At the start of 2012, in response to damning reports of worker suicides, hazardous working conditions, and rampant illegal overtime, ethical watchdog group SumOfUs.org launched an awareness campaign to pressure Apple into changing the inhumane working conditions along its Chinese supply line. The petition of over 200,000 voices demanded that Apple revamp its manufacturing practices, calling for the Cupertino tech giant to begin producing ethical products. So is the newly unveiled iPhone 5 Apple’s first ethical iPhone? Of course Apple says yes, but SumOfUs has a different perspective, the iPhone 5 is not an ethical iPhone – not even close.
In response to the public outcry back in January Apple promised swift and decisive action, hoping to avoid any sort of unified public outcry lest its rampant horde be roused from its Apple-crazed hypnosis, hiring the so-called Fair Labor Association to audit the company’s supply line.
The findings were what many expected, with the FLA reporting rampant overtime, low pay, no breaks, and poor living conditions. But then things sort of went away, with many assuming that those things must have been fixed. The fact of the matter is, however, that conditions for the people building your beloved iPhone 5 have got worse, not better.
It was supposed to be the end of unpaid overtime, of painfully low hourly wages, and corruption that has left Foxconn workers along Apple’s supply chain without a voice, at least that’s how Apple framed things in response to the ethical controversy earlier this year. Since that time we’ve seen the release of the iPhone 5, and soon, I would guess, the iPad Mini, which once again has me wondering if anything has changed for the worker’s creating the gadgets we so desperately pine for.
Initially workers along Apple’s supply line were forced to work unpaid overtime to achieve certain production quotas. Since then, however, Apple has claimed it has abolished illegal overtime, but workers are still expected to achieve those same previous quotas now within their given shift, meaning that for many if those quotas aren’t met its more unpaid overtime.
Further, Apple has claimed that wages are increasing in Foxconn factories, something I’ve reported on at length before, but the reality of the situation is that the living wage of the average Foxconn employee is actually going down, as a concomitant rise in room and board fees (mandatory for Foxconn workers) actually takes more away from workers than the increase in pay gave them.
Of course no one hears about this, just like no one heard about the reports that earlier this summer another despondent Foxconn employee leapt to his death at another of the company’s factories, but that’s because Apple doesn’t want you to hear about it, because such things allow the general public to see behind the sterling veneer of the iPhone 5 to where the ugly truth about such popular devices lies.
There’s no question that Apple is working hard to generate a buzz leading up to the release of the iPhone 5, but perhaps its time to create a new buzz, one that results in those who have a concomitant desire for Apple products and for the fair and ethical treatment of workers being able to buy an iPhone 5 with a clear conscious, instead of leaving those same people wrestling with what the iPhone 5 is now, a phone stained with the blood and sweat of those virtually enslaved by the Apple machine.