Print 29 comment(s) - last by MrBlastman.. on Feb 16 at 11:47 PM

Apple yet again voiced frustration in a report it published on its suppliers' working conditions. It found employees being overworked and child labor being used to assemble its products.  (Source: Apple)

Some say Apple's hard-to-satisfy demands of high quality at ultra-low prices create an environment conducive for corner cutting. They say Apple is thus ultimately responsible for many labor and environmental abuses.  (Source: AP)
Report from Cupertino's top tech firm says Foxconn "saved lives" by its reaction to suicides

Every year Apple hires private inspectors to perform an independent audit of its vast network of global suppliers.  These inspectors scour the partners for signs of labor abuses.  That's a bit unusual in the corporate world that usually casts a blind eye to such things.  What is more unusual is that Apple publishes the report airing its "dirty laundry", so to speak, for all to see.

Like the last couple years, this year's report [PDF] wasn't all roses.  The report found abuses at many of the 127 plants worldwide that make Apple products.

One of the biggest problem areas was child labor.  By law in China children cannot work until they turn 16.  But Apple found that 91 children were working at 10 of its suppliers' Chinese plants.  In one case Apple discovered that a plant had cooperated with a vocational school to fake documents for 42 children to work.  Apple terminated its relationship with that factory.

Another major problem was unsafe working conditions.  In one case, workers at a Wintek plant were using the toxic industrial solvent n-hexane in an assembly and cleaning process.  The company had allowed the building's ventilation system to fall into disrepair and vapors from the organic solvent poisoned dozens of workers.  Apple has demanded the plant fix the ventilation system and stop using the n-hexane.

Other problems discovered include excess working hours and workers being shorted overtime pay.  Also suppliers overcharged migrant worker employment agencies in Southeast Asia $3.4M USD.  Apple is forcing them to repay this sum.

Interestingly, Apple praised embattled supplier Foxconn for its steps it took to prevent more deaths following a spate of suicides early last year.  Foxconn, which employs 920,000 people in China, responded by raising pay rates and installing "anti-jumper" nets on high buildings in its factory towns.  Apple says these measures "definitely saved lives", though it adds, "We were disturbed and deeply saddened to learn that factory workers were taking their own lives."

Despite Apple's unusual openness about its labor problems and its apparent attempts to fix them, it often is criticized as one of the electronics industry's most destructive players in terms of labor and environmental abuses.

The key reason for this is Apple's demand for utmost performance and quality at the lowest cost.  Apple maintains huge margins on its high-end gadgets and it is ruthless in its negotiations to obtain lower prices, dropping suppliers if they can't keep up.

As a result some manufacturers are looking to cut corners in various ways.  For example Wintek used n-hexane at its factory in Suzhou, near Shanghai, because the compound cleaned device screens better than alcohol, leading to lower defect rates.  Wintek never told Apple about the switch, hoping it would give it a secret edge over contract competitors.  The plan obviously backfired.

Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun, of the Center for Public and the Environment, has helped various activists in China to compile a rival report entitled "The Other Side of Apple" [PDF].  The report blasts Apple's quality and price demands, accusing the company of setting up an environment conducive for abuse.

The report surveyed multiple companies and found that Apple was the worst at dodging requests by environmental advocates for investigations, despite its yearly internal study.  Mr. Jun told the San Francisco Chronicle, "We originally thought that Apple, as a corporate citizen, would take a leadership role, but now we feel they ended up as the most obstructive."

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RE: The funny thing is...
By Solandri on 2/16/2011 1:23:31 PM , Rating: 4
Where is their moral responsibility when is come to exploit cheap labor abroad?

It's not exploitation. Normalization of wages around the world (basically, bringing up wages in undeveloped countries to levels approaching those in first world nations) requires that business labor be preferentially placed in areas where labor costs are cheap rather than expensive.

You can't just wave a magic wand and make their wages higher. It has to go through a natural economic process where you pay them wages which are relatively cheap to you, but relatively high to them. They get more take-home pay, which they spend on buying more local goods, which increases the amount of business happening locally to them, which increases the overall local wage level, which means Foxconn has to pay its semi-skilled laborers more to keep them working there, which means Apple has to pay Foxconn more to build its toys, thus pushing their wages higher. China recognizes this, which is why it's buying up foreign debt and manipulating its currency to try to get more Western businesses to use Chinese labor. They see it as the quickest way to modernization.

If you insist we only use expensive labor in first world nations, you effectively consign laborers in developing nations to decades if not centuries of low wages as they're forced to grow their own economy without any help from foreign business. So it's actually companies like Apple and WalMart which are speeding up the process of raising their wages, while people who criticize "exploitation of cheap labor" are slowing down the process of raising their wages.

You can make an argument that we have a moral obligation to keep US or EU workers employed rather than shipping their jobs to China. But the morality of an argument against "exploiting" cheap foreign labor is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of economics.

RE: The funny thing is...
By Motoman on 2/16/2011 3:52:26 PM , Rating: 4
Last time I checked, child labor was exploitation - no matter what you were paying them.

RE: The funny thing is...
By Solandri on 2/16/2011 7:14:55 PM , Rating: 2
Was there a child labor case involving Steve Jobs? If there was, I must've missed it. I'm not an Apple fan so I don't follow them closely in the news.

RE: The funny thing is...
By Motoman on 2/16/2011 10:16:49 PM , Rating: 2, then, you didn't actually RTFA?

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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