Accusations of Deplorable Working Conditions Precede Apple’s iPhone 6

by Matt Klassen on September 5, 2014

Just days before Apple is set to unveil the iPhone 6 and potentially some other technologies goodies, a labour rights group has revealed that it has found “a number” of serious human rights violations at a factory along Apple’s supply chain, one used to build iPhone and iPad parts.

Earlier this week China Labour Watch (CLW) and Green America announced that a factory owned by Catcher Technology in Suqian, China, was found to be committing “serious health and safety, environmental, and human rights violations.” The facility in question is part of Apple’s second-tier supply chain, manufacturing metal iPad cover and other parts for fifth-generation iPhones, China Labour Watch explained.

In fact, despite Apple’s repeated promises to the contrary, the results of a recent undercover investigation from CLW found that neither Apple nor Catcher had done much to improve safety standards or ensure worker safety, noting that beyond consistent year-to-year violations, investigation in 2014 found additional issues not found last year, “suggesting that conditions may actually be getting worse in the factory.” It’s been years of broken promises, the CLW report notes, and it’s time things really changed.

The issues the CLW found in Suqian during its August investigation included some of the same culprits we’ve seen before: locked or blocked safety exists, a dearth of safety training, clear hiring discrimination, and excessive hours for workers coupled with forced overtime. In fact, CLW estimates each employee works an average of six hours of unpaid overtime every month, “resulting in roughly $290,000 in owed wages for all workers.”

Further, the investigation found “significant” amounts of aluminum-magnesium alloy, both as shreddings on the floor and dust particles in the air, posing a serious health and fire safety risk. Beyond that, the factory was found to be exploiting Mother Nature as well, as the report indicated the factory dumps industrial waste and other fluid by-products into groundwater and nearby rivers. Not to mention that employees have little or no training on how to properly handle such toxic chemicals.

With this in mind I think it’s important to elucidate two unquestionable truths: First, the timing of this report is obviously meant to put pressure on Apple to make changes lest the company face reduced revenues from an angry public, and second, it won’t work.

As I’ve found year-after-year, those who are serious about human rights violations are already wary of Apple, many boycotting the Cupertino Company outright because of its blatant disregard for the health and safety of those along its supply line, and those who really want Apple’s latest product really don’t want to hear about it at all.

The sort of person I have yet to meet is one who really likes Apple, yet is compelled by conscience to not purchase its products until substantive changes are made to assuage the plight of these workers; not the lip service we’ve seen until now mind you, but real, effective change, the kind that actually costs money to implement.

Now I’m not sure why I consider the cost of implementing the change as the measure of Apple’s seriousness, save to say that the reason Apple continues to cut so many corners is because it loves to keep its giant pile of disposable cash more than it loves to spend it. If Apple was truly serious about improving conditions, I would hope it would stop trying to approach this as a money issue and see it instead as a people issue.

In the end, while Apple recently announced the ban on benzene and n-hexane in the final manufacturing stages of its products—an important step to be sure—the recent findings from the CLW are clear evidence that Apple—a company who has the ethical and legal responsibility and the finances to establish and maintain acceptable working standards—still has a long way to go.

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

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