by Hauwa Gambo
300 workers recently threatened to jump off the roof over a safety and pay dispute.
Mark Shields, a self-described member of the “Cult of Mac,” started a petition on Change.org demanding Apple exert its influence on its suppliers to improve working conditions for the factory workers that make iPhones, iPads and other Apple products.
According to the New York Times, workers at a factory in Shenzhen, China, owned by Foxconn (a company that manufactures iPhones, iPads and other devices for Apple) regularly work sixteen-hour, seven-day work weeks.
They stand until their legs swell and they can’t walk, and they perform repetitive motions on the production line for so long that some permanently lose the use of their hands. To cut costs, managers make workers use cheap chemicals that cause neurological damage. There has been a rash of suicides at the Foxconn plant, and 300 workers recently threatened to jump off the roof over a safety and pay dispute.
In short, as one former Apple executive told the New York Times, “Most people would be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”
Apple knows it can play an important role in ensuring safe and fair working conditions for the workers at its suppliers, like Foxconn. In 2005, the company released a supplier code of conduct, and it performs hundreds of audits each year in China and around the world to confirm its suppliers are meeting the code’s expectations.
But that’s where Apple’s commitment falters: the number of supplier violations has held steady year to year and Apple hasn’t consistently publicly stated which suppliers have problems or dropped offending suppliers.
The bottom line, Apple executives admit, is that they’re not being forced to change.
One current executive told the New York Times that there’s a trade-off: “You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories,” he said, or you can “make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards. And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”
That means public pressure is the only thing that can force Apple to ensure its suppliers treat workers humanely. If enough people sign Mark’s petition — and tell Apple they care more about human beings than they do about how fast the company can produce the next generation iPhone — the company could be convinced to make real change for the workers at Foxconn and other factories.