Did you read any articles about Apple's long-rumored "cheap iPhone"? The gadget mill is churning with fresh evidence for the mythical handset, fed by a new undercover investigation from China Labor Watch. You'd never guess the investigation uncovered even more horrendous labor practices.
As BuzzFeed's John Herrman points out today, most tech publications read CLW's report on Pegatron, an Apple supplier, and missed the point. Eagerly. The report cites horrid things like ethnic discrimination, squalid housing, pollution, and underpayment, but made the error of mentioning the production of an unannounced, budget version of the iPhone. This lead to headlines like these:
Publications were treating CLW as a source of gadget news, not the investigative body it is—and let the rumor of a new iPhone model lead each story, rather than the bleak reality of its production. Jessica Lessin, the conflicted Wall Street Journal reporter who's struck out on her own, even seem irked that she'd been scooped by a human rights watchdog:
Evidence of low-cost iPhone leaking thru working condition report. Where I 1st mentioned polycarbonate shells in Jan. http://t.co/CNoBE3VHpy— Jessica Lessin (@Jessicalessin) July 29, 2013
Still, other publications like The Verge honed in on the sleep-deprived meat of the report without using it as a pretext for rumoring. They didn't have much company—probably because secret new iPhone is fun to read about, whereas Chinese labor scandal is not. Scraping CLW's mention of a cheap iPhone let tech outlets miss a lot of really grim stuff in the report—its substance, you might say!
CLW’s investigations revealed at least 86 labor rights violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations. The violations fall into 15 categories: dispatch labor abuse, hiring discrimination, women’s rights violations, underage labor, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labor health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution.
After a grueling day’s work, what a worker has to look forward to is a 12-person dorm room, lining up for a quick cold shower in one of the two dozen showers shared by hundreds of workers.
At Pegatron, over 10,000 underage and student workers (interns), from 16 to 20 years of age, work in crowded production rooms, doing the same work as formal, adult workers. But some students are paid lower wages because schools deduct fees for the internship, while other students will not have their wages paid to them on time.
Pregnant women making Apple products at these factories cannot take maternity leave if they became pregnant out of wedlock.
Emphasis added. Read the full report below, and keep it in mind next time you see a breaking news item about something made at a factory that turns away Tibetans.
Update: Business Insider editor Joseph Weisenthal contacted me with the following: