The iPhone 5 isn't close to being released yet, but if the past is any guide, its production may be well under way. So, after a New York Times report about "labor in harsh conditions" at the Chengdu, China, plant that assembles Apple products, including iPhones and Pads, a global organization that calls for fair labor conditions is gathering an online petition calling for improvements.
"Every day, tens of millions of people will swipe the screens of their iPhones to unlock them," reads the petition by SumOfUs. "On the other side of the world, a young girl is also swiping those screens. In fact, every day, during her 12+ hour shifts, six days a week, she repetitively swipes tens of thousands of them. She spends those hours inhaling n-hexane, a potent neurotoxin used to clean iPhone glass, because it dries a few seconds faster than a safe alternative."
Heat's on Cook
While the group wants Apple to make all its products ethically, it says it chose this time for the petition because the iPhone 5, the first product to be launched by new CEO Tim Cook, is due later this year and "he can't afford for anything to go wrong."
The Times reported on explosions at the Chengdu plant attributed to aluminum dust, which killed four workers and injured 77. The group says it garnered 35,000 signatures in the first 24 hours but updated figures were not available. The Times report cited unnamed Apple sources saying the company could improve conditions if it wanted to.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. MSNBC.com reported that Cook sent an e-mail to employees in response to the Times story, saying, "We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain....Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It's not who we are."
No Easy Answers
Technology consultant Rob Enderle said there is no quick fix, since jobs in that region of China are scarce and government oversight lax.
"Apple has limited power," he said. "They are not a government nor do they have the power to pass or enforce laws. They could switch to a domestic vendor where the laws protect labor more, but the cost increase would be in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 percent, which if they absorbed it, would make them far less profitable and likely get their CEO fired."
Passing the price increase to consumers, Enderle said, would mean they would be "more likely to switch to a Samsung product which is still built under similar conditions with the only real impact of shifting business the rest of the way out of the U.S. Oh, and don't forget that if they pulled out of the area, those hardworking people would suddenly be unemployed or likely be treated worse in their next job."
Paying Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturing partner, more, might only mean the owners take a bigger cut, Enderle said, and more regulation by China might just move operations elsewhere.
"This puts Apple in a nasty position where almost anything they do will make things worse," he said, "both on the folks currently being mistreated and on their own bottom line."
Posted: 2012-02-01 @ 9:58pm PT
Rob Enderle says Apple must either mistreat folks or damage their bottom line. Apple takes the first option in China, but can Apple do it here? After all, we need jobs back home.
I think the answer is simple. Apple needs to open US factories that operate the same way their Chinese suppliers operate. Let them ask Americans to work 35 hours straight for 31 cents an hour and live in a 24 person dorm room and toss them in jail for organizing. Foxconn has provided all of that; can't we? Haven't we learned anything from Scott Walker and Mitch Daniels?
If Apple and Daniels and Walker work hand in hand, we can defeat unemployment here instead of in China, we can bring on suicide and carpal tunnel syndrome here instead of in China, we can crush workers and exalt bosses here instead of in China.
A human being is a human being, after all, and if Apple can treat human beings like excrement in China, Apple can do it here.