The “independent” audit of working conditions at Apple’s Chinese manufacturing supply chain is out, and it is not good. Workers are being exploited in ways that violate human rights standards and laws, and letting them get away with this is costing us our own jobs. Apple’s suppliers promise to improve conditions, make workplaces safer, stop forcing such long hours and lift wages. Foxconn even says they’ll start obeying Chinese law — but not until next year! If this really does happen can China keep its competitive advantage?
By opening up so-called “free trade” we made democracy a competitive disadvantage. We just let in goods made in places where people have no say, and as a result there is no environmental protection, little worker protection, terrible working conditions, very low wages and terrible exploitation of people. So of course that undercuts goods made where people have a say, and therefore demand better. We made We, the People having a say (democracy) into a competitive disadvantage! Because we make this mistake we lost millions of jobs, tens of thousands of factories, and entire industries. We devastated out not just towns and cities, but entire regions. (See Free Trade Or Democracy, Can’t Have Both.)
Free People Won’t Tolerate That
A recent groundbreaking New York Times story by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work, exposed how workers are treated by Apple’s suppliers. Summary: Steve Jobs told President Obama, “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” because factories in China have people living in crowded dorm rooms where they can be rousted in the middle of the night and made to work 12-14 hour shifts, 7 days a week, standing the whole time, for very little pay, using toxic chemicals, and all kinds of other violations of human rights. Corporations can’t get “performance” and “efficiency” and “productivity” — profits — like that out of free people who have a say, so they move their operations over there and lay off workers and close factories over here. (Important note: it’s not just Apple, Apple is the biggest so the company name is really shorthand for the real culprits: namely, all of them.)
The FLA Report
This NY Times story had quite an impact. Apple was worried that people’s knowledge of their exploitation of workers in China might affect profits. So Apple responded by hiring the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a “labor monitoring group” that has no actual organized labor organization participation, to conduct an audit of working conditions at Apple’s Chinese suppliers. The report found numerous violations of labor standards and even Chinese law. For example, the report found “numerous instances where Foxconn defied industry codes of conduct by having employees work more than 60 hours a week, and sometimes more than 11 days in a row.” In addition, the report “also found that 43 percent of workers had experienced or witnessed accidents, and almost two-thirds said their compensation “does not meet their basic needs.”
The 60-plus hour work week found at the factories is above both China’s official legal maximum, 49 hours, and the maximum standard allowable by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), the organization that Apple paid to conduct what it said would be an independent audit…. The FLA inspection also revealed that “more than 43 percent of the workers report that they have experienced or witnessed an accident,” and “a considerable number of workers felt generally insecure regarding their health and safety,” especially pertaining to aluminum dust, which caused an explosion at a factory in the city of Chengdu in 2011 that killed four workers and injured 77, as the New York Times reported. (more…)