Pro-Worker NGO Criticizes Apple’s Failures of Corporate Social Responsbility in China

by SACOM

Hong Kong, 28 February 2014

On the day of Apple’s annual general meeting, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) is urging Apple again to take immediate and constructive action to fulfil its corporate responsibility by improving the working conditions in its suppliers.

Despite respectable quarterly revenues of US$57.6 billion and a net quarterly profit of US$13.1 billion in the first quarter of its fiscal year of 2014, the company is unwilling to share its success with frontline workers – those who turn its ideas into real products. Apple’s newly published Corporate Supplier Responsibility (CSR) Progress Report projects an ideal workplace at Apple suppliers, yet we doubt workers are enjoying any benefit at all: Continue reading

Large-Scale Strike Paralyzes Production of Apple iPhone5 at Zhengzhou Factory

by Li Qiang, Executive Director
China Labor Watch

October 5, 2012

Breaking News:

Photograph: Ye Fudao/ Foxconn worker

(New York) China Labor Watch (CLW) announced that at 1:00PM on October 5 (Beijing time), a strike occurred at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory that, according to workers, involved three to four thousand production workers. In addition to demanding that workers work during the holiday, Foxconn raised overly strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. Additionally, quality control inspectors fell into to conflicts with workers and were beat up multiple times by workers. Factory management turned a deaf ear to complaints about these conflicts and took no corrective measures. The result of both of these circumstances was a widespread work stoppage on the factory floor among workers and inspectors.

The majority of workers who participated in this strike were workers from the OQC (onsite quality control) line. According to workers, multiple iPhone 5 production lines from various factory buildings were in a state of paralysis for the entire day.  It was reported that factory management and Apple, despite design defects, raised strict quality demands on workers, including indentations standards of 0.02mm and demands related to scratches on frames and back covers. With such demands, employees could not even turn out iPhones that met the standard. This led to a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. On top of this, they were not permitted to have a vacation during the holiday. This combination of factors led to the strike.

That quality control inspectors would also strike is of no surprise. According to workers, there was a fight between workers and quality control inspectors in area K that led to the damage in inspection room CA, the injury of some people, and the hospitalization of others. After this, another similar incident occurred in area K, once again leading to quality control inspectors getting beaten up. Yesterday, inspectors in area L received physical threats. When inspectors reported these issues to factory management, the management simply ignored and turned their back on the issue. For these reasons, all day and night shift inspectors carried out a work stoppage today that paralyzed the production lines.

This strike is simply because these workers just have too much pressure.

A recent article in Talking Union documents, based on investigative research by China Labor Watch and by SACOM, the extremely harsh working conditions under which the Apple iPhone5 has been rushed into massive production at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, where the strike just occurred.  An article posted earlier today reports on the causes of a major riot at another Foxconn factory in Taiyuan where the iPhone5 is also being produced.  Talking Union has also recently posted a background article on how Chinese workers and students are confronting global capitalism at Foxconn, the major link in Apple’s global supply chain.

About China Labor Watch:

Founded in 2000, China Labor Watch is an independent not-for-profit organization. In the past ten years, CLW has collaborated with labor organizations and the media to conduct a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China that produce toys, bikes, shoes, furniture, clothing, and electronics for some of the largest companies. CLW’s New York office creates reports from these investigations, educates the international community on supply chain labor issues, and pressures corporations to improve conditions for workers.

Apple Launches iPhone5 with Forced Student Labor

by Paul Garver

Photo by Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia/Creative Common

Rural American schools used to empty out for a few weeks in the fall to allow farm children to help harvest potato or fruit crops for family farmers.

The world has changed. In 2012 students are required to leave classrooms in interior Chinese cities to help with the Apple harvest – specifically to produce the Apple iPhone5, just as their predecessors did in 2011 to assemble the Apple iPhone 4S.

According to Chinese media sources, several vocational schools in the city of Huai’an in eastern China required hundreds of students to work on assembly lines at a Foxconn plant to manufacture cables for the iPhone5. Their teachers told them they would not graduate unless they worked for Foxconn, since “Foxconn does not have enough workers without the students.”

An assembly worker in Zhengzhou, where the iPhone5 is assembled, reported to China Labor Watch last month:
We are now producing the iPhone5. We 87 workers have to assemble 3,000 phones per day, and as our team leader told us, after the new iPhone goes public, we will need t assemble 6,500 phones per day. We are now working more than 10 hours a day. There are many student workers in our production line, all of whom are around 18 years old. They’ve been complaining and demanding to go back to school but are never allowed.

The recent promises Apple and Foxconn made through the audits of the Fair Labor Association to reform its brutal regime for Chinese assembly workers and student “interns” evaporated like smoke under the pressures to launch the iPhone5 as quickly as possible.

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Chinese Students and Workers Confront Global Capitalism at Foxconn

by Paul Garver

Photo by Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia/Creative Common

If the cotton mills of Manchester exemplied 19th century capitalism and the River Rouge Ford plant symbolized capital’s 20th century stage, its early 21st century embodiment is Foxconn. In its thirty giant  factory complexes  1.2 million young Chinese workers assemble over 50% of all the electronics products consumed over the globe. Armies of young men and women perform monotonous repetitive assembly work under quasi-military discipline for at least 60 hours a week for minimal pay and virtually no social benefits.

