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back to article Child labour, lost wages uncloaked by Apple factories audit

Apple has for the first time released a complete list of its suppliers [PDF], publishing the names of 156 companies who make the parts for everything from Macbook screens to iPad covers. The list includes well-publicised contracts, such as Apple's mega deals with Samsung and LG, as well as more obscure deals with smaller …

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jai
Silver badge

Retweet: @stephenfry

Mr Fry made an interesting tweet on this subject this morning:

"Kindle, Apple, PS3, Xbox, Nokia, Samsung, Wii, IBM, Intel, MS all made at Foxconn. Apple takes the flak but only Apple truly addressing it"

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Gold badge

Exactly right. It's rather hypocritical to be typing such criticism of Apple on keyboard that was probably made at a factory Apple have used.

It's up to the media and individuals to demand answers and documentation from the other companies to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities too.

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Bronze badge

Fair point, but perhaps they're the only company addressing it precisely because they're the one taking flak for it.

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But on the other hand

Proportionately, the iStuff is pretty much outselling everything else, correct? While I certainly concur that Apple is stepping up to this, they probably have much higher prercentage of product being focused on by these companies. Sufficed to say, it certainly shines an interesting light on Chinese labor laws (or lack thereof). ANY company, not just Apple, really needs to seriously look at their relationships with these firms. While the consumer may have to eat a little bit of a higher cost in the end product, it's a small price to pay for a little human decency.

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Stop

We don't know if the other companies are addressing it as a report wasn't included in this article from those other companies. Perhaps they are addressing it internally. Perhaps they aren't addressing it at all. However I find it disturbing that even though Apple knows its going on, that they still do business with the same companies.

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Anonymous Coward

@zen1

I may be wrong, but I suspect its not lack of labor laws in China, rather I suspect its greedy companies and corrupt local officials that take bribes to look the other way when it comes to conditions. The government is so spread out, corruption is still happening, and even a looming threat of execution if your caught hasn't stopped it!!

We have pretty good labor laws here too, but they are still abused and illegal workers are hired all the time..

But good for Apple paying the compensation, although personally I would have preferred it come out of the factories pockets.

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Anonymous Coward

@jai

All of the other companies contribute to charities, Apple doesn't. I wonder if this is Apple's way of doing charity work? Also, it's possible that the other companies listed don't shout about their corporate governance, because it's just something that they do.

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re: Apple taking flak for it

> Fair point, but perhaps they're the only company addressing it precisely because they're the one taking flak for it.

And also because Apple don't spend money on such 'research` directed at its competitors ...

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@ AC

While I see the point you're trying to make, the PRC has more than enough people it could empower to ensure that labor laws are being followed, if it doesn't then more than likely the labor abuses illuminate a corrupt government, as you stated.. However, if the corruption is corporate, it's probably Chinese (with moderate influence on western corporations) most likely the cause and not necessarily and exclusively foreign as they're simply under cutting other manufacturing bases (US, EU, etc), by charging pennies on the dollar to produce a given product. This is why you've seen a huge migration of manufacturing jobs from western nations, to the PRC.

All that being said, I still applaud Apple (even though I can't stand their products) for stepping up and assuming some of the responsibility. I sincerely hope that other companies (EU, American or SE Asian) that make use of chinese labor do the same.

If not, about all we can do is either not purchase the products (slim to no chance) or lobby our respective governments.

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Facepalm

It doesn't work that way

I believe Nokia still sells more phones than anyone else. Microsoft is still probably the highest profile company in the list. Granted their use of Foxconn will only be for xbox and not windows and yes the xbox is only in second place (that said iphone isn't number 1 either!) it's still a very high profile console.

But as well part of the problem is consumers don't actually care that much. It doesn't effect them and when someone says don't buy an iphone because of Foxconn they'll say "so what? everyone does it" and they're right and pressure is not put on everyone so it seems like a losing fight in their mind so they're not going to give up the thing they want.

We need to put pressure on all the companies. Not just Apple.

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Silver badge

Cruelty

200 years ago we used to send children up chimneys, 6 year old boys down the mine, and put the rest of their family in the factory or workhouse. We hotly critisize those who did it, while quietly doing a similar thing ourselves and agreeing not to talk about it. And publishing the name of your supplier is not "truly addressing" anything.

I suspect my shirts are made by Bangladeshi children.

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Silver badge

It's not just Apple et al

Why do you think your trainers are so cheap? Your jeans? Your t-shirts?

In fact, ever thought about why everything you buy is so dirt-cheap and affordable?

As for Apple "truly addressing it", all the companies claim to be addressing the matter when caught and yet it continues. The simple answer is that hey all want to be seen to be doing something, but still go with the lowest bidder (who will more than likely use child labour as it is cheap).

