Whimsical Branding Obscures Apple’s Troubled Supply Chain

Ipod-NanoSuicide at Foxconn. Poisoned workers. Colluding to inflate the price of e-books. Tax evasion (albeit, legal). Shady suppliers who can’t toe the line of labor or environmental laws in China. Apple’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years, but it sales have continued to climb. How does Apple maintain its economic dominance in light of such powerful scandals? With an exceptionally strong brand that taps into our hopes and cultivates positive emotions. Read the full article at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing.

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Underage Workers, Forced Internships, School Closures, and “Left-Behind Children”: Apple’s Impact on China’s Youth

Students at Renda Fuzhong Xishan school use an iPad in the classroom.
Students at Renda Fuzhong Xishan school use an iPad in the classroom. Published on Apple’s website.

Apple has long considered itself a renegade, a breaker of conventions, and a change-maker, and education has been a realm in which it seeks to have a revolutionary impact. Apple is well-known for its long-standing presence in classrooms, and its executives maintain, “Education is in our DNA.”

Apple is proud of its relationships with schools, as shown by the company’s robust education section of their website. While researching Apple’s education customers for my previous post, “The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple,” one customer profile, which includes a short film, caught my attention.

The “Apple in Education Profile” of Renda Fuzhong (RDFZ) Xishan in Beijing, China, explains that a revolution in education is underway in the country, thanks in part to use of Apple’s MacBook Pro and iPad in the school’s 7-9th grade classrooms. Breaking from what is described as the dysfunctional Chinese educational model focused on “core knowledge” and “rigorous testing,” with the help of Apple products the school has implemented a successful new model that promotes “personal growth, creativity, and innovation.”

The description of the school’s “experimental” model of education resonates with contemporary American values and trends present in Apple’s marketing. In my study with Gabriela Hybel of over 200 Apple commercials that have aired in the US since 1984, we found that one of the key themes that courses through them is that Apple products allow their users to cultivate and express intellectual and artistic creativity. A video profile of the school and its program resonates with this theme, and provides an inspiring take on the what Apple means to the youth of China (Note: Please watch the video! Doing so will allow you to see for yourself the great contrast in how students from different backgrounds experience Apple).

As I read the profile of RDFZ and watched the video about the school, I couldn’t help but think that this did not seem to be an accurate depiction of what Apple means to the youth of China. While I certainly think it is great for these students that they are receiving a top-notch and technologically innovative education, a little research revealed that RDFZ Xishan is considered the most prestigious school in Beijing. While it is described by Apple as a public school, it is the sister school of Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire–both exclusive private schools. The middle school is a part of the RDFZ high school, which funnels students to the most elite universities in China, the UK, and the US. It is also a part of the G20 Schools, a collection of elite and mostly private secondary schools around the world. In short, this school serves the children of Beijing’s wealthy elite–a minuscule portion of China’s youth.

When we think about what Apple means to the youth of China, we have to consider not only the privileged few who might benefit from using the company’s products in the classroom, but the hundreds of thousands of young workers assembling Apple products in factories throughout the country. Their experience of Apple is vastly different from that of the students of RDFZ Xishan. A recent report from China Labor Watch, which details numerous violations of Chinese labor laws and the employment of minors at Apple suppliers, makes this fact shockingly clear.

Continue reading Underage Workers, Forced Internships, School Closures, and “Left-Behind Children”: Apple’s Impact on China’s Youth

Unpacking the Balikbayan Box: Transnational Pilipino Families in Global Perspective

A guest post by Kimberley Africa

Standing next to the balikbayan box my parents just sent in June 2013.
Standing next to the balikbayan box my parents just sent in June 2013.

Ever since I can remember, I have watched my mom and dad fill a huge box with clothes, towels, Spam, shoes, nonperishable foods, and a countless number of other things until they could fit no more. I remember looking into the box and wishing that the huge container of Nesquik were in my hands instead of being cradled by Tang and powdered iced tea. My parents explained that they sent the box to my cousins in the Philippines because they didn’t have all that we had. I always frowned at this, because we definitely did not have chocolate milk mix in the cupboards.

Space is precious. Once my parents made sure that there was no empty crevice left in the box, they would start the closing process. This is a ritual that I have watched so many times: my mom’s and dad’s hands work simultaneously to close the box. Sometimes they ask one of us kids to help. Their experience in packing boxes is clear in their quickness and accuracy. But, taping the top of the box is just the beginning. My dad then grabs a black permanent marker and writes his brother’s address on each side of the box, save the bottom. Then, he wraps the entire surface of the box in clear packing tape to ensure its security on its transoceanic voyage.

“Do they make you tape the entire box?” I once asked. “No, but this is how I can make sure your cousins get everything,” my dad replied.

Continue reading Unpacking the Balikbayan Box: Transnational Pilipino Families in Global Perspective

A Panel Discussion of Consumer Ethics & Labels Featuring the Nomad

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 2.14.03 PMOn November 29, 2012, the Nomad, in her role as Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology, participated in a panel discussion titled “Ethics and Labels: Considering Consumer Activism” hosted by the Pomona Student Union at Pomona College. Other panelists included Mayra Orellana-Powell, owner of Catracha Coffee; Matt Warning, Professor of Economics at University of Puget Sound; and Mike Perry, owner and roastmaster of Klatch Coffee. The panel was moderated by Charlotte Dohrn, a student at Pomona College.