Foxconn, controlled by Taiwanese billionaire Terry Gou, is China’s largest exporter and 60th largest global corporation with annual revenues of $79 billion (2010). Its largest corporate customer is Apple, but every other major global electronics company also contracts Foxconn for most of their final assembly tasks. Sophisticated components and parts are manufactured in Korea, Japan, Europe and the USA, shipped to China for final assembly, and then re-exported for sale mainly to more affluent consumers in the Triad (North America, Europe and Japan). About 1% of the cost of your iPhone, iPad or other advanced electronic device goes to pay the wages of the Chinese workers who assemble them, while another 1% goes to Foxconn executives and shareholders.

Foxconn is a linchpin of the most leading edge and most profitable sectors of global capital. Although its own operating profit margins are razor thin, shaved by the constant cost-squeezing of Apple and other corporate customers, Foxconn has made itself indispensable to global capital by fully utilizing its strategic position in China.

But Goliath has feet of clay. Students and scholars from Mainland China and Hong Kong have been struggling to assist Foxconn workers improve their conditions. And they are beginning to win some astonishing victories.  We can help them extend and consolidate those victories.
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New Crackdowns on Labor NGOs in Guangdong Province of China

by Debby Chan

Hong Kong, 7 August 2012

In the run-up to the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (18th NCCCP), where the CCP will select its top leaders, the paramount political task of local governments is “social stability”. There is nothing wrong in trying to maintain social order, yet social stability with Chinese characteristic means suppression of any dissenting voice or even potentially dissenting voices. Since February 2012, seven labour NGOs have been closed down by the Guangdong authorities. The local governments evaded their responsibilities by saying that all of the affected NGOs coincidentally had problems with their landlords. Nonetheless, the intervention by authorities cannot be clearer. Landlords conceded that they were under pressure from local government, and an NGO reported that dozens of police monitored the relocation of its office. Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) opposes the systematic crackdown on these labour organizations by the Guangdong government, as it deeply impedes social harmony and eventually provokes labour disputes. SACOM calls upon Mr. Wang Yang, the Guangdong Communist Party Secretary, who is considered to be a reformer, to respond promptly to the wave of crackdowns on NGOs.

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Apple Refuses to Meet With Hong Kong Consumers

by Debby Chan

Protest at Apple Store in Hong Kong

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).

Fair Labor Association Waters Down Violations at Foxconn

 

by Debby Chan

Owing to escalating pressure on Apple from consumers, computer giant Apple Inc. recently purchased a membership in the Fair Labour Association (FLA). The group began factory inspections at Apple suppliers last week. After one week of research, on 15 February, the president of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, praised the working conditions at Foxconn as “better than average”. He suggested that the recent rash of worker suicides at Foxconn could be attributed to “boredom and alienation,” which are not considered labour rights violations. Today, the FLA contradicts its previous statement and announces that “tons of issues” are uncovered at Foxcon but doesn’t give any details. Both these statements make SACOM question the FLA’s ability to carry out a serious independent investigation. The FLA seems to be trumpeting the positive aspects of Foxconn and putting its labour rights abuses in undertones.

Since 2008, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) has been monitoring the working conditions at Foxconn. And SACOM has found systematic labour rights violations in the company, including involuntary labour, negligence in work safety and excessive overtime. Disappointingly, FLA has avoided these problems. The recent statements from the FLA demonstrate that its audits represent merely a cosmetic effort to cover up Apple’s unethical labour practices, rather than a real commitment to decent working conditions.
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The Fair Labor Association Will Audit Apple Factories in China – So What?

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.

 

 

Making Toys without Joy: Covering Up for Labour Rights Violations for Global Toy Brands

SACOM

In Guangdong province, where 70% of China’s toys are exported, migrant workers’ basic salary is around CNY 850-1320 (USD 134-208), actually the same as the statutory local minimum wage. And the minimum wage is barely enough for self-subsistence. Restricted by the meager pay, workers have to leave their children behind in their hometowns where they can only visit once a year during Chinese New Year, and for this family reunion, they cannot afford to buy what they produce as gifts for their children – not a Mattel’s Hot Wheels toy car, not a Disney storybook. The hardship of the workers is a consequence of the squeezing unit price in the global supply chain.
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Poisoned Chinese Workers Demand Action from Apple CEO Successor

Five Poisoned Wintek Workers Demand Action of Apple CEO

by Debby Chan

The poisoned workers at Wintek, an Apple supplier in Suzhou, China, have been awaiting a response from Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple. Regrettably, he had not responded before his resignation. The poisoned workers hope the new Apple CEO, Tim Cook, will live up to its claim of corporate social responsibility and provide them remedies.

Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) supports the cause of the victims and calls on Tim Cook to address the grievances of the poisoned workers and provide remedies for them.

The massive poisoning at Wintek is a serious breach of the labour law and Apple’s code of conduct. Corporate social responsibility is no more than rhetoric if there is no remedy to the workers for the code infringement. SACOM demands Apple under the leadership of Tim Cook has dialogue with the workers as soon as possible.
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