Millions of human cogs in China are ensuring the functioning of “the largest, fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing system on earth.” (Duhigg + Barboza/NYT). The profiteers are Apple and hundreds of other companies who can build and deliver electronic devices as fast as the idea of them emerged.
Mastering global manufacturing comes at a high price – in terms of human costs. The assemblers of “iPhones, iPads and other devices” work under unhuman labor conditions: Excessive overtime-work, crowded living conditions, underage employees, improper disposal of hazardous waste and falsified records – recorded by advocacy groups, company reports and by the employees themselves. “Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk.”
Deadly safety problems as well as series of suicides attract the media’s attention from time to time – but when new devices are introduced to the market and to the public, the women and men and children behind the electronic status symbols are fading again into obscurity.
“Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.”
Read more: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza (New York Times)
So what are these companies doing to call a halt to the shady practise of Foxconn, their favorite affiliate in the e-business’ supply chains and to improve the Chinese workers’ life and working conditions?
Apple – together with Dell, HP, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony – lets an NGO: the FLA (Fair Labour Association) examine one of the biggest sweatshops in China: the immense Foxconn complex in Shenzhen as well as the Foxconn facility in Chengdu. Same with some Apple suppliers like Quanta and Pegatron. In their recently published report - Independent Investigation of Apple Supplier, Foxconn – FLA-researchers made a series of recommendations to each finding from the SCI (Sustainable Compliance methodology) assessment. Apple show in their 2011 Apple Supplier Responsibility-report how they improved the realization of their own Apple Supplier Code of Conduct in the past years:
“Over the past several years, Apple has audited 288 facilities for compliance with our Code.”
While the media welcomed Foxconn’s latest decision to reduce the weekly work time from 60 to 49 hours as an improvement of working conditions,
“Unions have criticised Apple’s use of the FLA, insisting that audits use a “top-down” approach. They say Foxconn’s workers would be better served by being able to organise.”
Read more: Foxconn pledges better deal for Apple workers (Al Jazeera)