‘Steve Jobs’ screenwriter Aaron Sorkin slams Apple over Chinese sweatshops

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In case you don’t know, this ^^ is Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple. Cook took over as acting CEO after Steve Jobs took a medical leave, then he was made true-blue CEO after Jobs’ passing in 2011. By most accounts, Cook is a mild-mannered guy, the polar opposite to Jobs’ mercurial task-master. Cook appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert a few weeks ago and Colbert asked him about the new Steve Jobs bio-pic, the one written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender. Cook said that he hadn’t seen any of the Jobs bio-pics (a reference to the Ashton Kutcher one), but that he (Cook) felt like the bio-pics were about “a lot of people are trying to be opportunistic… I hate this. It’s not a great part of our world.”

So, Steve Jobs is coming out soon and late last week, Aaron Sorkin started the press junket. Sorkin is not a mild-mannered guy. This Steve Jobs film has probably cost him a lot, especially when his emails went public in the Sony Hack and the world discovered that A) Sorkin had no idea who Michael Fassbender was and B) Sorkin believes actors work harder and are more award-worthy than actresses. So, Sorkin was asked about Cook’s comments and OMG BOY DRAMA:

“Nobody did this movie to get rich,” Sorkin said. “Secondly, Tim Cook should really see the movie before he decides what it is. Third, if you’ve got a factory full of children in China assembling phones for 17 cents an hour you’ve got a lot of nerve calling someone else opportunistic.”

[From THR]

Whoa. Sorkin went there. And I’m trying to decide if this is actually on-point. I mean, yes, Sorkin threw it down and went ahead and burned that MAJOR bridge. But… does he get points for actually saying something truthful? Apple does use Chinese labor and in the past year, Apple has been heavily criticized by watchdog groups over their use of child labor, unsafe factories, and yes, sweatshops. Apple’s response has always been that these are problems with a sub-contractor and that Apple is not running these sweatshops.

In any case, E! News spoke to Sorkin after his comments to THR and he offered an apology: “You know what, I think that Tim Cook and I probably both went a little too far. And I apologize to Tim Cook. I hope when he sees the movie, he enjoys it as much as I enjoy his products.” Hm… did someone make Sorkin apologize or did he just come to the decision on his own?

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Photos courtesy of WENN.

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51 Responses to “‘Steve Jobs’ screenwriter Aaron Sorkin slams Apple over Chinese sweatshops”

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  1. savu says:

    I don’t get why he apologized, though. I think he has a good point – and so does Cook. Can’t we all just not like each other in peace?!

    • noway says:

      Bingo!!! Why can’t we just learn to disagree, and maybe learn a bit from each others point. Maybe Sorkin should work a bit on not sensationalizing someone’s life (i.e. Social Network at least) and Cook should work on trying to ensure his subcontractors aren’t using child labor in other countries. The realities of the child labor problem are that with a company the size of Apple it is hard to supervise the interactions of all subcontractors. Especially when dealing with countries as secretive as China. I applaud the watchdog groups that investigate these things. I think Sorkin’s problem is he seemed a bit too snarky, which I think is his modis operandi, but he could work on his tone too.

      • angie says:

        Apple knows da*n well what their subs are up to–as do the other corporate exploiters. They use these subcontractors as a means of not getting tagged for the offense, while at the same time profiting mightily from it. I am not buying their products again unless things change substantially for the better. Which will be hard because their computers really are amazing.

      • kcarp says:

        Exactly Apple knows what they are up to and if they don’t they should. The minute Apple says this child labor stuff stops or we stop paying, it will stop. Money talks.

        Carly Fiorina is being accused of selling HP products to Iran, she says it was through an international sub contractor. Does this absolve her? I don’t think it does. You have to know who you are doing business with.

      • Dhavynia says:

        I work for a company that employs over 400k employees worldwide and that includes dealing with vendors and subcontractors and believe me, they know what goes on over 95% of the time. It’s no Apple but I do admire their ability to keep all things in compliance and ethically not look bad because they know how much it will hurt their brand were known to be in some shady business.
        The issue with companies like Apple is that the consumers love their products so much that IMO they will turn the other way because it’s not happening in their own backyard

    • I Choose Me says:

      Amen.

    • knower says:

      so, just to get this straight, Sorkin says
      1) how dare he make these products where kids make them in bad sweatshops! feel bad, opportunist!
      2) but I love my apple products! I have many, which means I have LOTS of child laborers to thank! thank you child laborers!

      Uh, okay. The contradiction is there. The person smart enough to register the contradiction, is not.

