Should Apple Take Responsibility For Concerns Over Its Chinese Labor Practices?

By: Abby Johnson - April 19, 2012

Apple, the company that’s considered to be many consumers’ favorite gadget maker, is under fire for what’s happening at its Foxconn factories in China. Aside from numerous reports of suicide and suicide attempts, The New York Times, in January, revealed specific details about the working conditions in the factories, which sparked a lot of controversy over the tech company.

In The New York Times report, Charles Duhigg and David Barboza wrote: “the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.”

Is Apple responsible for the poor working conditions in Foxconn’s Chinese factories? Why or why not?

Ever since this article was published, both Apple and Foxconn have gained extensive criticism. Many groups, including the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), are speaking out against Apple claiming it should take full responsibility.

Ross Eisenbrey, Vice President of Economic Policy Institute “Apple is certainly to blame because Apple is in control of the situation,” Ross Eisenbrey, the Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute, said to WebProNews.

The EPI, along with Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), the Workers Rights Consortium, and others, recently held a forum to raise awareness of these issues. Their research, as Eisenbrey explained to us, found that Foxconn’s Chinese factory employees work 60-70 hours per week, are exposed to dangerous chemicals, experience explosions from uncontrolled aluminum dust, and are under a military-style of management.

In addition, a large part of the workforce consists of 16-18-year old individuals that serve as “interns” from local vocational schools. Eisenbrey, however, told us that these individuals do not even work in the areas in which they are hoping to obtain training in.

He pointed out that many of these conditions break Apple’s Code of Conduct as well as Chinese laws.

“Apple has the capacity, because it makes such a big profit, to offer a better margin to Foxconn,” said Eisenbrey.

“They have the power to do that – they’ve just chosen not to do that,” he added.

According to him, the problems date back to 2005. At that time, Apple made a commitment to enforce improvements. But, Eisenbrey told us that he doesn’t believe Apple’s commitment was strong enough since the issues remain several years later.

The debate around Apple its Foxconn factories came even further into the spotlight after Rob Schmitz, Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai, had the opportunity to visit the Foxconn Longhua facility:

Interestingly, Foxconn’s plants in Brazil also produce Apple products, but the working conditions are very different from China’s. Under Brazilian law, workers are required to have union representation. As a result, workers have better wages, transportation, and benefits.

A Table Comparing China's Foxconn Work Conditions to Brazil's

Since Brazil shows that Foxconn and Apple can abide by such mandates, Eisenbrey thinks the companies are more than capable of facilitating similar practices in China.

Last month, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted an investigation of Foxconn’s plants in China in response to the widespread scrutiny of both Apple and Foxconn. Since the audit found multiple violations, the companies are required by the FLA’s remediation policy to make changes.

The improvements involve reducing worker overtime, giving workers a stronger voice, and reforming the “internship” program. While these provisions would help the current circumstances, Eisenbrey and others see a problem in the fact that the changes won’t begin until June of 2013.

“We get a report that basically puts off changes for more than a year and doesn’t really promise anything more than Apple and Foxconn promised in 2006,” he said.

“They made commitments 6 years ago, and here we are again 6 years later and nothing has changed,” he continued.

Although Eisenbrey is skeptical given the comapanies’ past actions, he told us that he hopes Apple will step up, take responsibility, and do what’s right.

“People have believed Apple’s commitment in the past, and if they go on making commitments and breaking them, sooner or later, that’s gonna penetrate the buying public,” he said.

“Apple is a very efficient, powerful organization that, when it wants to get something done, can get it done,” he said. “They haven’t gotten this done.”

Could all this scrutiny result in Apple becoming a less valuable company? What do you think?

About the Author

Abby JohnsonAbby Johnson is a reporter for WebProNews. Google: Google+

View all posts by Abby Johnson
  • Ted Trent

    Yes. I know for the first time ever, I’ve begun looking out side of the Apple. i’ve been using Apple products since i was 19. I’m 41 now. The problem is, Apple isn’t the Apple I remember. They’ve created alliances with phone companies that aren’t good. They’ve had a “screw you” attitude to customers. For example, my iphone 4 doesn’t work well because AT and T sucks. I called AT and T when they began to THROTTLE my account and they said I”m using my phone too much on my AT and T UNLIMITED PLAN. Apple does nothing to support their customers when they are having problems with brands such as AT and T. It’s just so messy now, unless APPLE gets into the telephone service game, I don’t see why I want to give my loyalty to Apple anymore when they’ve expanded so much that my experience of them is so different. It’s not the Apple I’m a fan of.

    • Jerrie DeRose

      Yes, as Apple knew what was going on, which makes them culpable.

  • Patrick Morgan

    Give it a rest.

  • Motty Chen

    The real power and ability to change is with us. As good as the products and ideas may be, we – the consumer – should show apple that we disagree with the way things done, and buy different products or hold our purchases until apple changes its policies.
    With the money Apple is charging the carriers, and with the policy of closely controlling every aspect of their products, it’s time for us to step our foot.
    Me and my family do not use any Apple products anymore, and to tell the truth – the alternatives are not that bad!

  • James Kershaw

    nothing is forever

  • Gold Current

    Funny how all the Apple execs dumped all their stocks just days before the FOXCONN news broke.

  • Todd

    You can’t compare China working conditions to Brazil’s or the US for that matter. The cost of living is much lower than Brazil or America and of course different rules apply. I really don’t get how US citizens can comment when they don’t understand unless they have lived in Asia. The workers in China for Apple are getting well paid over the national average. As for suicides, does that mean that Japan has bad working conditions as well because of all the suicides? In the Philippines, a Registered Nurse will only make about $250/month but with the cost of living in the Philippines, this is a good job. Many go overseas to Saudi Arabia where they will make $400 – $500/ month. Point is, why doesn’t everybody worry about their own back yard.

  • TMoore

    I think people here are not seeing the big picture. Apple is not responsible for the prevalence of bad working conditions. The only way they can enforce any policy changes is to stop working with the company and cancel its contract; and if they do that iPad’s retail price will go up tenfold. Beyond that they cannot control what a Chinese factory does because Apple is not based in China. We have seen many stories about the deplorable conditions in many industries in China, but that is largely up to China to change them. There is something few understand called “sovereignty” which allows Chinese factories to maintain those bad conditions while its government turns a blind eye. When an Apple agent goes to the factory floor, he is shown only what the managers want him to see, and he is not allowed access to the truth. Blaming a large volume concern like Apple is like blaming the sun for producing rain. To keep costs down and make products which are affordable, companies often have to make a deal with the devil. We take it for granted that we’re getting a great product without considering where it came from.

  • Obdurate

    Why is it that in the US these organizations pitch their gripe to the Federal Government, but in China they pitch their gripe to Apple? If Apple (and every other company) is capable of correcting problems that may or may not exist in China without running to the Chinese Government to pass laws and issue regulations, then they should be equally as capable of solving any problems with working conditions, wages, etc. here without running to the US Government to issue new laws and regulations.

  • Sabastian yakar

    Answer is simple. How many Apple employee in USA works same condition as in China?
    Aren’t they human? After all, Apple become one of the biggest Company in USA. Can’t they afford to give a better salary and condition?