Apple hopes Labour Issues have been Forgotten

by Matt Klassen on May 28, 2012

If you haven’t heard about the Apple’s labour issues of late, it’s not because things have improved for the beleaguered workers along the company’s supply line, it’s simply because the media spotlight has simply found other controversies to illuminate. Time is still ticking since Apple pledged to improve working conditions, and here we are, still waiting for an ethical iPhone.  

It was back in 2006 when Apple first faced criticism over the working conditions along its supply lines, and after a glitzy media blitz promising immediate changes, nothing happened. With this latest round of ongoing controversy, it seems that Apple is once again playing that same card, hoping that a few platitudes will satiate the public’s desire for justice before our collective interest moves on. Forgotten, not solved.

In fact, it truly seems like Apple is approaching this ethical disaster as simply nothing more than a complex public relations problem, enacting solutions that are designed to restore public image, not human dignity, with its manufacturing partner Foxconn once again opening its factory doors to the media so we all can see the smiling (and not at all coerced) faces of those making our beloved Apple products.

Through all the research I’ve conducted regarding the working conditions in various Foxconn factories along Apple’s supply chain I’ve always been amazed at the scope of the manufacturing process overseas. Here in North America we have a particular notion of what a factory looks like, with workers clocking in, working their shift, and clocking out to head back home for a cold beer and a good nights sleep.

In China the experience for the average worker is substantively different, as factories are created as not-so-miniature cities unto themselves, containing not only the factory floors for the creation of Apple’s devices, but grocery stores, dormitories, and recreational facilities as well.

It is within this all-encompassing work experience that Foxconn employees have been subjected to unacceptable working conditions, with reports of agonizingly long multiday overtime sessions, unacceptably low pay (which barely covers living expenses at the factory), and hazardous working conditions.

Now following the audit conducted by the Fair Labour Association (FLA) at the behest of Apple, has any improved along the supply chain? Despite a recent video produced by a Chinese media agency who recently received a guided tour of one of Foxconn’s key manufacturing plants (one that showed content and studious employees) there is no documented evidence that any changes have been made, meaning that unless more is demanded of Apple and Foxconn this issue will likely fade.

Simply put, when the media is satisfied by hollow platitudes it means less public interest in the situation, which means restoration of tarnished public image; it’s Brand Protection 101.

So what, if anything, can we do about this? I’m not naïve enough to think that the public, no matter how distressed they may temporarily feel about inhumane working conditions, will stop purchasing Apple products, but that doesn’t mean that we all can’t have a voice in the situation. There are innumerable ethical watchdog groups whose purpose is to keep the pressure on companies like Apple, so if nothing else consider adding your voice to their cause.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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