Apple enslaves workers in China: 76 hours a week and more than 7 days straight
by Peter Myers Newsletter on 09 Apr 2012 0 Comment

This is an attack on workers everywhere. When employers know that they can get away with such abuse offshore, they are empowered to abuse local workers too. I see it in the Childers/ Bundaberg farming area with foreign backpackers. Fruit & vegetable picking and packing companies which employ a high % of backpackers make it hard for local workers to claim their entitlements - they know they are dispensable.

I have often touted Apple products. But these are the old, genuine Apple computers which run OS 9; the G4 was the last true Apple computer. And G4s, although 10 years old, are still running strong - mine is; this newsletter is coming to you from a G4 running OS9, and I use it for my website too.

More recent Apple computers, and iPads and iPhones, are really NeXT machines - NeXT being the Steve Jobs company which took over Apple. The technology may be brilliant, but Apple has sold out to Mammon.

(1) Apple enslaves workers in China: 76 hours a week and more than 7 days straight

An audit of three factories pumping out coveted Apple gadgets has found abuses of Chinese labour law, including employees working more than 76 hours a week and more than seven days straight without a required 24-hour break. Along with excessive overtime and not always compensating workers properly for extra hours that were put in, the nearly month-long investigation uncovered health and safety risks and “crucial communication gaps.”

“The Fair Labour Association gave Apple’s largest supplier the equivalent of a full-body scan through 3,000 staff hours investigating three of its factories and surveying more than 35,000 workers,” said the watchdog’s president Auret van Heerden. “Apple and its supplier Foxconn have agreed to our prescriptions, and we will verify progress and report publicly.”

With 1.2 million workers, Foxconn, an affiliate of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, is by far Apple’s largest and most influential partner. While the audit found multiple violations of labour law at the Foxconn factories, it also found many of the workers would like to work more hours and make more money.

Mr van Heerden says this sentiment is typical of migrant workers in China. “Migrant workers go to find work with a view to make as much money as they can in the shortest time as possible,” he said. “So they do push for extra hours, especially overtime hours that are
paid at a premium.”

Young, male, migrant

The survey of Foxconn workers revealed the average age of workers building Apple products was 23 and over 60 per cent were male. Less than 6 per cent of workers in the three facilities were between the ages of 16 and 18. Almost all of the workers in Guanlan and Longhua had come from other countries or regions looking for jobs. But in recent years Foxconn has encouraged workers to move outside the infamous factory dormitories.


About 16 per cent of the workers surveyed said the dorms were “very much” crowded while another 19 per cent said “yes, a little”, while 50 per cent said the question was “not applicable”. The survey revealed that 71 per cent of them do not think the factory canteens serve good food. Nearly 48 per cent disagreed with the premise that the canteens in the
factories were clean and hygienic.

Most of the workers in the three factories were employed as “operators,” with engineers making up less than 4 per cent of the worker population in the two Shenzhen factories, Guanlan and Longhua. In Chengdu, nearly 11 per cent of the workers were engineers, according to FLA.


A majority of all those surveyed said the compensation does not meet their basic needs. One particular concern to workers was aluminium dust, which had caused an explosion in Foxconn’s Chengdu factory.

Apple chief visits

In response to the report, Apple says it has agreed to work with Foxconn to tackle wage and working condition violations at the factories that produce its popular products. Foxconn will hire tens of thousands of new workers, clamp down on illegal overtime, improve safety protocols and upgrade worker housing and other amenities.


Apple announced the moves as the company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, was paying a visit to China. State media said he had met with vice premier Li Keqiang, the man tipped to be country’s next leader, who told him foreign firms should do more to protect workers.


Apple and Foxconn are so dominant in the global technology industry that their newly forged accord will likely have a substantial ripple effect across the sector. The deal may raise costs for other manufacturers who contract with the Taiwanese company, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard,, Motorola, Nokia and Sony. It could result in higher prices for consumers, though the impact will be limited because labour costs are only a small fraction of the total cost for most high-tech devices. - AFP/Reuters

(2) Apple pledge to share more of its revenue with Chinese workers

A pledge by the manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones and iPads to limit work hours at its factories in China could force other global corporations to hike pay for Chinese workers who produce the world’s consumer electronics, toys and other goods.

