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Foxconn factory in China  (Source:
According to Apple executives and Foxconn management, safety is the last thing on Apple's mind

For hardcore Apple fans, rushing out to buy the next iPhone or iPad is a top priority -- even if it means standing in line for hours. But in the words of an anonymous former Apple executive, most people would be disturbed if they knew where their iPhone came from.

Apple's history with suppliers that are abusive to their employees is no secret. Foxconn and Wintek are among Apple's electronics suppliers that have factories in China with horrible working conditions, but no matter how many times violations of Apple's supplier code of conduct are brought to light, the situation remains the same. Now, The New York Times has taken a closer look at the bleak environment that the employees of Apple's Asian suppliers are forced to deal with in its second installment of its iEconomy series.

Apple's supplier code of conduct, which was developed in 2005, states "that working conditions in Apple's supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity, and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible." While this code was made with good intentions, it is not being upheld entirely by Apple or some of Apple's suppliers. Employees have complained of working long hours, unsafe working conditions and little pay -- all in the name of assembling iPhones, iPads and iPods at a rapid pace.

"You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards," said a current Apple executive, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive topic. "And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China."

Foxconn, which is Apple's electronics supplier in Chengdu, China, is one of the worst offenders of Apple's supplier code of conduct. Employees and worker advocates have both described the horrible conditions that workers must endure. Many work over 60 hours per week, putting in an obscene amount of overtime. Some work 12 hours per day, six days or more per week. Signs on the walls of Foxconn offer reminders such as, "Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow." There are 24-hour shifts, and 70,000 of the employees are crammed into tiny dorms when they have some time off. At times, about 20 workers would be stuffed into a three-bedroom apartment. There were also issues with the employment of under-age workers.

As if exhaustion and crowded living spaces weren't enough, the conditions within the actual factory were well below satisfactory. Aluminum dust clouded the Foxconn factories due to machines that polished iPad cases, and the factories had poor ventilation systems. A Hong Kong advocacy group called Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior published a warning, which was sent to Apple, to let the company know about the potential dangers of aluminum dust buildup.

The warning clearly went unnoticed, since two Foxconn factories exploded as a result of the aluminum dust. The first occurred in May 2011 in Foxconn's Chengdu factory, which killed four people and injured another 77. The second occurred in Shanghai and ended up injuring 59 workers while hospitalizing another 23.

The explosions weren't Foxconn's only high-profile issues over the last few years. In 2010, Foxconn's Shenzhen factory, which is responsible for Apple's iPods, iPhones and iPads, experienced a series of employee suicides due to the stressful and exhausting working conditions. There were at least 12 suicides during this time period as well as a riot. To address the issue, Foxconn made employees promise not to kill themselves and installed anti-suicide nets at its facilities.

"Conditions at Foxconn are anything but harsh," wrote Foxconn in a statement after the riot. "All assembly line employees are given regular breaks, including one-hour lunch breaks. Foxconn has a very good safety record. Foxconn has come a long way in our efforts to lead our industry in China in areas such as workplace conditions and the care and treatment of our employees."

Even Apple seemed to defend its supplier's factories overseas. Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO, made the factories sound like theme parks.

"I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry, and maybe in any industry, of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain," said Jobs. "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."

Jobs' statement seems to contradict the company's own audits, though. Apple has been publishing audits of its supplier's factories since 2007, and completed 396 walkthroughs by last year. Each year, there have been several and consistent violations to Apple's supplier code of conduct. For instance, in 2007, Apple completed three dozen audits where two-thirds demonstrated employees working over the 60 hour limit. There were also cases of underage workers, falsified records, improper disposal of hazardous waste and cases where workers were paid below minimum wage (or even nothing at all) as punishment.

"Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost," said Li Mingqi, a former Foxconn Technology manager at the Chengdu factory. "Workers' welfare has nothing to do with their interests."

Source: The New York Times

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RE: Waiting for the ironic comment
By yomamafor1 on 1/27/2012 12:09:57 PM , Rating: 2
The difference is, Toyota / Honda / Nissan don't have the short product cycles like most high tech companies. Car companies' developmental cycles are usually more than 2~3 years. Apple, with its very limited amount of product lines, has the product cycle of 1 year.

And no, the main issue with manufacturing in the US is NOT the labor cost (which Apple estimates will cost them an additional $65/iphone to be manufactured here). The main issue is flexibility and turn around time. NYT did an article on this, and I think anyone who bashes Apple for manufacturing oversea should read it.

In short, unless we train an abundance of engineers, are willing to work for 12+ hours straight without the need to see your kids, and are willing to wake up at 1am to work, without overtime, the inconvenient truth is that the manufacturing jobs are not returning home.

That's why when Obama asked Jobs, what it would take for the manufacturing jobs to return to the US, Jobs simply replied, "they aren't coming back".

RE: Waiting for the ironic comment
By MrBlastman on 1/27/2012 12:28:01 PM , Rating: 2
In short, unless we train an abundance of engineers, are willing to work for 12+ hours straight without the need to see your kids, and are willing to wake up at 1am to work, without overtime, the inconvenient truth is that the manufacturing jobs are not returning home.

I bet a lot of unemployed people would be willing to do that... Well, minus the overtime since labor laws prevent that here. Oh, wait, they'd just have to hire _more_ people to do the work instead.

A refreshed, rotated workforce is far more efficient than an overworked, under-rested one.

By yomamafor1 on 1/27/2012 12:35:17 PM , Rating: 1
Actually, there are tons of jobs available for that kind of working condition. They mostly exist in agricultural industries, and hotel industries (maid).

Guess how many applicants they receive per year from "unemployed" American? If you guess more than a single digit, you're wrong.

Oh, a refreshed, rotated workforce is indeed more efficient than an overworked, under-rested one. But they also have more people to take over the jobs the last person left, not to mention the fact that Americans usually have lower working efficiency compared to their Asian counterparts.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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