The day after Apple announced that it had doubled its profits last quarter on the strength of iPhone 4s sales, the New York Times has published a bombshell of a report on the conditions inside the Chinese factories that produce all the gadgets Apple fanatics crave, and it’s not pretty. In short, your iPhones, iPads, iPods, etc., are essentially being produced in slave labor camps.
Reports the Times:
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.
“If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department. “But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”
Even more troubling is that Apple executives know about what goes on in the factories, but turns a blind eye to it because doing something about it would likely stem the tidal waves of cash that continue to roll in.
Some former Apple executives say there is an unresolved tension within the company: executives want to improve conditions within factories, but that dedication falters when it conflicts with crucial supplier relationships or the fast delivery of new products…Executives at other corporations report similar internal pressures. This system may not be pretty, they argue, but a radical overhaul would slow innovation. Customers want amazing new electronics delivered every year.
“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”
“If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?” the executive asked.
Another alarming confirmation is that Apple is engaging in business tactics similar to that of Walmart, where the company puts the squeeze on suppliers to delivery products to them as cheaply as possible.
Every month, officials at companies from around the world trek to Cupertino or invite Apple executives to visit their foreign factories, all in pursuit of a goal: becoming a supplier.
When news arrives that Apple is interested in a particular product or service, small celebrations often erupt. Whiskey is drunk. Karaoke is sung.
Then, Apple’s requests start.
Apple typically asks suppliers to specify how much every part costs, how many workers are needed and the size of their salaries. Executives want to know every financial detail. Afterward, Apple calculates how much it will pay for a part. Most suppliers are allowed only the slimmest of profits.
So suppliers often try to cut corners, replace expensive chemicals with less costly alternatives, or push their employees to work faster and longer, according to people at those companies.
“The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,” said an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. “And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.”
If I didn’t know any better I’d say that Apple appears to be pushing and pushing and pushing to see just how much they can get away with before a tipping point is reached and people become so genuinely disgusted that they flat-out refuse to buy Apple products any more. Of course, it doesn’t help that most of Apple’s competitor’s products just don’t stack up, making the decision to boycott an especially painful one. With seemingly so few legit alternatives to turn to, Apple might have to start actually murdering workers before that sort of breaking point is reached.
Anyway, go read the full story when you have a few minutes free. It’ll at least give you something to think about next time you’re in the market for something Apple sells.
(Pic via The Verge)