Friday, June 29, 2012

Foxconn isn't the only sweatshop making iPhones

A new report by China Labor Watch finds that the notorious Foxconn factory in Shenzhen isn't the only sweatshop Apple uses. 

According to the Economic Policy Institute:
China Labor Watch ... found working conditions at the Foxconn factory to be severe, with workers employed long hours at low pay under harsh living conditions. The CLW report also breaks new ground in three areas.  The report finds ... for instance, that employees in most of the factories typically work 11 hours a day and can only take one day off a month (low wage levels and management pressure compel them to work such hours); that employee dorms are frequently overcrowded, dirty and lacking in facilities; and that there is little ability for workers at Apple suppliers to push for reasonable working conditions on their own. 
As bad as working conditions at Foxconn are, they are even worse at some of the other factories in China that supply Apple. The report flags the three Riteng factories investigated as particularly difficult places to work. ... Riteng workers typically work 12 hours per day nearly every day of the year (including weekends and holidays), compared to 10 hours per day at the Foxconn factories, with some days off.  The average wage for the Riteng workers amounts to $1.28 per hour, or well below the already quite low average hourly wage of $1.65 for Foxconn workers. Health and safety conditions are much worse at the Riteng factories than at the Foxconn factory, and living conditions are worse for the Riteng workers as well. 
Certain serious labor problems have so far been neglected in the discussion of work practices at Apple suppliers in China.  In particular, the new report documents the troubling yet common practice by Apple suppliers of using dispatched labor. This practice enables factories to reduce the compensation and benefits they provide to their workers, makes it even easier to compel workers to work exceptionally long overtime hours, and creates damaging uncertainty over who is responsible for any worker injuries.
ComputerWorld magazine points out that sweatshop conditions exist in many overseas computer factories, not just Apple's suppliers:
In a report last year, China Labor Watch warned: "Foxconn should not bear the only responsibility for worker suicides: Apple, HP, Dell and other international OEMs should also be held responsible, as their goal of profit maximization comes at the cost of workers' wages and sub-optimal working conditions." 
That's the rub: Apple this year seems to have become the company everybody wants to hate. That's inevitable, of course, because everybody hates you when you become successful (in the words of Morrisey), but that focus on Cupertino shouldn't blind critics to the grim reality that every large or small-scale worker abuse within the Apple value chain is almost inevitably being repeated across the supply chain of every other consumer electronics firm: Dell, HP, you name them.