by Debby Chan
Labour groups and media have been reporting the unethical labour practices at Apple suppliers in China in the past 2 years. Under the intense pressure, Apple joined the Fair Labour Association (FLA) in January 2012 in an attempt to create a transparent and socially responsible image. Regrettably, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) delivered the petition letter to the Apple Store yesterday, Apple refused to receive the letter and called the police to disperse the protesters.
Without a doubt, Apple products are extremely popular all over the world. No Apple consumer would expect the Apple gadgets are produced under sweatshop-like conditions in China. In 2009, over 137 workers in Wintek, an Apple supplier in Suzhou China, were poisoned by n-hexane while cleaning the iPhone touch screens. The victims have written 3 letters to Apple but there is no response from the company. Last year, a deadly explosion occurred in the polishing department of Foxconn’s Chengdu factory. Four workers died and 18 were injured.
Furthrmore, Apple also approves the use of student workers as de facto labour at Foxconn. If students refuse to do internship, they are threatened with not being permitted to graduate from school. The use of student workers is definitely a form of involuntary labour. More importantly, these are not single incidents but systematic problems at Apple suppliers.
Consumers across the world are disturbed by the deplorable working conditions at Apple suppliers. There are dozens of concerned groups or individuals launched signature campaign on Apple labour practices. One of the groups, Sum of Us, has launched an online signature campaign to urge Apple to make iPhone 5 ethically. As of 22 February, the group has collected over 110,000 signatures to urge Apple. Sum Of Us has called on supporters to deliver signatures to the Apple Store. Yesterday, SACOM supported the initiative and intended to send the signatures to the Apple Store in Hong Kong. SACOM has patiently waited for a representative from the Apple Store to receive the letter for an hour. It was outrageous that Apple refused to accept the letter and called the police to send our group away. Although Apple has joined the FLA as if it is more open to public scrutiny, it simply ignores the petition from 110,000 signatories.
Apple’s stock surpassed $500 last week and keeps climbing. As the world’s most valuable brand, it can certainly afford to pay a living wage to the production workers. However, Apple fans who demand ethical Apple products are ignored. This demonstrates the arrogance and hypocrisy of the corporation. And the FLA membership does not make any difference to Apple.
Sze Wan Debby Chan is Project Officer for the Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).