Sunday, 17 November 2013


An Unimaginable Dip In The Curvature Of The Hare Universe : Makeshift 2013
You have it, at last, in your hand. The latest Apple iPhone 5 S. Holding it aloft, to let everyone one around have a good look at your latest status symbol. You wave to your friend and call out 'I'll give you a call!' They give you the thumbs up but you pretend she hasn't heard you and you wave your phone again - yes folks it's an Apple iPhone 5 S : 'A call! I'll give you a call!'

You notice the reaction of the people on a passing bus, their eyes widen, they are all mouthing WOW! Even the bus driver, mesmerised by the new phone, almost runs into the rear of a car that has stopped at traffic lights, only managing to brake in time before causing a collision.

Apple Of Your Eye

But, then, how exactly did that phone get into your hand? What journey did it take, who was involved in putting it together, how does that interconnectiviity take place?
The iconic iPhone is produced by US company Apple. In September 2013, Apple was named the most valuable brand on the planet, taking the crown from Coca Cola.

But, the first thing to get our head around, of course, is that Apple - based in Cupertino, California and with a global workforce of some 80,000 - are only the designers in the chain that results in the production of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and so on. Selling around 4 million iPhones at £550 a throw, they are not responsible for the manufacture of the product.

The Universal Contractor

One of the best known of Apple's contractors is a company called Foxconn. Headquartered in the Tungchen District of New Tapei, Taiwan the company are responsible for the manufacture of high-end electronics products including iPad, iPhone, Amazon's Kindle and Sony Playstation.

Foxconn has a global workforce estimated at around 1.25 million and its largest factory complex is to be found at Longhuen, Shenzhen, China, often known as iPod City with a workforce purported to be in the region of 350,000.

Longhuen is a huge complex of 15 factories complete with worker's dormitories, a swimming pool, grocers and even its own Foxconn TV channel. As well as owning 13 plants in 9 Chinese cities, Foxconn also have factories in Brazil, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, India, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico.

One of the other major contractors in the production of Apple products is Flextronics International with its base in Singapore and operations spread across no fewer than 30 countries.

The Universal Recruiter

When new products come to the market, contractors like Foxconn and Flextronics need people to populate their factories and sub-contract recruitment to their identified and trusted agents. These recruiters, in turn, enlist the help of sub-recruiters a bit closer to the ground in countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia, where workers are desperate for employment and, therefore, migrant labour potentially plentiful.

However, there are still deeper layers in this process. Often the sub-recruiters ( the national recruiters of the original global recruiters) need to reach to the urban poor or farm labourers in the cities and rural landscapes of the countries mentioned above. They have to seek out local hiring agents and hence can become entangled with an informal, unregulated, army of street level 'recruiters' stretching across many global borders.

At this level unscrupulous hiring agents will charge migrant labour for the privilege finding them work in alien nations thousands of miles from home, taking up to $400 per individual for 'administration' costs? Unable to afford these 'fees' the poor will often borrow from, yes, you guessed, informal, unregulated lenders to ensure passage.

In effect, the urban impoverished and rural peasants, through necessity, are made even poorer in the process, while being ripped from families, children and loved ones and sent thousands of miles to sub-contracted factories in places like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - where, for example, there are 24 companies associated with 28 factories which help major contractors put together Apple products or parts of the Apple products.

No denying, it is a truly globalised migrant workforce who are destined to live in hostels, at least three to a room, work long hours for something like $140 a month and, with their passports confiscated on arrival at the host nation's airport, they have little scope for making any independent decisions once they are there.

Curvature of the Universe

While we are witness to the final result, that iPhone 5 S, the means by which Apple Inc get it into your hand can involve many layers of sub-contracted companies, recruitment methods as well as a culturally diverse workforce migrating across several borders.

But now, alone in the street, you allow your arm to drop. Your friend has moved off, the bus has driven on to its next stop. You notice the street lamps are just beginning to sparkle into life to fight the growing darkness of encroaching night. The world shrinks back to the zombiefied shadows of human existence and aren't you just a little curious about the souls who helped put that phone in your hand?

(For the record : Written in Costa Coffee, Castle Street, Edinburgh, November 16, 2013 ) 

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