Is Apple keeping its promise to improve conditions in Chinese factories? It's hard to say...
Xian Chiang-Waren, reporting for Mother Jones, indicates Apple may not be keeping its promise to improve working conditions in its Chinese factories.
China Labor Watch’s (CLW) evaluation of 10 of Apple’s (not exclusively Foxconn-owned ) factories provides the basis for Chiang-Waren’s assertion. The watchdog group used a variety of tactics including surveys, interviews, and visits.
CLW's results hone in on an issue that prior media coverage and a much-hyped (Fair Labor Association) report on Foxconn hadn't touched upon: the fact that dispatch labor workers, who don't appear on Apple's books, make up a significant percentage of Apple's factory workers.
Dispatch laborers are hired through third-party companies (like temping agencies in the United States) and have no formal agreement with a factory. Factories use dispatch labor because it is enormously profitable: It lets them get away with no severance pay, no responsibility for occupational hazards or work-related injury, no collective bargaining, and no limit on overtime.”
Interestingly, Foxconn-owned factories were the only ones surveyed that did not rely heavily on dispatch workers.
Chiang-Waren is quick to point out that the results are not quite scientific.
“CLW admits that it doesn't have the access or the data to do a thorough investigation, and critics will be quick to point out the flaws in CLW's statistics; in factories that employ tens of thousands of laborers, the highest number of surveys returned was 94. In most cases, CLW was prevented from collecting data and conducting interviews. In Shanghai, 150 surveys were seized by local police, who arrested CLW investigators and bought them bus tickets out of the province.
In a telephone interview with Mother Jones, Li Quang, the organization's executive director, explained that although his team had been blocked from gathering accurate survey data, it had corroborated the information from surveys during follow-up interviews with workers, with the intention of forming a general picture of the situation in each factory it investigated. "It may not be exact," Quang told me through a translator. "It is approximate. The numbers come from the survey, and follow-up questions with workers that confirm approximate numbers."
It’s worth noting, as Chiang-Waren reports, following suicides at Foxconn, Apple did allow Fair Labor Association auditors into three Foxconn-owned factories and promised to deal with issues the auditors found, including 50 violations of both Chinese law and FLA “standards of conduct.” The Fair Labor Association, however may not be as fair as its name suggests. Many of the companies who own the factories the FLA evaluates, also include themselves among the FLA’s funders.
Scott Paul, Executive Director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), wrote earlier this year about similar standards programs implemented by Walmart in China.
“Walmart did establish an ethical standards program for its suppliers, but that program appears to be little more than window dressing since it does not permit outside audits. It is also counterproductive, since much of the work previously performed by audited contractors is now done by unlicensed and unacknowledged subcontractors to keep costs low, despite the human toll. Workers are reluctant to step forward to report abuses because they fear retribution and potential factory closures as a result of reported violations.”
Chiang-Waren issues a call to action:
“Even if a fraction of the new CLW report is accurate, Apple has a massive accountability issue on its hands—and independent auditors, as well as the media, need to start looking beyond Foxconn, at the links in Apple's supply chain that are not yet under scrutiny. Since factories tend to tap unregulated labor when they can't keep up with the demands of the supply chain, there are plenty of financial incentives for Apple to ignore the problem completely. But there are also incentives for Apple to clean up its act, as consumers increasingly use their dollars to demand that companies stay socially responsible.”
Read more here.
Photo of Foxconn by Flickr member renaissancechambara, used following Creative Commons guidelines.
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