Apple has been getting a lot of heat lately for worker conditions at their suppliers' factories. Even though they mandate certain working conditions at the factories, as well as release reports on violations that take place in the factories, they are still receiving public flak for several events in the factories that have been gross denials of human rights and may or may not be reported. According to an article in the New York Times, employees in factories in China, manufacturing Apple products as well as products for other tech companies like Dell, Lenovo and HP, and more, suffer from major safety issues, longer working hours than human rights allow, troubling living situations and hiring underage labour.
Greed manufactures gross human rights violations
According to the report, explosions that take place from lack of safety standards have killed employees and have hurt numerous others. Supplier's negligence of workers' health is also a regular feature. Two years ago, workers were made to polish iPhone screens with a poisonous chemical. Workers are often made to work 7 days a week for 12 hours straight or more each day, violating Apple's mandated 60 hour work week rule. Workers live in close quarters, often 3 to 4 workers sharing one room in the factories' dormitories.
Of course, the conflict of interest, as the article reports, is with Apple having to strike a balance between getting products done well in time, and managing human rights at supplier factories. Apple reported astounding profits at the end of Q4 last year, which made them the number one smartphone manufacturer, but executives maintain that if suppliers delivered more products, their profits would have been even higher. Furthermore, there are indications that Apple knows about the human rights violations that take place and choose to ignore it. For instance, last year there were two explosions at the same factory, but nothing was done about safety standards even after the first explosion. None of the explosions were reported to Apple.
One Apple executive said anonymously, “We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.” Even if Apple threatened to fire suppliers for not fixing gross human rights violations, internally they wouldn't follow through with the threats, because it takes a lot of time to find new suppliers.
One way to look at it is that Apple is not the only company engaging in business with human rights violators. However, because of the sheer size and image of the company, just as Nike stood ten years ago, they bear the burden of the expectations to address the problems first. In the process, your iPhone which you already may have thought to be expensive, may get even more so.