Mr. Fry may know a great many things, but at times he has a rather insular and naive view of the world.

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Devil

Unite

Perhaps we should send Len McCluskey over there to sort it out.

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Childcatcher

Look at the big picture

Just to be clear, I am not in any way condoning child labour, but those jumping to condemn it need to look at the societal and economic picture...

Child labour in certain 2nd and 3rd would countries exists not just because of lax laws and demand for cheap goods. It also comes down to that countries economic policy - particularly healthcare provision and minimum wage. For many families, the children need to work to make up enough income for everyone to eat, let alone when one or both parents are either dead, or incapacitated (through disease or accident). In those cases the child or children are the main income earners.

In some ways, if job conditions were improved, made safer and workers treated well, including education made readily available, child labour could even be seen as a positive. However, for child labour to really be put out of business - those governments need to truly invest in looking after their people. Minimum wages and free healthcare would be start. It would prevent many diseases that incapacitate or kill parents, it would also allow parents to become breadwinners, rather than merely contributors to overall household income.

As I said, not condoning it, but the whole system needs to be challenged. Simply telling a factory to fire it's child workers and not hire anymore may cause many to starve.

That said, under those conditions it amazes me that the US economy manages to function without having child labour - due to lack of public healthcare and basic minimum worker protections.

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What was that?

The last para is the icing on the cake " ..we stop working with them".

Tell t his to the dead wrokers family!

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Silver badge

The Foxconn School of Management

"Our customers are leaving us because of the way we treat our employees!"

"They've never had a problem with us giving them low wages and long hours before, why do they care now?"

"It doesn't matter! Unless we can find a way to bring them back to us, we're doomed!"

"Well, we could always try lowering our prices..."

"But where could we make the savings necessary to do that?"

"I know - we can 'recalculate' employee salaries and 'revise' their working hours....."

"I like the way you think."

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Joke

Pegatron

sounds like a sexually deviant particle collider

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Anonymous Coward

Rude boy! Pegatron is surely the robot version of the Pegasus of legend. Penatron, on the other hand... well, I daren't even Google it!

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Silver badge

Apple this and that...

I've no love for the folk at Cupertino, but to single them out is a little disingenuous - as in this article http://www.businessinsider.com/apple-child-labor-2012-1 - you have to read till the bottom of the article to find this small, parenthetic comment:-

(Not that Apple is the only company choosing to avoid American labor rules and costs, of course — almost all manufacturing companies that want to survive, let alone thrive, have to reduce production costs and standards by making their products elsewhere.)

Indeed, it is to the credit of Apple that they are publishing this list, perhaps it is a sign that they will be a little more careful in future as to their partners.

For years our jeans and trainers and all the other goodies we take for granted have been made in countries where dubious working conditions are the norm - we've known about this for decades, but little is done. Hopefully, as the GDP of these countries increases, workers rights will increase as did workers rights in the UK during the industrial revolution - where conditions were as bad as the ones mentioned.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face and boycotting these products is probably futile at an individual level, but lobbying your representatives may help - exposure by responsible journalism, probably more so.

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Unhappy

Unintended consequences.

"If manufacturers don’t live up to our standards, we stop working with them."

Unfortunately for the poor sods at the sharp end of this shit, this tends to come across as; "The only work you could get was this overworked and underpaid job working for complete bastards. We're taking that away from you too.".

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Gold badge

Eh? Apple give them lots of recommendations on how to put things right, if they choose not to implement the changes then they're left with no choice but to work with people who they can trust and who are fair with their workers.

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Anonymous Coward

Of course

if Western-corp. stops working with third-world-company-A, then they have to start working with third-world-company-B, which will then need more workforce. The work doesn't just start being done by magical elves.

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Anonymous Coward

"Unfortunately for the poor sods at the sharp end of this shit, this tends to come across as; "The only work you could get was this overworked and underpaid job working for complete bastards. We're taking that away from you too."."

but if they stop working with one company another springs up fast and who do they need, experienced dedicated workers... So while one company closes due to no business, another sweeps in to take over the slack and re-employ, its not like Apple will stop making things, well thats the way I hope it will work!

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"The work doesn't just start being done by magical elves."

Of course not. But "third-world-company-A" could be located a thousand kilometres from "third-world-company-B", or even in another country.

Or the new company might already have staff coming off one project that's end-of-life and doesn't need new staff for the new project.

The idea that company A would close and company B would hire them is basically the sort of crap government number crunchers pull when they want to pretend that their choices are OK.

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Unhappy

Shell game

"Of course not. But "third-world-company-A" could be located a thousand kilometres from "third-world-company-B", or even in another country."

