NGOs’ claims against Apple’s labour issue

By Janice Cheung

After several tragic suicide incidents happened in Chinese factories, NGOs concerning labour rights and business ethics have voiced out their opinions on the issue and urged Apple and the relevant factories to address the root causes of the situation.

What labour issues?

The suicide incidents revealed the brutality behind the manufacturing process of electronic products. Workers are required to work overtime. Though overtime work is paid, workers are prone to lose their subsidies, allowances and bonuses. Therefore, overtime work does not guarantee a higher pay. Moreover, in the example of Foxconn, the limit of hours of monthly overtime work, 80 hours, way exceeds the legal maximum, which is only 36 hours.

Health and safety in workplace is another central issue. Poisonous chemicals are often used in the assemble process of electronic products. Factory workers usually have little knowledge of the chemicals used, not to mention equipping themselves with sufficient protection. In a Taiwanese factory which manufactures the latest Apple product, iPad 2, around 100 factory workers suffered from chemical poisoning. The root was their long time exposures to hexyl hydride, a poisonous organic solvent which is used to clean up the surface of iPhone, iPad and iPad 2.

The issues mentioned above are just a tip of an iceburg. Lack of trade unions, absolute obedient management style and forced relocation of factories are other kinds of exploitations workers face.

Various NGOs’ actions

In response to the unfair treatments on workers, various NGOs and pressure groups have launched campaign to raise awareness and combat these workplace violations. The factories themselves, though largely responsible, are not the sole evil cause of maltreatments on workers. In this globalizing world, a product’s manufacturing process can take place all over the world. The injustice is also caused by the brand the factory is working for. Therefore, there are many voices that Apple should also be held accountable.

On 8th June 2010, a Hong Kong labour right activist group SACOM, staged a protest outside an Apple retail shop. On the same day in Taiwan, unions and NGOs also protested at the Annual General Shareholder meeting of Foxconn. MakeITfair, a Dutch focus group concerning electronics industry, also made an appeal to the Foxconn tragedy, calling upon an investigation of the matter.

In Apple’s 2011 supplier responsibility progress report, it acknowledges that there were factory workers harmed by toxic hazards, and other violations in its supply chain, but no actions had been taken to tackle this situation. Chinese environmentalists criticized Apple’s action as irresponsible and pushing its responsibility towards its customers.

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