Apple employees suppliers around the world, mainly in China. Common knowledge entails that working conditions in the country are harsh and cruel. As a result, Apple has faced indirect backlash over alleged inhumane conditions in factories owned and ran by its biggest supplier, Foxconn.
Employees have been reported to commit suicide due to long work hours, strict conditions, and tough management at the factories. First reports of employees committing suicide surfaced in 2010, they continued in the short years that followed however seemed to have slowed down.
In 2010 21 workers employees jumped off roof buildings, 18 dying, and 3 survived, the youngest was only 17. Foxconn and Apple both responded publicly saying they’re “saddened” and promised to do better.
The string of suicides lead to an investigation by a team of researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The investigation lead to the publication of a book called “Dying for an iPhone,” published in April of this year. Now, a new report by the Hong Kong Free Press gives us a better look at the unpleasant reality being faced by these workers.
The investigation was widespread and thorough, spanning the course of 10 years and included undercover operations inside of Foxconn factories. Academic and co-author of the book Jeeny Chan and his team of researchers sneaked into 12 Foxconn factories, using the company uniform, borrowing staff IDs to assess working conditions in workshops, dorms, and cafeterias.
Chan told HKFP that they were only able to gain limited access due to heavy security and tough restrictions on electronic devices with recording capabilities.
However, they managed to gain only limited access. “There were many workshops that were guarded by security officers and security gates,” Chan told HKFP. “If you were found with any electronic device that could record footage, you were not allowed to go in. The security was indeed very high within the Foxconn factory.”
In a sidestep of the restrictions, the team applied for direct jobs on production lines using the fact that demand was high for product production resulting in the need for more workers.
Many factors being faced by workers go against Chinese labor law according to Chan. Chan goes on to state that Apple’s obligation to its investors, including keeping up with product demand is to blame for the harsh reality being faced by Foxconn employees.
“This is a violation of Chinese labour laws,” Chan told HKFP. “[This] was a very important finding because both Foxconn and its international buyers all have so-called ‘supplier codes of conduct’.”
“Even though these companies claim they are highly responsible for workers’ well-being and respect workers’ rights, this turns out to be not true.”
Chan said the investigation found that Foxconn workers were being exploited to fulfill Apple’s obligations to its investors. “They are all maximising their profits and hold themselves accountable to their shareholders. They care less about the workers,” she said.
A report released by the China Labor Watch in 2019 accused Apple of knowingly violating Chinese labor law, holding back payments, and cutting back on safety training, as reported by the Washington Post at the time:
A report released Sunday by China Labor Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group, accused Apple and its manufacturing partner Foxconn of a litany of labor violations, including withholding bonus payments, rolling back safety training and employing more temporary workers than China’s laws allow.
The report was based on observations and documents gathered by undercover investigators working at China’s biggest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou. The group said one of the investigators was employed by Apple for four years.
Apple denied the accusations but did admit that Apple exceeds the number of contract workers permitted by Chinese law. The Hong Kong Free Press has reached out to Apple in regards to Chan’s and the team of researchers undercover investigation but received no response.