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01 May 2011 06:45
An investigation into the conditions of Chinese workers has revealed the shocking human cost of producing the must-have Apple iPhones and iPads that are now ubiquitous in the West.
The research, carried out by two NGOs, has revealed disturbing allegations of excessive working hours and draconian workplace rules at two major plants in southern China. It has also uncovered an “anti-suicide” pledge that workers at the two plants have been urged to sign, after a series of employee deaths last year.
The investigation gives a detailed picture of life for the 500 000 workers at the Shenzhen and Chengdu factories owned by Foxconn, which produces millions of Apple products each year.
The report accuses Foxconn of treating workers “inhumanely, like machines”.
Among the allegations made by workers interviewed by the NGOs—the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom)—are claims that:
When the allegations were put to Foxconn by the Observer, manager Louis Woo confirmed that workers sometimes worked more than the statutory overtime limit to meet demand from Western consumers, but claimed that all the extra hours were voluntary. Workers claim that, if they turn down excessive demands for overtime, they will be forced to rely on their basic wage: workers in Chengdu are paid only 1 350 yuan ($208) a month for a basic 48-hour week.
Asked about the suicides that have led to anti-suicide netting being fitted beneath the windows of workers’ dormitories, Woo said: “Suicides were not connected to bad working conditions. There was a copy effect. If one commits suicide, then others will follow.”
In a statement, Apple said: “Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base. Apple requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive supplier code of conduct as a condition of their contracts with us. We drive compliance with the code through a rigorous monitoring programme, including factory audits, corrective action plans and verification measures.”
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