Apple and its supply partner Foxconn are no strangers to controversy surrounding working conditions in the latter’s iPhone production facilities, with concerns having long been raised over issues like unsafe work environments, marathon shifts with gruelling mandatory unpaid overtime, and pay that doesn’t even meet cost of living expenses accrued by living at the factories themselves. Simply put, it’s an ethical issue that Apple and Foxconn say is going away, but workers disagree.
On Friday, as many Canadians prepared for a Thanksgiving weekend of indulgence and gluttony (and maybe a little actual giving thanks), workers at Foxconn’s factory in Zhengzhou, China were suffering enough abuse at the hands of their Foxconn overlords that they walked off the job for several hours, temporarily disrupting production of the iPhone 5.
If such an occurrence were an isolate incident it would likely not even make a ripple in public opinion over Apple, but the fact that this event is but the latest in a long line of worker abuses along Apple’s supply line means that this problem won’t soon be forgotten…at least by me.
According to ethical working standards watchdog China Labor Watch, the strike was a product of strict and unrealistic production demands imposed on the workers by managers at the Foxconn factory in question on Friday. The report states that frustrations grew as workers complained they weren’t offered the corresponding training needed to meet the new production demands, resulting in the workers turning out products that didn’t meet the established standards.
The failure to meet the production quota, in turn, led Foxconn to place even more pressure on workers, with reports that employees were forced to work through a national holiday and, to make matters much worse, that some were even beaten. The strike itself lasted several hours and at its peek involved three to four thousand production workers.
While its clear that despite the claims by Apple and Foxconn that the ethical issues surrounding working conditions along the iPhone 5 production line are not going away, perhaps its better that they don’t…at least better for Apple.
As one of my fellow writers here at theTelecomblog insightfully commented in response to my recent report about the iPhone 5 not meeting ethical production standards, “People know about this, they just don’t care.” While Apple initially struggled with the public relations nightmare sparked by a New York Times exposé earlier this year, the reality of the situation is that, like everything else, the North American public has become desensitized.
As David Johnson, principal with Strategic Vision, told MacNewWorld, it’s not that news of worker mistreatment is met with total indifference by the North American public, but simply due to the quantity of reports consumers are becoming immune.
In fact, as Johnson explains, its human nature to focus more on the suffering of an individual as opposed to a larger group, meaning that strictly from a PR perspective, if groups like China Labor Watch and SumOfUs.org really want to get the message out, they would be better served to find one image or symbol around which consumers can rally; it’ll be the only way these reports really hit home.
In the end, while the irony of my continued reporting on this matter assisting in the desensitization of the American public (ultimately assisting Apple in making this issue go away) is not lost on me, I nevertheless feel some responsibility to continue participating in public awareness…I just may need to find a different tack.