      Sometimes I forget that people in Hollywood are mostly the dumb ones. Educationless delights with ego give me a little kick of happy, a regretful one, but nonetheless there’s glee there.

      Sorkin needs to calm down and go back to doing lines of c*ke while he tries to write less tryhard quips. He should be careful on his press circuit since he’s close to broke as a joke.

      • laura in LA says:

        Yeah, I know, while Sorkin had a good point, it’s sort of hypocritical of him, and he kinda shoots himself in the foot with this apology…

        Not to defend Apple here, but I used to work for a major furniture and homegoods retailer, and though they regularly made visits to their international producers, there were probably things going on there that they didn’t or weren’t allowed to see.

        And as I type on an iPad that was gifted to me and depend so much on my iPhone now, I’m as guilty as anyone else of supporting this (however inadvertently).

      • Timbuktu says:

        You have a point about contradicting himself with an apology, but I think you picked a funny target for your lecture on dumb Hollywood types. Aaron Sorkin is definitely not the one I’d begin with, by FAR. I actually think he’s very smart, and I generally tend to think that writers are smarter than actors (on average, of course, not saying there are no smart actors).

        And the quip about doing coke was completely uncalled for and mean.

  2. LAK says:

    Aaron Sorkin doesn’t have a leg to Stand on when he wouldn’t take on a project because the lead was an *Asian character – those emails were ignored by everyone.

    *project was an adaptation of a Michael Lewis book, so no specialist knowledge of Asian culture was required. Sony wanted to make the film without changing the lead character’s ethnicity.

  3. Lindy79 says:

    SHOTS

    FIRED!!!

    (Sorkin is a legendary f*ckwit though so it’s a pot kettle black situation really)

  4. OSTONE says:

    Pot, meet kettle. However, Sorkin’s shade > Cook’s shade this time.

  5. lower-case deb says:

    wow. he seems to really enjoy throwing rocks at other ppl’s glass houses from inside his own glass house. i hope the film is at least half as interesting as the offscreen catfights and scandals.

  6. Birdix says:

    Can I jump on the irrational outrage train? I spent a fair amount of time cursing their names while circling, circling, circling… That movie took an entire block of parking for months in a neighborhood where it’s already a huge pain to park. Even when the trailers weren’t being used.

  7. Ronda says:

    if those numbers are 100% true doesnt matter, its about child labour and a company thats cool with stuff like that needs to be trashed.
    seriously how can you run a company and say “its not directly us” shouldnt you say “OMFG WE NEED TO STOP IT NOW”?

    • We Are All Made of Stars says:

      THIS. When someone repeatedly lets you know that people are committing suicide at your factories and that you are a modern slave driver who uses children and slave labor to manufacture your products, you don’t state that the suicide rates are perfectly in line with statistical averages and pretend that you’re simply too powerless to control the systems that you’ve utilized for decades to make you billions. You get off your azz and you take steps to do something about it. I live in China and they have guys who come over here and stay in $250 a night hotels and handle quality control for Apple. Apparently they don’t care so much about the quality of anything but their products.

    • K says:

      While I don’t disagree, it is horrifying. And apple with out question could make their situation better. I mean they are just being greedy. That being said You can’t fault the brands entirely unless you fall into the following categories:

      Don’t own any fast fashion-
      Never go shopping at fast fashion with a coupon or on discount.

      The reality is people want to buy in bulk and cheap so in order companies to make any money at all and that is why the exsist they need cheap labor. Now ethical companies have standards, but if their factory is busy the factory will subcontract out and God only knows what happens there.

      So the question you have to ask yourself is are you willing to change your lifestyle and pay more money for products to make sure these things don’t happen?

      Please note I’m not condoning child labor it shouldn’t happen it is inexcusable and why I won’t buy the $8 shirt but I have always wondered how people thought the stores got the shirt to be $8. Because remember that $8 has to pay a lot of people from ceo to sales staff to factory workers. Not to mention other general costs.

      • sofia says:

        I don’t think people even realize that as consumers they are the ones with the power. But nowadays barely anyone asks questions about the origin of the stuff they buy and this happens with clothing, technology or food. On the other side the alternatives available imply not only spending more but finding them. These big brands are extremely convenient and in order to change things we have to intentionally accept that we need to buy less and better and therefore pay more. This isn’t just about the modern slavery going on, but also the environment. Advertising will fight us and try to manipulate our wants and needs, so this won’t be easy at all. But I don’t have any hope that governments will do anything about it, it has to come from a change on consumer behavior.