Naturally. Then the children that used to slave at "third-world-company-A" for a pittance have to sell their bodies to make up the difference. Hate to say it, but as ugly as child labor laws are, the real solution is to pay more for our stuff so that people in third world countries can make a decent wage.

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If it wasn't for the fact that Apple would have clearly known about these transgressions, I would applaud them for this. Hopefully it could at least be the beginnings of a turning point and hopefully other companies (and the Chinese regulatory bodies) will follow suit.

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Anonymous Coward

"An Apple official checked factory-run dormitories"

A nice way to say Apple run labor camps.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh shut up! Were you reading? These places make shiny goodies from lots of manufacturers and you have most likely bought, even if you have never so much as looked at an Apple product.

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Anonymous Coward

""An Apple official checked factory-run dormitories"

A nice way to say Apple run labor camps."

Not really, what I've personally seen at Chinese factories (I've only been to a few small ones I admit and in a different province to these) is bunk beds, light and electricity, food is usually provided to factory workers, and the food is better than that served at most work canteens in the UK... Really I can't think of one UK canteen i would prefer..

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You've never eaten at the Microsoft, Vodafone, Allen and Overy or Linklaters canteens now, have you? All awesome.

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Devil

No

Apple do not run labour camps Worker dormitories are quite common all over the far east

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Childcatcher

$3.6 BILLION?

That sounds to me like more than a minor oversight. Almost as if there was rampant indentured servitude going on. Apple (and others) need to address this more aggressively, methinks.

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Anonymous Coward

In apple terms, that's a token payout to curry favour with the media/public.

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FAIL

Read the PDF, the article is wrong

"Apple views recruitment fee overcharges as debt-bonded labor, or involuntary labor, which is strictly prohibited by our Code. We limit recruitment fees to the equivalent of one month’s net wages and require suppliers to reimburse overpaid fees for all foreign contract workers in their facilities, including workers not assigned to Apple projects.

As a result of our efforts, suppliers reimbursed $3.3 million in excess foreign contract worker fees, bringing the total to $6.7 million repaid to workers since 2008. To the best of our knowledge, Apple is the only company in the electronics industry that mandates reimbursement of excessive recruitment fees."

It doesn't say 3.6 billion anywhere, and it would appear that Apple are actively discouraging indentured labour.

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Meh

One wonders

One wonders if Apple or any of these companies would take action were not the world's media making the problems public? Would they otherwise just continue to profit from the cheap labor and reward their CEO's and other top executives accordingly?

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Fair dues to Apple. I've not been a fan in the past but I'm feeling positive towards them today. It's not perfect, but at least they have done something.

Fingers crossed they keep it up and shame others into action (yes, HTC and Samsung, I'm thinking of you).

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Windows

Many of these jobs are better than the local alternatives but when the jobs were exported they should have exported the same working conditions. Simple things like rotating staff round the work stations to avoid crippling RSI etc.

The old first world spent the better part of a century improving working conditions for the vast majority of the population, the populations of the rising economies should not have to re-fight these battles

The costs, particularly waste disposal, are low enough that this will have little impact on the affordability of the end product.

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Re: "The old first world spent the better part of a century improving working conditions for the vast majority of the population, the populations of the rising economies should not have to re-fight these battles."

But that is precisely the point of globalization: it allows our companies to circumvent the laws and social protections that we have fought a century to obtain. They take the jobs to third world countries where these battles have yet to be fought, while doing everything they can to ensure that such social progress does not happen there (because if it does happen then they need to up and move somewhere else all over again). And another effect is that our own social protections are increasingly threatened, by people arguing that "we can't compete otherwise".

Of course we can't compete. You've rigged the entire game to make sure that only slave drivers can still compete.

If this is the price of cheaper smartphones, tablets, etc., then AFAIC they can stuff the whole deal.

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Buy what you want

The UN reckons that 80% of the world's cargo shipping is carried on ships that would be declared unfit for service if inspected, and are manned by crews that may not have seen land, or, in some cases, even daylight, in several years. Every month ships are lost whose crew manifestos were probably false. The only thing the families ever know, is that the money stops coming back.

Buy what you want: if you're alive, today, and you've bought something handled by a slave. We forget that it is only a few decades, since companies in the developed world were compelled to pay women (and by extension, everyone else) the same wage for the same task. These liberties are easier lost than they are won.

