Reports about Apple's behavior in China, conducted by way of its Taiwanese intermediaries at Foxconn, have been coming out for a number of years now. But perhaps none were as damning as the monster New York Times article that was just published. A few key allegations should be highlighted.
1) While Apple has been tediously slow to enforce its own worker guidelines at Foxconn, the leading supplier for iPad and iPhone assembly, lives have been needlessly lost.
"Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning."
2) While workers have been toiling at 72-hour work weeks, sometimes at less than Chinese minimum wage, Apple has posted record profits.
"Tuesday, Apple reported one of the most lucrative quarters of any corporation in history, with $13.06 billion in profits on $46.3 billion in sales."
3) Apple's complicity in Foxconn's abuse of its workers has not been incidental.
"We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,' said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. 'Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice... If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?'"
4) Steve Jobs sought to mislead the public about the actual conditions at Foxconn (well-documented by Apple, which has regular audits) telling attendees at a conference, "I mean, you go to this place, and, it’s a factory, but, my gosh, I mean, they’ve got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools, and I mean, for a factory, it’s a pretty nice factory."
5) Note: Foxconn is not only a supplier for Apple, but also for Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Nokia and Samsung.
6) Required overtime- even beyond Apple's own 60-hour per week limit- has been consistently documented for years.
E.g.: "Mr. Lai was soon spending 12 hours a day, six days a week inside the factory, according to his paychecks. Employees who arrived late were sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotations. There were 'continuous shifts,' when workers were told to work two stretches in a row, according to interviews."
7) Foxconn's assembly line has exacted a severe psychological price on the employees working 60 or 70 hours a week under intense pressure.
"...The next year, a Foxconn employee fell or jumped from an apartment building after losing an iPhone prototype. Over the next two years, at least 18 other Foxconn workers attempted suicide or fell from buildings in manners that suggested suicide attempts. In 2010, two years after the pilot program fell apart and after multiple suicide attempts, Foxconn created a dedicated mental health hotline and began offering free psychological counseling."
8) Apple's own quest for profits competes directly with contractors' ability to offer humane treatment for workers.
"Apple typically asks suppliers to specify how much every part costs, how many workers are needed and the size of their salaries. Executives want to know every financial detail. Afterward, Apple calculates how much it will pay for a part. Most suppliers are allowed only the slimmest of profits. So suppliers often try to cut corners, replace expensive chemicals with less costly alternatives, or push their employees to work faster and longer, according to people at those companies."
9) Foxconn and Apple have consistently failed to act to learn the lesson of previous mistakes, including the fatal explosion in Chengdu- which was followed not long afterward by similar explosion in Shanghai.
"In December, however, seven months after the blast that killed Mr. Lai, another iPad factory exploded, this one in Shanghai. Once again, aluminum dust was the cause, according to interviews and Apple’s most recent supplier responsibility report. That blast injured 59 workers, with 23 hospitalized."
"[D]o you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago," Nicholas Ashford, an occupational safety expert at MIT, told the Times.
Full story: "Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad."
See also: "Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class."