its workers a few Euros a day for 14 hour shifts; meeting OSH and environmental standards isn't cheap.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    It’s just possible that a shirt manufactured in the EU is more expensive than one made in a sweatshop because (surprise!) an atelier in Paris or a plant in Milan can’t pay its workers a few Euros a day for 14 hour shifts; meeting OSH and environmental standards isn’t cheap.

    It’s also a huge jump to assume that because something is cheap it comes from a ‘sweatshop’.

    I have no experience of manufacturing in China but I do have some experience in Thailand and extensive experience in Indonesia. The latter nation in particular is tainted with the same sorts of labour charges as China, with some past substance I think.

    However my experience, which isn’t insubstantial, is of factories little different to the places I worked when I was student making holiday bucks in South Auckland – and of labour laws that are strong, free health and childcare etc.

    The reason, primarily, that the shirt you buy from Milan would be vastly more expensive has as much to do with the simple fact that everything, society wide, is vastly more expensive in Milan – wages, rent, food, transport, schooling, health and so on, as anything else. And of productivity levels and efficiencies that we can no longer attain in the west of course.

    Sure it can be gruelling, hard, and mostly faceless work, but so was the packing floor at Westfield when I was a lad. And we were not well paid mostly – even for the compulsory overtime hours we had to work.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3184 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    It’s also a huge jump to assume that because something is cheap it comes from a ‘sweatshop’.

    No, fair points very well made. And I’d like to think that as consumers we have ultimate power (and responsibility) to say to retailers and manufacturers that “price” PLUS “decent pay and conditions for workers” PLUS “not turning someone else’s backyard into a toxic waste dump” isn’t only social responsibility but corporate responsibility. No matter where the goods come from.

    I’m not willing to spend $30 on a pair of undies. But I am willing to spend a couple of bucks more on a still cheap six pack of gruts from The Warehouse, knowing that the people who made them are getting paid a living wage in reasonable conditions. Putting millions back under the poverty line, and dooming them to stay there, isn’t a solution because they're not the problem. Enforcing meaningful labour and environmental standards is part of it. So are governments and consumers sending a clear message to businesses that worse practice is bad business.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    Sure it can be gruelling, hard, and mostly faceless work, but so was the packing floor at Westfield when I was a lad. And we were not well paid mostly – even for the compulsory overtime hours we had to work.

    But you did have basic labour standards. It's interesting that the rich and powerful US doesn't seem able to operate a meat-processing industry that isn't a frightening and abusive hell for those who labour in it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Are you sure you're not a socialist? ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Sure, and just between us, I suspect those workers would love significantly better pay and conditions.

    Which is why, over the last few years, there have been reports of a labour shortage in the Pearl River Delta as migrant workers have collectively told the factories there that pay and conditions aren't good enough and have gone home.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 1729 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to nzlemming,

    Are you sure you’re not a socialist? ;-)

    I’m one of those people who doesn’t accept that “capitalism” and “the anus of the body politic” are the same thing, or that consumers are just powerless drones. It seems to me that happy, well-paid, healthy workers are productive ones. Productive workers are the engine room of profit, growth and innovation. Then again, what do I know?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    .

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1712 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Gareth Ward,

    .

    I can see your point.
    ;-)

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4445 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Graham,

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2011 • 39 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Peter Graham,

    Interesting piece. Bits I liked:

    about 230,000 of whom produce products for Apple, the others assembling for Dell, HP, just about every electronics company in fact

    Exactly. If you're gonna do a boycott you might as well do it properly and give up all your gadgets. Back to pen and paper and licking the back of stamps.

    The question is not whether $17 a day is a low wage or not: it’s low relative to what? For a start, working those 6 day weeks that comes out to an annual income of $6,000 a year. No, not great riches by our standards but in China it’s a pretty fair whack.

    That's the better part of 40k yuan Renminbi? Factor in free dorm and other benefits. It's not great, but certainly doable, and as pointed out, higher than average. I'm guessing those based in the Chengdu factories face a lower cost of living, anyway, but if even here in Beijing, which absurdly keeps coming out near the top in "expensive cities for expats to live in" surveys (yeah, right. Only if you need a fancy house in a gated community, chauffeured car, international schools for the kids, plenty of entertainment focussed solely on the expat community, and other ways of segregating yourself from your host society), it's entirely possible to live cheaply. On that kind of package it would actually be possible to save enough to buy an iPad. It wouldn't be easy, but it would be possible.

    And a nitpick:

    a massive famine caused by Mao’s communist idiocy.

    I don't see how there's anything particularly communist about having farmers make steel in backyard furnaces rather than tend their crops and animals. Seems like your common or garden variety dictatorial lunacy to me.

    Trouble with that article, though, is that Tim Worstall is being rational. He should know better than that.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 1729 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But you did have basic labour standards.

    Hell, we had Lofty Urlich and Frank Barnard dragging us into the central courtyard at least once a week telling us to down tools and head home over what always seemed to be a slight infraction by the management.

    I can still fondly hear the growing chants of 'homa-homa-homa' that always followed a rousing tirade by brother Lofty.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3184 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    That wasn’t really my point though. It was more that the West should also look to itself.

    In fairness, Apple' practices in China are American practices, and a legitimate subject of US journalism. Outsourcing, and the concomitant demise of US manufacturing, is an American problem. The country is trying to find a solution to the fact that its best non-menial jobs are being shipped overseas.

    Since Nov 2006 • 526 posts Report Reply

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