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Silver badge
FAIL

And all this

could have been avoided if Apple (and other tech companies) made their products in the US or somewhere in Europe

But then the punters would run away and cry for having to pay £249.95 instead of £199.95

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Anonymous Coward

margins

Considering the margins from the electronics company I work for, it's probably more like $225. Hell, we charge over $100 for stuff that costs us $12 to make in Mexico and $6 in China.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: margins

Agreed with both the sentiment about the bargain-hunting punters and the margins. However, punters should refuse to be used as an excuse by the corporate types for selecting the cheapest possible manufacturing options and then looking the other way when people ask about working conditions. People should behave in an educated fashion when it comes to buying products, thus rewarding the right behaviour. When the CEO of some company uses you as an excuse, claiming that you didn't want to spend an extra few percent (if that, as pointed out above), tell them to shove their products where the sun doesn't shine.

I don't much like the Apple culture and frequent hypocrisy, but it's better to see them taking some action than come out with the usual "the shareholders/punters made us" bullshit to a bunch of applauding investor ghouls who are secretly relieved that their bonus will get paid again after all.

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ahem... what about prison labor?

In the US, federal and state prisons pay inmates approximately .20 cents an hour for whatever, making license plates, jeans, blah blah... instead of farming out to the chinese, why not insource the work back to us and european prisons? It gives them something productive to do and the tech companies can foot the bill for prisoner accomidations, instead of us tax payers. Who knows, maybe they'd improve prison conditions enough to ensure people are actually rehabilitated and can be put back into society as reformed citizens WITH A VIABLE trade?

Just saying... flame away...

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The idea appears sound at first, but on a deeper level there are a few problems with.

One, the prison system in most countries is increasingly being privatized. It's already a huge business with some companies making money hand over fist (taxpayer money, I might add). If you turn the prisoners into manufacturing slaves on top of all this, then there is a real risk that the extra profits would disappear into the pockets of the private companies already in firm control of the incarceration industry.

Two, even without a privatized prison system, you would be creating a powerful incentive for states, government, judges and the police to start locking away more people, more easily. Because in the new scheme, more prisoners equals more free money.

Three, the potential for abuse in general is RIFE. You think everything goes by the book in prisons now? Wait until they can take the whip to slave laborers again.

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@ Drew V

Even though I'm getting thumbs down for just expressing one of a thousand possible solutions, I agree with a lot of your assertions and gave you a thumb up. However, to play the opposing advocate for just a moment (and let me preface this with I, in no way shape or form, do NOT support anything that could even remotely be classified as slavery or the exploitation of children in the labor force), you raised a very important point: "privatization of the penal system". It's becoming cost prohibitive for a country, state or region, to adaquately house prisoners, with the intent to reform. There are several "if's" to consider here:

1) If the corporations were able to make use of low cost labor in our respective countries, they could be charged a modest fee to keep the prisons under government oversite, without burdening the public with the expense. The companies could also write off any capital improvements to a prison. This could be a considerable benefit to those incarcerated in ancient or tremendously over crowded prisons.

2) If the judges, guards and prison officials understood the fact that they are being held to a much higher standard than the people being placed into the prison. If there is even an accusation, that can be corroborated, they are abusing the public or the prisoners working in a "factory environment", they lose immediately lose their jobs and any pensions and face criminal and civil charges.

3) If there's irrefutable proof that there's any judicial or prison official abuse, then the guilty parties get thrown into the maximum security portion of their own prisons.

Believe me, I have no sympathy for people who are repeat offenders for serious crimes, however, I do believe that if there's a way that the prison system can be made as close to self sufficient as possible, that would take a considerable burden off of the public.

Not to belabor the point, but all of this is contingent upon the people in power being ethical or prepared to face the wrath of hell, if they aren't. Otherwise, I completely agree with you.

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Fair points. It's undeniable that a competent, careful execution of the plan would address many of the issues. But those are still just the practical concerns. I think that on a deeper philosophical level, people would still resist the idea, which is probably why you're getting those thumbs-down - in spite of the fact you have actually considered and analysed the issue quite well.

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Anonymous Coward

Child-labour, lost wages, 7 day weeks, etc

You, folks, don't seem to like capitalism much, do you ?

"Treating employees as human beings is insane" - Montgomery C. Burns

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Trollface

"...treat workers with dignity and respect..."

Unlike their customers of course!

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Anonymous Coward

Forcing overseas companies to enact fair worker treatment

is likely the most humaine way to level the production-costs playing field across the globe. I have not got a nationalistic bone in my body and am all in favour of taking my business where the costs are lowest (it's called market competition) but not if that lower cost is at the expense of meeting people's basic living needs!

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Silver badge

Governments should tax import-goods from countries with sub-standard worker conditions to negate the part of the goods/service-cost difference arrising from the labour-abuse and spend every cent of the collected revenues on improving the working conditions in the country who's goods were taxed.

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