    • Imo says:

      We should question our lifestyle. We wear relatively inexpensive apparel, get mani-pedis at the local salon and munch on fruit and salads at restaurants. There are domestic victims of unfair labor practices behind each of these common practices.
      But we should also educate ourselves. A college professor outlined a situation in which an American watchdog group successfully shut down several sweatshops in an underdeveloped country. The follow-up study was horrifying. The children who formerly worked in the factories were currently forced to work in the sex industry or were trapped in brutal tourist panhandling rings. The families of these children suffered similarly.
      Outrage without knowledge is just a Messiah complex.

      • K says:

        Oh yeah the horrifying truth is the reality for some of these kids if they weren’t making clothes is scary. There are major issues going on and if people don’t like it (and they shouldn’t ) they need to educate themselves on all the details from how they are culpable to the ramifications of shutting it down. our behavior and culture has a direct impact on all this.

      • I Choose Me says:

        That is seriously depressing. That the lesser of several evils is working in a sweatshop. It really makes me pause to consider how privileged I am in my neck of the world. As consumers we all need to examine our choices and do our research instead of being keyboard warriors.

      • sofia says:

        I agree with what you wrote and that’s why instead of boycotting these companies I believe they should cut on their profits (we are talking about billions that are payed to shareholders) and use their power to improve workers conditions. But this has to be done with the countries where the factories are based on and this is problematic bc we are not really talking about real democracies, are we? Bangladesh increases the living cost as salaries go up, and until recently workers were not allowed to create unions and some who are now part of those unions suffer from physical violence. And most of these workers are women.

        I went to several websites of organizations that deal with these matters and I can’t really see a solution which is heartbreaking. The business model of these companies relies on cheap labour so I guess something has to change globally and that means it has to come from consumers. But how can we do that without taking away the little these people have and make it better?

        In 2008, in Cambodia Levi’s had apparently amazing factories (to the american standard) but with the financial crisis people stopped buying jeans, factories were closed down and people who work there fell into prostitution and human trafficking. This is really heavy stuff:/

  8. Karen says:

    Well he apologized for going too far, but he didn’t take back his true statement.

    So he was probably requested by the company, but he wanted to keep his remarks valid.

    My 2 cents.

  9. Farah says:

    DAMN
    - set from my Iphone.

  10. Imo says:

    He is telling the truth. But how much would we actually alter our lifestyles if we knew how many goods and services were the end product of unfair labor practices? This is something I struggle with.

    • Aussie girl says:

      True

    • Betsy says:

      I try to live a life that is based less on material goods. I own this four year old iPad because my husband bought it as a reading device for school, but otherwise I resist a lot of technology (I don’t have a cell, for example) in part because I don’t like that I have zero options when it comes to country of origin. There are no American made, Union-quality jobs where these products get assembled and that p______ me off.

      I similarly buy very few clothes. Why? Because the TPTB wrecked American manufacturing! I refuse to participate in throwaway society.

      • K says:

        Betsy just so you know there are some great brands that are made in the U.S. But I’m with you I have less clothes I spend a lot more in them but I know where they were made and that it was done in countries with high standards and ethical practices.

        We live in a consumer culture people want to buy bulk and cheap so really how do people think this stuff is made.

      • Imo says:

        Please don’t assume that items manufactured in America are automatically unfair labor free. There are countless pop up apparel sweatshops here in which people and children are forced to work in terrible conditions. They relocate and resume operations as quickly as the authorities shut them down – or at least the bribe-proof authorities.

      • K says:

        @imo I know not all that is why I said some great because there are. Also in the U.S. it is regulated much more then foreign.

  11. Sixer says:

    I think Apple stink on this topic and would try my best not to buy any of their products for that very reason (the Sixlets have iPhones, but they were bought second hand, which is the standard ethical shopper buy-around for such cases!) – but, it has to be said, there isn’t a significant-sized ethical tech company in the entire market.

    Generally speaking then, Sorkin is right. But the time to make that criticism is NOT when you’re a geezer engaged in a tiresome, childish willy joust with another geezer. Just makes you look spiteful. Make it another time, Aaron, if you want us to listen.

    (PS: if anyone actually does care a great deal about these things, you can check out the Fairphone: http://www.fairphone.com/)

  12. GreenieWeenie says:

    These issues are complex. It’s not so simple as “Foxconn=Chinese sweatshop because 17 cents/hour.” Nor is it a matter of “foreign capitalist exploits poor Chinese.” There is a measure of state complicity and I doubt very much that Foxconn isn’t doing anything that many, many Chinese employers aren’t doing.

    The sketchiest things about Foxconn aren’t really the riots (these can be political exploitation). I’d say maybe on the suicides. The 1550 RMB per month is low, but not shocking in the way that “17 cents an hour” sounds–a waitress at a decent restaurant in Beijing would earn around 2000 RMB (I think factory workers should make more than waitresses because I think they should be unionized, but that’s another issue altogether).

