by Paul Garver
When I read the otherwise well researched feature story in the New York Times, in which Apple announced it would have the Fair Labor Association audit the factories of its suppliers, I noted the absence of comment by the Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). Hong Kong-based SACOM has been the most effective advocate for the rights of Chinese workers in the electronics industry, and its reseachers have uncovered and publicized the most flagrant abuses at Apple supplier Foxconn’s sprawling factory complexes in China.
In response to my inquiry, SACOM director Sze Wan Debby Chan responded that the media had tried to contact her, but during the night when she was sleeping. She associated herself with the critical comments of U.S. NGOs United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC) about the record of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) as part of a corrupt “Social Responsibility industry” that mainly serves to protect corporations against their critics rather than as a means for correcting abuses.
Debby Chan also forwarded a synopsis of comments she made for a Hong Kong newspaper. In essence, the issue is not audits, but whether Apple actually is committed to correcting structural abuses in its major suppliers. Apple has long conducted inspections of its production facilities in China, and knows of the problems of excessive overtime, overwork, and safety violations that have killed or maimed many workers. Apple has even produced reports that show major problems, but has never identified specific violators nor effectively insisted on reforms. So it is good that there is more public discussion of the massive violations of workers’ rights and more awareness among Apple customers in the USA, but this will not lead to improvements for Chinese workers without massive mobilization.
Debby went on to remind us of SACOM’s most recent campaign against forced labor by students at major Apple suppler Foxconn. “For example, the use of student workers at Foxconn is a form of involuntary labour. Vocational students who study education, tourism, pharmacy, journalism, English, etc., are forced to do involuntary internships at Foxconn plants in Chengdu and Zhengzhou, the iPad and iPhone manufacturers respectively. The work is irrelevant to the student’s studies, but unless they work at Foxconn they will not receive graduation certificates.”
I have just come across a superb article by Arun Gupta on Truthout,
“iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse than You Think.” Using SACOM’s grassroots research, an interview with Debby Chan, and scholarly research by Ngai Pun and Jenny Chan (Debby Chan’s predecessor as SACOM Director), Arun Gupta describes in great detail the massive use of involuntary forced labor by hundreds of thousands of student “interns” by Foxconn’s Apple factories in China.
As we have long pointed out in posts on Talking Union, based on earlier reports by SACOM researchers, our iPads and iPhones are drenched in blood. Nearly a million young Chinese, who monotonously assemble tiny parts by hand or polish cases with toxic materials for endless hours, form the underbelly of Apple’s profitable business empire. About 2% of the final cost of an Apple product goes for the labor costs of assembly. Doubling that labor cost, slightly reducing Apple’s huge profit margins, would allow shorter hours, better working conditions, and the elimination of forced teen-age labor in Foxconn’s massive complexes of factories in China. Apple is now the world’s largest and most profitable corporation (and Foxconn is no slouch at 60th largest).
You can sign on to SACOM’s petition against forced labor by Chinese student interns here.