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In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

Last week, The New York Times published articles on the harsh working conditions at Apple suppliers. The findings of the NYT journalists confirm the investigations done by makeITfair and SACOM. This is not extraordinary as Apple’s supplier responsibility reports, in many cases report the same abuses. What is, however, interesting are the revealing remarks of some insiders which underline the relevancy of the demands of the 2011 “Time to bite into a fair Apple” campaign.

makeITfair and GoodElectronics called upon Apple to improve its purchasing practices ensuring fair prices and well-planned lead times. This will enable suppliers to take necessary safety measures and to pay a living wage, allowing workers to work normal hours. makeITfair and GoodElectronics called upon Apple to be more transparent about its supplier and engage with labour rights organisations to make sure that working conditions improve.

Li Mingqi, who until April worked in management at Foxconn Technology, one of Apple’s most important manufacturing partners said “Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost ”,  “Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests,”. “Once the deal is set and Foxconn becomes an authorized Apple supplier, Apple will no longer give any attention to worker conditions or anything that is irrelevant to its products,” said Mr. Li.

“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

“We’re trying really hard to make things better,” said one former Apple executive. “But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”

“If you see the same pattern of problems, year after year, that means the company’s ignoring the issue rather than solving it,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “Noncompliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try harder next time. If we meant business, core violations would disappear.”

“The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,” said an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. “And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.”

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

A former executive in Apple’s supplier responsibility group said: “There is a genuine, companywide commitment to the code of conduct. But taking it to the next level and creating real change conflicts with secrecy and business goals, and so there’s only so far we can go.” Former Apple employees say they were generally prohibited from engaging with most outside groups.  “There’s a real culture of secrecy here that influences everything”.

Read full articles:
In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad. By CHARLES DUHIGG and DAVID BARBOZA. Published: January 25, 2012
How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. By CHARLES DUHIGG and KEITH BRADSHER. Published: January 21, 2012


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