Miami Developers' App Reveals iPhones' Possible Sweatshop Beginnings

Games aren't supposed to be all fun. Just ask Lee Szymczyk, the mind behind ILoveFoxConn, the smart phone gaming app with a social conscience. It's named after China's Foxconn factory, where millions of iPhones are manufactured. Conditions at Foxconn may be so bad, there's concern that it drove 17 of its employees to commit suicide (one as recent as yesterday).

Szymczyk, a Miami resident, says "The idea behind this app is to balance out the information presented to you, keep you informed, and give you a chance to actually express your opinion to a company without disrupting your life. Nobody wants to give up their iPhone or Android in protest. You almost can't. But we're talking about our hard earned money paying for some CEO's castle while his workers are being methodically exploited. It's a serious issue and we're being duped. I'm hoping most people want to do something about it."

Like Lee said, Americans are hesitant to give up their beloved smart phones just because others may sleep inside 6x2 foot boxes or slave away at a factory for 18 hours a day or jump off a rooftop (Foxconn has since installed nets to catch any jumpers). We need our phones. But if we had a mobile app that would broadcast our dissatisfaction to the companies responsible for such deplorable conditions at the touch of our finger, well then, sign us up.

ILoveFoxConn is still in development as Lee raises funds to complete the project. Contribute here. We spoke to Lee about employee conditions and how he got the concept to turn social activism into a game.

New Times: How do you see the app working?

Lee Szymczyk: There

are two distinct parts to the app. The first is a range of games that

are designed around the story of last year's Apple/Foxconn fiasco. They

are casual and fun, but at the same time, a bit shocking in their

presentation since the subject matter isn't as random or abstract as say

flinging birds into buildings or slicing fruit with your finger.

Hopefully putting serious subjects into a fun setting will solidify

people into the subject matter.

The second part of the app is an RSS reader on worker's rights issues.

If the news is serious enough, there will be a way to petition Apple or

HTC or Foxconn directly from the app on that issue. It will fire off a

response to a company linked to the article. I feel everyone wins this

way. The workers, the companies, and the end user.

Why do you think it is important for people to know about Foxconn?

It's important for people to know where their electronics came from. From raw earth to finished product -- how did it come into being and what was the process that brought it here? Any person with even a hint of moral principles would choose fair trade over blood diamonds or sweatshops or child labor. The problem people unwittingly face is that the truth of that story is hard to come by. Any major corporation has a public relations department whose job is to make certain any damning facts you happen to stumble across are dealt with in a manner that keeps both you happy and profits steady.

What gave you the idea to spread the word through an app?

Creating this as an app was the natural choice. First, our subject matter is intended for the end user of these products. It's all about the gadget you're using right now. Second, it's designed in a way you can enjoy it, learn from it, react on it socially, and move on. We're living in an on-the-go society. Most people don't have the luxury of focusing attention on a single idea for too long if it doesn't concern them directly, let alone spending the time deciding how to confront the ideas presented to them, but people still want to express their feelings.

Apps are small, quick, and focused on a single purpose, and I realized that this wasn't just a characteristic of itself, but something that could be applied to ideas through the app. Instead of a wide-ranging news application, this is news on a particular subject with a way to share your opinion on it in the time frame of brushing your teeth or gassing your car. 

What would you say to people who think you are taking these issues way too seriously?

I would wonder if they posed the same question to Apple when Steve Jobs said they took their corporate and social responsibilities seriously. Why so serious, Steve? If Apple has taken the issues serious enough to call for higher wages and better working and living conditions for the employees of Foxconn, shouldn't I as a consumer of Apple products also take these issues serious?

Back in 2010, we all were serious and that is the only reason things changed. Apple asked for these changes on my behalf. Of course, we're a year through this and the fervor of the Foxconn suicides has died down. Most people have moved on to the next big story. So I suppose when I get a news alert today showing me how Apple and Foxconn haven't made good on their promises, I am taking the issue too serious relative to those who haven't read about it on their favorite blog. With ILoveFoxconn, I'm trying to keep just a bit of people's attention focused on the issues that haven't gone away in a fun and lighthearted manner.

Do you think that we are too dependent on these gadgets?

As humans we are naturally inclined to create tools that allow us to achieve our needs -- such as communication -- easier or faster. I don't believe we are any more dependent on gadgets than say our dependency on a knife to cut meat. But we definitely are not so addicted to them that we should overlook the means by which gadgets come to us.

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Ily Goyanes
Contact: Ily Goyanes