    It’s more the chronic worker dissatisfaction that I think raises a red flag. If you’re a foreign employer, you should be doing better than the local ones. A lot of these problems are endemic, difficult to resolve, and not at all unique to Foxconn. But the easier ones should be solved: a raise doesn’t require management training. Dorm improvements/free housing doesn’t require worker training. Those are easy fixes, and the world’s most profitable company can certainly accommodate them.

    • GreenieWeenie says:

      Just an example of how things are different in China: public holidays. In the US, a public holiday is a day off from work. In China, it is not. It is a rescheduled work day. If a public holiday falls on a Wednesday, you will be working that Saturday or Sunday in order to get Wednesday off. If you get a week off, as you might in October for National Day celebrations, you will be working several weekends prior in order to ‘earn’ those days off. So you may very well work 20 days in a row so you can have four days off. The concept of a public holiday hasn’t really caught on. Your time is not really your own, no matter who you are.

      • We Are All Made of Stars says:

        The realtors who work in the place on my block in Beijing claim to make roughly 2000 RMB a month. They also dress like white collar workers, spend most of their days showing apartments on electric bikes, and have housing provided for them in a collegiate sort of an arrangement. By Chinese standards, their quality of life is pretty decent, especially if they came to BJ to escape poverty in other parts of the country as most BJers have.

        But what to make of the factory people? For less money, they toil away in 19th century conditions, working insane hours with no breaks, no ability to advocate for themselves or escape abuse or psychological torment, and no hope of ever moving on to more money or a better life. Some of them are kids. They are housed like slaves in appalling conditions and often have electricity and water charges deducted from their already meager earnings. They exist in conditions that can be 5-10 as polluted as Beijing, the perennial American media example of How Bad It Gets in China, and they dont use real safety equipment. What did/do Slave Jobs and Cook make of all this? It seems to me they should’ve made something if it. Cook is in the prime position to advocate for human rights and change within the system if he wanted to.
        As for National Week, we are making up the following Saturday.

    • noway says:

      It is very complex, because Apple has tried to stop this and help working conditions, maybe not as fast as some would like but still they are attempting. The alternative is to leave these countries all together and go somewhere else while some other business uses unfair labor practices in its place. Now I suppose people would say they could come to the US, but the reality is currently as a country we are not set up to have these type of manufacturing sites. Maybe we could have more, but it would take considerable amount of time. Also, Apple is a global company and it is practical to have manufacturing plants many places. Apple did cease its contract with one subcontractor that did not stop the child labor practice too. The reality is Apple, which really isn’t as big of a cost driven commodity, is a better fit to try and help the workers have better conditions than a price driven product company, like a lot of clothing manufactures or other similar products. The US consumer is also a problem, because if people really wanted this stopped, why don’t we just stop buying products that are made in places where these types of things occur.

      • Nic919 says:

        The US could easily have plants manufacturing iPhones but Apple doesn’t want the higher labour costs infringing on their profit. Blackberry was able to have North American plants and some in Europe too.

        It is always about profit. Always.

  13. Ferris says:

    My husband works for a major kid clothing company. He’s been to factories all over the world. If you feel like you should give up your iPhone because of unfair treatment of its workers then you should also stop shopping at brand name clothing shops. The same thing is going on with clothes as with the iPhone.

  14. NeoCleo says:

    Does Sorkin actually USE Apple products? If not, what a burn . . .

  15. lila fowler says:

    I LOL’d at Sorkin’s China comment. He’s right. And you know, more people need to call that sh*t out.

  16. Bridget says:

    Sorkin clearly cared about the issue enough to not use an iPhone and not make an entire movie about Apple. Because he wouldn’t give his money that supports a company like that, right? Oh wait…

    I hate Aaron Sorkin and his big fat head.

  17. S says:

    Sorkin only stated the obvious.

  18. Snarky says:

    HAHAHAHA!!!

    Trust me, while I would never want to be someone who works in manufacturing (those jobs are shit)…factory workers in China dream of working for a western plant. Next best is Japanese or Koreans (at least they don’t steal your paycheck), with HK Taiwanese companies right after that, and their own countrymen dead last (if you have ever worked in a Chinese company, you would know why.

    Drama king does not know what he is talking about.

  19. Emily C. says:

    “Waah, it’s not we incredibly rich heads of the company, it’s the SUBCONTRACTOR. We phenomenally powerful people are just powerless in whom we choose to hire.”

    Gag.