Why Your iPhone is Political

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the business and moral ethics behind Apple manufacturing its products overseas, including on this site.  The Foxconn riots on June 4 should really make more people rethink how they go about purchasing their electronics.  While technology is a great innovation that has made communication easier and accessible for all, there is also this down side of how many of our favorite gadgets are made.  Over the last few months, the staff of Global Wire Associates has had many discussions about how we can be more responsible about how we use our technology.  These discussions led to our Recharge E-Waste Campaign, a year-round advocacy campaign to educate the public about the problem of electronic waste and how we can be better at saving our environment.

Of course, it is important to know if your electronics will end up in a landfill, and where they were manufactured in the first place.  This is why we were so happy to attend a panel discussion hosted by the Alliance for American Manufacturing at Netroots Nation on ways Apple can change its business practices and actually make their products in the United States.

These are the following reasons Apple products are made in China. It seems like everyone is to blame here.

  • China
    • restricts exports of rare earths
    • forbids independent trade unions
    • rarely enforces environmental regulations
    • artificially undervalues its currency
    • provides land, energy, and tax subsidies
  • Apple
    • deploys taxpayer research overseas
    • parks corporate profits offshore
    • operates a low wage supply chain
  • US Government
    • offers few incentives for manufacturers
    • permits taxpayer financed research to be deployed overseas
    • neglects science, technology, engineering, mathematics and vocational education, skews tax code towards outsourcing
  • Consumers
    • Buy Apple products
    • Offer divergent views on “Made in America”
    • Feel stuck – no tablets or smartphones are made in USA

There is clearly a trade imbalance here.  It was suggested in the discussion that if China purchased American products at the same rate as the reverse, both economies would fare better in the long run. Panelist and Emptywheel blogger Marcy Wheeler pointed out that China has about 700 million cell phone users, compared to the United States’ 330 million users.

There is also a concern that lending so much manufacturing power to China can create a national security threat.  Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) stated that the U.S. government is looking into ways to bring back manufacturing to American shores, starting with the House Democrats’ “Make it in America” initiative, which will “end manipulation by trading partners, end tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, invest in infrastructure, and provide ‘Make it in America’ block grants.”

Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, stated that “the retail cost of an iPhone would only raise US$2-3 if manufacturing were moved to a western country.”  Who knew US$2-3 could make such a difference in the world?

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