7 WTF Ways Seemingly Innocent Companies Screw Their Workers
Close your eyes and imagine a world where fair trade coffee doesn't exist because all caffeinated beverages are manufactured and traded with pure hearts and unadulterated intentions. Now wake up! You're dreaming of a fairyland. Here in the real world, every industrial dark underbelly has an even darker hidden underbelly slithering beneath it in the shadows. Even the businesses that you expect to be on the up-and-up are often pretty sleazy at the end of the day.
For example ...
Silicon Valley's Blue Collar Workers Have Nowhere To Live
Silicon Valley (as in California's tech hub, not the landfill where used breast implants go) has reached near mythic status. It's a magical land, where with enough ingenuity and hustle all of your wildest dreams can come true. It's like a sci-fi utopia -- complete with a seedy sci-fi underbelly. But minutes from the glittery high-rise buildings housing Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and -- shockingly -- Yahoo once stood "The Jungle," a 68-acre shantytown filled with homeless people who have nowhere else to go. "Big deal," the worst section of your brain is probably thinking. "Every city has homeless people." That's true -- but not every city has a small population of employed homeless people who can't afford to live where they work.
"Technically this does count as 'rent-controlled' ..."
The Jungle was shut down in 2014, but San Jose is currently trying to figure how to house the 7,000 homeless people in the area. Like most cities, the area has its fair share of people with mental problems and drug issues who just can't keep it together in mainstream society. But Silicon Valley's homeless population also includes bus drivers, carpenters, medical clerks, and caterers who can't afford San Jose's average rent of 2,633 clams per month.
So, what's a working man or woman who can't afford to move to Middle America do? Some of the bus drivers who shuffle Apple's workers between their suburban homes and glitzy offices end up sleeping in their cars between shifts. Others don't have cars, so they opt for the next best thing: sleeping on a bus every night.
Which is absolutely the most depressing case of taking your work home we've ever heard.
San Jose has one bus that runs 24 hours a day: It's called Line 22, and for $8, anyone can ride "Hotel 22" from Santa Clara to San Jose, over and over again, until morning. Some of the bus' nightly "residents" include people who have lived in the area since the town was full of orchards and ranches. One guy on the bus used to work as a chef at Microsoft. Everyone brings blankets, because this is as good as it gets when the shelters are full and you're stuck choosing between sleeping in the alley, a hobo camp, or staking out the best awning on a sidewalk on a rainy night.
So it's entirely possible that, as you're reading this, someone who contributed to the technology supporting your device is currently sleeping on a bus because they have nowhere else to go at night. But at least we're seeing a united public response to this humanitarian crisis from the tech sector, right?
Your Tea Could Be Covered In The Shit Of The Workers Who Harvest It
Tea has always been the drink of choice for the regal and dignified, but the conditions of those who actually collect the tea leaves couldn't be further from that image. A BBC-led investigation into Indian tea plantations where many major companies get their product discovered that workers were subjected to atrocious conditions in their homes and their workplaces. Poking your pinkie out while drinking a cup of tea isn't genteel; it's sanitary. Coffee may be for closers, but tea is open to anybody and everything that comes out of their body.
And we mean everything. The investigation revealed the terrible sanitation conditions that workers endure in Assam, a state in Northeastern India. Many of the families went without toilets and had no other option but to poop among the tea leaves. How's that for shitting it to the man?
Your English breakfast leaves were grown in the remains of an Indian dinner.
The plumbing drains that are in use are usually clogged and overflowing with waste. In some extreme cases, there are cesspits overflowing into homes. Nine out of 10 workers were underfed, and we're guessing that the other one in 10 weren't suffering from obesity.
Chemicals are sprayed without protection for the workers, and their kids were working their butts off on some of the plantations. The children of the families often cycle in and out of the hospital, usually suffering from curable diseases that they don't have the resources to fight. If you're waiting for a joke in this paragraph, here it is: Knock knock. Who's there? Tea-stained tragedy.
So, just to be clear, the next time you sit down for a morning meditation with a hot cup of Tetley, Twinings, or PG Tips, all of which are sold at Walmart, you could be drinking the feces of child laborers currently clinging to life while picking the tea leaves that will fuel your next Oprah-inspired "Aha! moment" Instagram post.
