Earlier this week, The New York Times published its second installment of its iEconomy series, which focused on the treatment of workers at Apple’s suppliers over in China. After the report described the harsh environment that these employees must endure in great detail, Apple CEO Tim Cook jumped to defend his company, saying he was “outraged” by the claims.
The report dug deep into Apple’s recent history with suppliers and the treatment of individuals working for these suppliers. While Apple’s supplier code of conduct requires that “working conditions in Apple’s supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity, and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” it doesn’t seem that any of these requirements are being strictly enforced.
In fact, The New York Times discovered it was quite the opposite. Apple was accused of sweeping the mistreatment of suppliers’ workers under the rug in order to continue fast, cheap production of its latest gadgets at low production costs.
In response, Cook sent the following email to Apple employees:
As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are.
For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am. For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts.
Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain. As we reported earlier this month, we’ve made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. We know of no one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people.
At the same time, no one has been more up front about the challenges we face. We are attacking problems aggressively with the help of the world’s foremost authorities on safety, the environment, and fair labor. It would be easy to look for problems in fewer places and report prettier results, but those would not be the actions of a leader.
Earlier this month we opened our supply chain for independent evaluations by the Fair Labor Association. Apple was in a unique position to lead the industry by taking this step, and we did it without hesitation. This will lead to more frequent and more transparent reporting on our supply chain, which we welcome. These are the kinds of actions our customers expect from Apple, and we will take more of them in the future.
We are focused on educating workers about their rights, so they are empowered to speak up when they see unsafe conditions or unfair treatment. As you know, more than a million people have been trained by our program.
We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word. You can follow our progress at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.
To those within Apple who are tackling these issues every day, you have our thanks and admiration. Your work is significant and it is changing people’s lives. We are all proud to work alongside you.
The New York Times report seems to have hit close to home with Cook. The report described the daily lives of Apple’s suppliers’ employees, such as those at Apple’s top electronics supplier Foxconn. Employees here complained of long working hours and overtime, where many worked 12-hour days at six or more days per week. Some employees’ legs would swell from standing so long as shifts ran 24 hours per day. According to Apple’s code of conduct, employees are not to work over 60 hours per week.
Even after the shift ends, 70,000 of Foxconn’s employees are crammed into tiny dorms. As many as 20 employees are stuffed into a three-bedroom apartment.
Long, tiring days are not the end of the worker’s troubles. The factories’ conditions inside have posed life-threatening risks to employees. For instance, the collection of aluminum dust inside Foxconn’s factories in Chengdu and Shanghai resulted in two separate explosions. The first occurred in May 2011 in Foxconn’s Chengdu factory, and the second occurred in the Shanghai factory in December 2011.
Foxconn also experienced other worker-related issues, such as riots and suicides when employees began disputing the long hours and little pay.
One current Apple executive, who remains anonymous, said customers are more concerned with the timely release of the latest iPhone than the working conditions of factory workers in China.
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