And to answer that question we turn to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. In January, he and Times correspondent David Barboza wrote the newspaper’s front page investigative series about this very subject. Duhigg says that a lot of what we know about the conditions for Apple workers in China comes from Apple itself, which issues a report each year on this. 1
More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week. Ira Glass: Now, is that necessarily so bad? I mean, aren’t a lot of these workers moving to the city to work as many hours as possible? They’re away from their families; they’re young; and they’re there to make money and they don’t care.
Charles Duhigg: That’s exactly right. You know, when we talked, my colleague David Barboza, as well as a number of translators have spoken to a number of employees in these factories and that’s exactly what they say. And Apple says that as well. They say look, one of the reasons why there is so much overtime that’s inappropriate, and in some places is illegal, is because the workers themselves are demanding that overtime. Now, workers don’t always say that. What workers often say is that they feel coerced into doing overtime – that if they didn’t do overtime when it’s asked of them, that they wouldn’t get any overtime at all and that financially they would suffer as a result.
I do not think that you would find any factory in America where you would find those same conditions and you would not find any Americans who would tolerate those conditions. That being said, I think that China is a little bit different and that the expectations, particularly as a developing nation of workers, are a little bit different. I don’t think holding them to American standards is precisely the right way to look at the situation.2
1. Nothing says objective reporting like regurgitating Apple press releases.
2. This argument is as compelling as the argument that the railroads couldn't have been built (as cheaply and profitably for the owner Robber Barons) if blowing up Chinamen was anything to take all that seriously.