Congrats, Your Phone Battery Is The Result Of Child Slavery And Torture
You might find yourself annoyed over your phone battery life (especially when it dies in the middle of a compelling Cracked article), but there are workers risking their lives just for you to have it at all. Seven years old sounds young for a child to have a smartphone, but it isn't too young for them to start mining dangerous minerals to produce them. There are children right now doing the Cobalt Crush so that you can play Candy Crush.
Behold: the raw material that lets you rant on Facebook about today's kids being super lazy.
Cobalt is a key component used in producing lithium batteries, and child labor is a key component in retrieving it from the ground for big brands like Apple and Microsoft. An Amnesty International investigation traced the cobalt used by 16 multinationals to mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used child labor. For your kids to be able to play Minecraft, it takes about 40,000 kids enduring literal minecraft.
For them, getting eaten by a Creeper would be a welcome and rewarding change of pace.
Amnesty and African NGO Afrewatch interviewed some of these children and their adult co-workers. They detailed how they worked for 12-hour shifts, without protective gear, for a dollar or two a day. They were beaten and forced to pay "fines" to corrupt officials. The report claims to trace the supply chain from these mines to a Chinese company, Huayou Cobalt, which in turn sells to the battery companies used by businesses like Apple and Vodafone. But when pressed about this, the smartphone producers played dumb.
"Our batteries are powered entirely by the sweet dreams of happy puppies and always have been."
According to one researcher at Amnesty International, no company can claim ignorance of the human rights abuses in mineral extraction in the DRC, where half of all cobalt originates. He says responses by companies were "staggering," such as Microsoft claiming it was too complex and resource-draining to trace the supply chain all the way down to smelter level. These young upstart companies must be under a lot of financial strain.
The Anime Industry Treats Their Workers Like Scum
Animation captures the imagination of young and old alike, and making cartoons for a living is a dream that most people have had at one point in their childhood. For many people who follow that dream and end up in Japan creating anime, the dream quickly becomes a nightmare, and all they can do is imagine a better life.
Henry Thurlow is one such animator. After traveling to Japan to work in the anime industry, it took only a mere four years to land that first job at a studio. When he finally began working on anime, it was barely more profitable than doodling on napkins and then eating the napkins for nourishment.
Thurlow described the conditions as "illegally harsh." Employees are overworked to the point of hospitalization. If there's an impending deadline to meet, that means nonstop work, and the studios take the concept of deadline very seriously. After that's done, animators can ease back into their regular work schedule of 10-hour days, six days a week.
There's a very good reason that this is his self-portrait.
According to Thurlow, animators at his studio were paid by frame. Drawing corrections on a set of frames for a day might net an employee $150. But other days, it's all tracing and extra details for major shots, and the animator might take home about $12. This kind of pay schedule makes the average worker receive 1.1 million yen (about $10,000 dollars) a year, which equates to less than $1,000 a month. And that's working 11-hour days. Pokemon have better work conditions than that.
As do the kids that Pokemon tricks into thinking that drawing them for 18 hours a day is both fun and easy.
Tragically, these unforgiving conditions can lead animators to take their own lives. In one case, a staff member working for A-1 Pictures committed suicide, citing depression due to overwork. He was working for 600 hours a month -- that data came not from his employer but from the hospital that was treating him. The entire industry is employing near slave labor, all so kids can spend time with their own slavemaster on Saturday mornings.
You And Your Pet Have Almost Certainly Eaten Seafood That Was Prepared By Slaves
In Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, innocent civilians are sold into slavery on violent fishing vessels to create the most literal version of Deadliest Catch. Migrants are lured across the border with promises of jobs and seized upon as if they were a pod of white whales up against a sea of Captain Ahabs. They sell the migrants between themselves, then force them out to sea on floating fishing gulags. Typical migrants, always taking local jobs.
The fish caught are small, cheap, and plentiful in the South China Sea. They are sold to the United States to be used for canned pet food or farm-raised-fish people food. The conditions are violent and cruel: Workers are beaten for the smallest misdemeanors, such as placing a single fish in the wrong bucket. In a 2009 survey of 50 Cambodian men and boys who were once forced onto these ships, over half said they witnessed a captain or officer murder a worker.
The body goes in the water, fish eat their co-workers' remains, they catch the fish,
and the horrifying circle of life continues.
Back on land, there is no escape from the corruption and violence of the local industry. Shrimp-shelling sheds are hidden in plain sight from authorities, where the workers are enslaved and locked inside. An Associated Press investigation managed to free 2,000 of the enslaved workers and fry some of the big fish responsible.
