10 September 2013

Apple and the exploitation of Chinese labour

I have been an Apple fan since I got my first computer—Mac all the way. I cringe, therefore, when I encounter articles about the company and its exploitation of Chinese labour. So I really didn't need to read this morning that Apple's new iphone is being produced under illegal and abusive working conditions at its contractor's plant in Wuxi, China. A report by China Labor Watch claims that workers at the plant, owned by U.S. company Jabil Circuit, work more than 60 hours a week plus 100 hours of overtime a month (three times the legal limit), not including another 11 hours of unpaid overtime. The report claims further that workers must stand more than 11 hours a day with no rest outside of a 30-minute lunch break; their pre-work training is illegally inadequate; dorms have eight people per room; and a host of other abuses.

In response, Apple claims it has conducted three audits of Jabil Wuxi in the past 36 months and it has a team of experts on-site to look into the new claims about conditions there. It also claims Jabil has an auditing program of its own with an excellent track record of meeting Apple’s high standards. "Employees at Jabil," states Apple, "are among the one million workers in Apple’s supply chain whose working hours we track each week and report on our website. Year to date, Jabil Wuxi has performed above our 92 per cent average for compliance with Apple’s 60-hour per week limit." The Chinese legal limit is 49 hours.

The 80 workers interviewed by China Labor Watch would apparently disagree with Apple's claims, as would the pay stubs that indicated the excessive hours of overtime.

But believe who you will, justice for Chinese workers will never be guaranteed until the Chinese people are guaranteed freedoms of speech and association, including the right to form independent, democratic labour unions. When Apple and other companies advocate vigorously for those rights to the Chinese government only then can we believe they truly support workers being treated fairly as they tirelessly claim they do. But that of course would largely defeat the purpose of what we know as globalization.

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