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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Shepherd, take care of your sheep! Apple finally forced to look at working conditions in Chinese factories

What do you get for pretending the danger's not real
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel

Yesterday it was on the news of Dutch television: Apple finally recognizes abuse in Chinese factories:

Computer and consumer electronics giant Apple admitted for the first time that it is involved in a number of scandals in China. Local Chinese factories that produce the iPhone on behalf of Apple, violated labour and safety rules. In one of those cases 137 employees got poisoned as a consequence of using a cleaning agent containing an illegal chemical substance. In another factory 12 workers committed suicide due to the unbearable pressure of work
The company investigated the situation in their Far East factories and published the conclusion in a public report called “Apple Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report”. 

From this report the following pertinent snips:

Addressing the Use of N-Hexane

In 2010, we learned that 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek, one of Apple’s suppliers, had suffered adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane, a chemical in cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes. We discovered that the factory had reconfigured operations without also changing their ventilation system. Apple considered this series of incidents to be a core violation for worker endangerment.
We required Wintek to stop using n-hexane and to provide evidence that they had removed the chemical from their production lines. In addition, Apple required them to fi x their ventilation system. Since these changes, no new workers have suffered difficulties from chemical exposure.

Responding to Suicides at Foxconn

Like many of our customers and others around the world, we were disturbed and deeply saddened to learn that factory workers were taking their own lives at the Shenzhen facility of Foxconn. […]
Apple commissioned an independent review by a broader team of suicide prevention experts. This team was asked to conduct a deeper investigation into the suicides, evaluate Foxconn’s response, and recommend strategies for supporting workers’ mental health in the future.
During July 2010, the independent team:
• Surveyed more than 1000 workers about their quality of life, sources of stress, psychological health, and other work-related factors. The team designed the questionnaire, delivered and collected it, and tabulated the results without Foxconn’s involvement.
• Interviewed workers face to face, met separately with their managers, and evaluated working and living conditions firsthand.
• Reviewed the facts of each suicide and the known circumstances behind them.
• Evaluated Foxconn’s management of the crisis, assessing the effectiveness of counseling services and emergency response systems
The whole report is a must-read for people and companies concerned with the manufacturing circumstances and the ecological footprint of the products and brands they purchase.

To start with the most important conclusion: it is very good that Apple finally investigated the problems at the Chinese factories. A tip on the hat for that. I truly hope that the “Apple Supplier Responsibility” document is the beginning of better working conditions in the Chinese factories that work for Apple. But a truthful and cautionary expression is “seeing is believing”

And on the other hand you should conclude that Apple and many other American,  European and Australian companies assumed the Ostrich position for a long, long time: Shareholder value seemed to be worth more than the value of workers' lives when it came to working conditions.

Everybody knows the stories about:
-   Childrens’ hands manufacturing 200 dollar sportshoes for less than 1 dollar per hour in China, The Phillippines and Malaysia.
o  The same children that have to pay half of their wages for renting the room - supplied by the factory- where they sleep and live together with 20 other colleagues, .

-   The extremely bad working conditions in all kinds of Chinese and Asian factories:
o  Dirty, polluted and unsafe working environment
o  Extreme pressure of work and extremely long working days
o  The exposure to heavy metals, poisonous chemical substances and dangerous machines without proper protection
o  The total lacking of empathy of the factory management
-   The enormous pollution of Chinese areas, rivers, lakes and air and the unwillingness of the Chinese government and factory bosses to do anything about it.

It is good that the Chinese people now have a great chance for a better life for them and their children, but I truly hope that the price they pay for it is not too high.

And for the western companies: I was shocked to read that Adidas is considering to leave China in favor of Laos, Cambodia, India and Eastern Europe, “because the salaries, set by the Chinese government, have become too high”.

Unfortunately you should know that changes like this seldomly lead to better working conditions. Therefore I hope that people will contemplate on the brands they purchase and the brands they don’t.


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