As part of the investigation, the shrimp was traced from the local sheds to major Thai exporting companies, which were then tracked globally. The results were shocking: These slave-shelled shrimp were present in the supply chains of major U.S. companies like Whole Foods, Petco, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and even Walmart. (All right, that last one wasn't all that surprising.)
If your cats don't sense that human pain and suffering helped create their food, they won't eat it.
Ashley Furniture Is Slowly Picking Off Their Workers
Ask any big business what was responsible for their success, and at some point they'll wax lyrical about risk-taking and how integral it is to boldly gamble it all. Usually these platitudes are referring to business decisions, but in the case of Ashley Furniture, they prefer to take risks with their workers. There are so many serious injuries sustained there that we wouldn't be surprised if the head office was running an Amputee Pool.
For every five broken bones, they throw themselves a pizza party.
There were 3 million non-fatal workplace injuries in the U.S. in 2014, at a rate of about 3.2 per 100 workers. Ashley's Arcadia factory employs 4,500 people and had over 1,000 injuries in three years. We're in the business of comedy, not math, but even an Ashley Furniture employee who had lost both their eyes can tell that's a ridiculous amount. And, thankfully, the U.S. Department of Labor agrees.
Ashley was slapped with a $1.77 million fine for "willful, repeated, and serious safety violations." Apparently, the Department of Labor rarely issues fines of more than $1 million, but all of those 1,000 injuries were serious and required more than first aid. In other words, several fingers were amputated in the name of matching bedroom sets. Ashley has clearly never seen Star Wars, or they'd know not to risk facing the vengeance of amputees.
"The wiped-off blood really does bring extra depth to the stained finish, though."
Ashley's director of health and safety tried to defend his company's safety record, claiming they'd lowered the accident rate by 14 percent over five years. That doesn't make it sound safe to us -- it just makes us shocked that they were the Devil five years ago and now they're one of his minions.
Dangerous conditions were exacerbated by the company offering incentives for work getting done quickly. Many of these injuries occur due to a lack of training for the workers. For example, they failed to safeguard against machines starting while employees were making changes to the blades or tools, presumably because they want to make some kind of sick Wood-Saw movie.
One where the real jigsaw involves piecing together their toes.
After the Arcadia facility was fined, the Department of Labor delivered more punishment to the company for the conditions at their Whitehall facility. Once again, they had failed to prevent machines from starting up while workers were changing, cleaning, or unclogging blades. Workers were risking limb every time they did their job.
And to top it all off, when workers do get hurt while working too quickly on dangerous machines they aren't properly trained to use, Ashley regularly blames them for their own injuries. After all, they should know better than to do the job the company pays them for.
Lumber Liquidators Is Allegedly Helping To Snuff Out The Siberian Tiger
Much like businesses with any concern for the environment, there aren't many Siberian tigers found in the wild, which makes it an extremely endangered species. In fact, less than 450 of these tigers remain in their natural habitats, and a key part of their survival is the Mongolian oak tree. The acorns of this tree attract the tiger's favorite prey, so naturally the fewer of the trees there are, the harder and harder it becomes for the tigers to find food. For loggers, the oaks are off-limits. But that doesn't stop all of them. Including some that are allegedly selling to Lumber Liquidators.
Lumber Liquidators makes their profits importing wood from mills and manufacturers in other countries. The could've-been-paper trail of lumber leads from LL in the U.S. to Chinese floor manufacturers, onto harvesters in Myanmar and Eastern Siberia. It's highly likely that the wood used was illegally harvested, due to the corruption in these local industries. As we said, Mongolian oaks are illegal to cut because of their importance to the Siberian tiger habitat. For loggers, though, that's not as important as getting cheap flooring for human habitats.
"Fuck the tigers -- time to embrace your true destiny, as somebody's underwear drawer."
A Washington nonprofit, the Environmental Investigation Agency, has spent the past three years looking into connections between protected forest logging and Lumber Liquidators. Posing as illegal buyers, the group went undercover to the Russia-China border to see what noise a tree made when it was knocked down by illegal loggers. The trees were cut down in the middle of the night, and then taken to saw mills to be mixed with legal wood.
"Shit, our bad. If you just point out your tree we'll give it right back."
The loggers then turned smugglers, transferring the product to Russian and Chinese buyers, who in turn sold it to United States companies. It is alleged that Lumber Liquidators is one of these. They might not be bothered about Siberian Tigers, but the government has claws that they can't ignore.
Though the occasional round of tiger claw to the dick certainly wouldn't hurt.
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