Despite Record-Breaking Revenues, Apple Continues to Exploit Workers

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

It’s increasingly well-known that Apple uses suppliers throughout China to reduce the costs of producing its popular electronic products—and that this practice results in callous labor and environmental violations that have cost many Chinese workers their homes and livelihoods. As Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan report for Truthout, despite Apple’s claims that it is working to address these issues and implement penalties for suppliers who fail to uphold Apple standards, recent studies by organizations like China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) continue to document ongoing and new labor and environmental violations. As Cole and Chan report, despite Apple’s record-breaking revenues—$183 billion in 2014—the company has yet to adequately address issues of worker safety, fair wages, and environmental impacts.

Since 2013, Apple Inc. has been buffeted by charges of excessive work hours, verbal abuse, harassment, endangerment, and others in Chinese factories. For example, in the weeks leading to the September 2014 launch of Apple’s iPhone6, SACOM found workers produced roughly 25 million phones over a ten-week span, working fifteen-hour days at several Pegatron locations. Without any breaks or days off, this led to many health issues among workers.

Despite increasing profits, Apple Inc, has not provided evidence that supports their claim to confront suppliers about working conditions. Instead, Apple Inc. relocated production from Foxconn to another supplier after an increase in wages at Foxconn factories.

Increased public awareness, through media and news, would make this issue—and, most importantly, the workers themselves—less invisible, increasing the pressure on Apple to reinforce its code of conduct and address ongoing labor and environmental violations committed by its sub-contractors.

Unfortunately, corporate news has only provided minimal and outdated coverage on the issue since it surfaced in 2011 when working conditions led some workers to commit suicide. A brief 2012 opinion piece from USA TODAY quoted several important corporate figures with varying perspectives. The same year, a New York Times report described some of the incidents giving rise to criticisms of Apple, but many of the references in this article came from Apple management, rather that groups like CLW or SACOM. No new and ongoing corporate coverage has been reported as of March 12, 2015. It is only found in independent news coverage in which Apple management statements are included but also countered by groups that support just labor rights.

In the absence of more coverage along the lines of the Truthout report, many people buy products from powerful corporations like Apple without being aware of the human costs of manufacturing these products.

Source:  Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan, “Despite Claims of Progress, Labor and Environmental Violations Continue to Plague Apple.” Truthout, February 19, 2015, http://truth-out.org/news/item/29180-despite-claims-of-progress-labor-violations-and-environmental-atrocities-continue-to-plague-apple-s-supply-chain.

Student Researcher: Karla Molina (Pomona College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)