Laws to Protect Domestic Workers Move Forward

Editor’s note: Since publication Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In celebration of this victory for the labor movement and immigrant rights movement, we proudly revisit this piece by Gabriela Hybel, originally posted in July 2012. If you want to know the history behind the bill, give this thoughtful post a read.

A guest post by Gabriela Hybel

On November 29th, 2010 New York passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, making it the first state to enact laws specifically protecting those who provide cleaning and caring labor in the homes of others. A recent report by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment explains that this bill guarantees workers a maximum eight-hour work day, one day off per week, three paid days off per year, overtime pay, and temporary disability benefits provided by the employer. It also protects workers from discrimination, sexual harassment, and harassment based on gender, race, national origin, and religion.

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Producers & Roasters Seek Fair Trade Beyond Certification

Whether or not to allow plantations into the fair trade model is not the only debate raging within the specialty coffee industry. Another, and more wide-reaching debate, is whether certification schemes benefit producers, or if they are in fact barriers to trade. While millions of small-scale coffee producers have benefitted from certification systems like Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, and Rainforest Alliance over the last twenty years, they have not done so without critique and resistance. Drawing from conversations I have had recently with producers, cooperative administrators, exporters, roasters and distributors, this post addresses the dark, untold stories of certified production and trade.

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The Battle for Fair Trade Rages On

Back in January 2012, in response to Fair Trade USA’s (FTUSA) decision to begin certifying plantation-grown coffee, I wrote that fair trade was dead. Some critics vehemently disagreed with my assessment, seeming to take issue with the sweeping declarative statement I made, and accusing me of conflating the concept of “fair trade” with the products distributed by FTUSA. While I do not conflate the two, in reality, most consumers in the US do. Because the vast majority of fair trade certified coffee distributed in the US is licensed by FTUSA, it has until this year born the widely recognized black and white label the organization has used since 1999. As we sociologists say, while it may not be factually true that FTUSA and “fair trade” are one in the same, that consumers conflate them makes this conflation true in its consequences. Since the US market accounts for over half of global fair trade certified coffee consumption, for small producers the inclusion of plantations in the FTUSA model does in fact signal the death of fair trade. When the majority of the marketplace shifts the terms of trade to your disadvantage, “fair trade” is little more than a broken dream. Yet, I am happy to report that in the aftermath of this historic change at FTUSA, the battle for fair trade rages on in the hearts, minds, and collective action of small producers and those who advocate for them. On the heels of a forum held to address this issue at the recent convention of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), this post brings you the voices of those fighting to preserve the integrity of the fair trade movement.

Continue reading The Battle for Fair Trade Rages On

Fair Trade is Dead. Long Live the Farmer Cooperative.

Since 1999 Fair Trade USA, formerly TransFair USA, has brought Fair Trade certified coffee to the U.S. market. The organization, which manages the licensing and distribution of products in the U.S., introduced millions of consumers to the principles of Fair Trade. They did so primarily through coffee, which accounts for over seventy percent of the American Fair Trade market. Through product branding and advertising campaigns, even an award-winning documentary film, people in the U.S. have come to associate the Fair Trade label with democratically organized farming cooperatives, a minimum price that on average is higher than the price per pound paid on the open market, and social, economic, and environmental initiatives in producing communities. But, in January, 2012, Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) changed the rules dramatically. While they continue to market the small-scale farmer and the cooperative as the face of the brand, the base of it now is transnational corporations and large-scale plantations. So much for the little guy.

Continue reading Fair Trade is Dead. Long Live the Farmer Cooperative.

What Black Friday Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Between Thursday, November 24th–Thanksgiving–and Sunday, the 27th, an estimated 226 million Americans went shopping. Nearly three quarters of the entire population of the United States poured out of their homes, into big-box and chain stores, and spent 52.4 billion dollars. Not “million.” Billion. On “Cyber Monday” digital shoppers spent an additional $1.25 billion. This sum represents the most ever spent in one day, which beat the previous record holder, last year’s Cyber Monday, by twenty-two percent. Economists and financial analysts refer to this holiday ritual, kicked off by “Black Friday,” as an annual stimulus package. This one requires no lobbying, no congressional debate, nor political infighting. This stimulus is endorsed and paid for by the majority of Americans, without question. Sociologists have long believed that we can learn a lot about ourselves when we examine the things that we hold most dear. Particularly as it comes after an autumn of fierce protest and in the midst of a broad social movement against economic domination and wealth inequality, this year’s holiday shopping extravaganza reveals a lot about American culture, and our relationship to capitalism.

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I Am Thankful

For the second year in a row, I find myself outside of the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday. Feeling that you should be celebrating something that doesn’t register to anyone around you is a strange experience. Here in Paris, today is just another Thursday. There is no scent of roasting turkey, nor aroma of cinnamonny pumpkin pie wafting through the halls of the building where I have rented a studio, and there is no run on cranberries at the grocer. I did not cook an elaborate meal. Apart from picking up my favorite food–potato chips–an extra large beer, and a dessert I have been eyeing for weeks at my corner patisserie, I hadn’t planned on marking the day in any special way. But, as I smoked a cigarette while gazing down at the busy Rue Bobillot last night, I realized I have a lot to be thankful for this year, and I wanted to take the time, absent a feast and holiday cocktails, to express that. Here goes.

Continue reading I Am Thankful