ATLANTA, Georgia – Apple has cornered the high-tech electronics market for years now and has placed its products in the hands of millions of people across the globe. However, within the past several years, scandals have surfaced regarding the oppressive and dangerous working conditions many Chinese workers are subjected to on a day-to-day basis.
Fortunately, thousands of users have voiced their outrage over these conditions causing Apple to implement steps to address the issue. Mostly, this involves third-party audits of the various Chinese factories embedded in the Apple supply chain.
It was only a few short years ago that Apple product manufacturer Foxconn came under extreme public scrutiny after 17 workers leaped to their deaths on the factory premises. Joel Johnson of Wired even reported seeing nets installed along the building to prevent workers from hitting the ground.
One worker jumped to his death after leaving a note stating he needed to die so as to provide his family with the money given out upon his death.
Reports surfaced detailing sweatshop-like conditions with workers toiling under unrelenting hours, far exceeding the legal work hour in China. In a Foxconn plant located in Shenzhen, workers were working 13 days straight, 12 hours per day, all to develop Apple’s iPad.
Recently, another Apple manufacturer, Jabil Circuit, has come under fire for poor working conditions. Their Wuxi plants, responsible for making the more affordable iPhone 5C, have employees working 12 hour shifts while standing for a majority of the time. Their day is broken up only by two 30-minute breaks. They do this six days per week.
Over 30,000 employees work in the Jabil Circuit factory. Most are recruited by hiring agencies that have been known to exploit workers.
As part of the recruitment process, many agencies require the signing of a two year contract, expensive sign-up fees and fees to process worker documents. The extensive use of recruiting agencies in the factory goes against Chinese law which states that only 30% of workers at a plant can be agency workers in order to prevent exploitation.
Workers are also paid well below the average family wage in Wuxi. Workers would have to work 100 hours of overtime to reach the average.
While the exploitation of poor workers seems absolutely daunting, Apple has introduced measures to improve working conditions and has contracted the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to conduct periodic audits of conditions.
The FLA has concluded that for close to 170,000 workers, conditions have improved drastically. Working together, Apple and Foxconn created a list of 360 items to improve upon at the Foxconn factories.
Of those listed items, 99% have been addressed.
Despite the progress, Foxconn does have room for further improving conditions. Specifically, overtime hours, on average, which exceeds the Chinese legal limit.
The investigation of the recent death of an underage Pegatron worker shows just how serious Apple is examining the factory work environment issue.
After a thorough medical examination, however, it was concluded the boy died from pneumonia unrelated to the workplace environment. He provided false information regarding his age to be eligible to work at the factory.
Only time will tell if Chinese factories will be able to come into full compliance with Chinese labor laws and provide a safe and healthy work environment for Chinese citizens.
– Zack Lindberg