After Tragedy, Apple Tries to Polish Image on Workers’ Rights

5:11 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Anti-Foxconn protest in Hong Kong (

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Apple’s trademark is the intuitive elegance of its designs. Yet when it comes corporate and labor practices, Apple’s track record looks like a morass of obfuscation and murky public-relations smokscreens. So activists seeking a more user-friendly Apple on the human rights front should welcome the company’s new “Supplier Responsibility” report.

But the results of 229 documented audits display the troubling gap between its slick modern ethos and grim working conditions in its supply chain. Reuters reports:

The audit found a number of violations, among them breaches in pay, benefits and environmental practices in plants in China, which figured prominently throughout the 500-page report Apple issued. Other violations found in the audit included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records.

The “Supplier responsibility progress report” also found that “67 facilities had docked worker pay as a disciplinary measure.” The company states it is continually working to deal with violations of overtime and child labor.

The report’s admission of several cases of underage workers at some component suppliers bolsters the anecdotal evidence presented dramatically in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” in which performer Mike Daisey recalls encountering underage workers at an Apple supplier facility in Shenzhen.

Apple has come under fire over its connection to Foxconn, a Taiwan-based manufacturer that employs tens of thousands in  fortress-like facilities–a crucial part of the supply chain for iPhones and other high-profile products. These workers are typically young migrants from more rural areas, who are willing to brave long hours and paltry wages in mechanical, hyper-efficient assembly lines.

But something cracked in 2010, and a series of harrowing suicides–workers flinging themselves from buildings–got consumers around the world talking about whether their gadget obsession was complicit in pushing workers to the brink. Read the rest of this entry →