Foxconn Technology’s promise comes as Beijing is pushing foreign companies to share more of their revenues with Chinese employees. It follows a report by a labor auditor hired by Apple Inc. that found Foxconn was regularly violating legal limits on overtime, with factory
employees working more than 60 hours per week. “I think whatever Foxconn did will have an impact, certainly, on all Chinese workers in all trades,” said Willy Lin, managing director of Hong Kong-based Milo’s Knitwear, which makes clothing in three factories in China for European clients.


Foxconn, owned by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., promised to limit hours while keeping total pay the same, effectively paying more per hour. Foxconn is one of China’s biggest employers, with 1.2 million workers who also assemble products for Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Japan’s Toshiba Group, which employs 32,000 workers in China to make goods such as refrigerators and TVs, said it too is taking measures to reduce overtime work and create safe working conditions at its factories.

China has long been a low-cost manufacturing center for goods sold under foreign brand names. But wages already were rising quickly as companies compete for workers and communist leaders try to push the country up the technology ladder to make more profitable products.

After a lull following the 2008 global crisis when Beijing froze the minimum wage to help exporters compete, Chinese workers have received big pay hikes over the past two years, though salaries still are low by Western standards.

Foxconn responded to a spate of suicides by employees at one of its mainland factory campuses in 2010 by more than doubling its basic monthly salary to 1,800 yuan ($290). The same year, Toyota Motor Corp. and other Japanese automakers granted pay hikes following a wave of strikes that had tacit government support.

Communist leaders have promised to double the country’s minimum wage from 2010 levels by 2015. The minimum wage in Shanghai, one of the world’s most expensive cities, is about 1,200 yuan ($200) a month after an increase of more than 10 percent last year. The northern city of Tianjin raised its minimum wage to 1,070 yuan ($175).

Beijing has tightened enforcement of wage and hour rules “because there has been a general lack of compliance -- greater than in other countries,” said K. Lesli Ligorner, head of the China employment group for law firm Simmons & Simmons. “China is trying to make sure that at least at the lowest level of unskilled workers there are greater protections in place for them,” she said.

Export-driven manufacturers along China’s booming east coast also have to pay more to get and keep workers as rising living standards in the countryside mean fewer people migrate to cities for factory jobs. US and European clients might push Chinese suppliers to pay more so
they look better in front of consumers, Ligorner said. Higher wages at Foxconn “will have a ripple effect,” she said.

Pay and working and environmental conditions are a sensitive issue for US and European companies, some of which have been criticized by activist groups. Companies such as Nike Inc. and The Walt Disney Co. set specific standards in contracts with producers of toys, athletic shoes and other goods sold under their brands and send auditors to enforce them.

“We mind our corporate social responsibility and demand that our contract manufacturers strictly follow local as well as international rules on labor and environmental protection,” said Henry Wang, public relations director for Taiwan’s Acer Inc., the world’s fourth-largest
personal manufacturer. Acer’s laptop computers are produced by contractors in Kunshan, west of Shanghai, and in Chongqing in the southwest.


Wang said he didn’t know whether the report on Foxconn by the Fair Labor Association, an American industry group, would lead to changes at Acer. He said suppliers already are required to “strictly follow” rules on wages and working conditions. Higher wages will be easier for manufacturers to absorb if labor is a small portion of their total costs.

Research firm IHS iSuppli estimates that Apple pays $8 for the assembly of a 16-gigabyte iPhone 4S and $188 for its components. iSuppli’s figures suggest that if Apple were to absorb a Foxconn wage increase to keep pay level and cut the work week from 60 hours to 49, it would pay less than $2 extra to have an iPhone made.

Other companies earn smaller profits and might find higher wages harder to pass on. Higher costs in China already have prompted some companies in labor-intensive industries such as shoes and textiles to migrate to Vietnam and other lower-wage economies.

Lin, the garment manufacturer, said his company employs about 1,500 people in Guangdong province near Hong Kong. He said entry level pay has more than doubled over the past five years from 600 to 700 yuan ($95-$110) a month to about 1,500 yuan ($240). “Anything lower than that, you wouldn’t find the workers willing to do it,” he said.

-- AP Business Writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo and Associated Press writers Annie Huang in Taipei, Taiwan and Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea contributed.

Peter Myers is a writer who lives a simple life on a small farm. Apart from writing, he builds whatever’s needed, does the plumbing, and grows subtropical and tropical fruits. He has done a number of academic courses, but finds academia (in the West) too narrow and ex-cathedra in its mindset: stifling of genuine creative thought. Genuine independent thinking now takes place outside official circles, on the internet.


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