Chinese Labor Activist Says Working Conditions At Apple Better Than Competitors

Foxconn workers China

Ever since New York Times (NYT) has accused Apple and its business partner Foxconn of making workers in Chinese factories for long hours and under inhuman conditions, Apple desperately needs an image-makeover, not only in China, but in the international market.

CBS has decided to probe the relation between Apple and Foxconn. Now Apple should have some reason to cheer up a voice in the favor of Apple has been raised, in China itself. Chinese labour activist Li Quiang said that Apple was doing a better job auditing its suppliers than its competitors.

Li Quiang

Quiang said that Apple was doing a much better job of monitoring factory conditions than Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Nokia and many others. He said that after comparing Apple with many other companies like Nokia, he observed that in other companies, the working conditions were worse than Apple.

However, Qiang said that the conditions in supply chain were not the responsibility of the suppliers themselves or the Chinese government. Ultimately, Apple would have to bear the responsibility, and thus, it should spend some of its record profits in improving the conditions for workers.

Qiang is the founder of China Labor Watch, the leading advocacy group. This group had helped NYT investigate the working conditions in Chinese electronics factories. Investigation once complete, re-ignited the debate about conditions.

While talking to Laptop magazine, Quiang said, “Although I know that the iPhone 4 is made at sweat shop factories in China, I still think that this is the only choice, because Apple is actually one of the best.”

Qiang praised Apple for disclosing the problems it has uncovered at it suppliers despite the reports of Apple being highly serious and disturbing. He noted that competitors like HP and Dell had not been anywhere near as forthcoming.

Foxconn has been famous (or infamous) for the high number of suicides committed by its employees. However, despite this fact, Quiang showered praises on Foxconn. He said that Foxconn was actually one of the best places to work in the supply chain. Despite long hours, grueling deadlines and abusive management, Quiang praised Foxconn on the grounds that pay and benefits were higher. He pointed out that Foxconn workers received health and safety training. They were properly equipped, and the plants were checked daily for safety compliance, according to a China Labor Watch report (“Tragedies of Globalization: The Truth Behind Electronics Sweatshops”).

“Foxconn is not good,” Qiang told NYT. “But if we compare all industries, electronics, textile, toys, Foxconn is one of the best.”

Comparing Foxconn with Compal Electronics, which have poorer safety practices, Quiang said:

At Compal Electronics, a huge supplier that manufactures notebooks for Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba, workers reported that the company does not provide face masks or ear plugs, despite loud noises. Apparently, there was not even a first-aid kit available. “In the event of an injury,” Labor Watch writes, “the workshop manager will give the injured worker some cotton to cover up their injury.”

Quiang argued that despite doing more than its competitors to give a much better working environment to workers, Apple was ultimately responsible for the conditions at suppliers’ factories.

Reading about the abusive managers, poor safety conditions, filthy living accommodations, long hours, and low wages, it’s tempting to blame the suppliers who run the factories or government authorities who are charged with enforcing China’s 2008 Labor Law. According to Li, China’s Bureau of Labor is limited in its abilities by local governments that receive tax revenue from the factories, but don’t have to provide benefits to what they classify migrant workers. The suppliers, he says, are also limited, because of price and production pressures from Apple and the other OEMs.

“If Apple still lowers their prices and doesn’t give enough profits to the factories, then the factories don’t have money to improve the labor conditions,” he said. “So it’s always the problem of Apple and not the problem of factories. We can see that Apple is trying to put all the responsibility on the factories by releasing the supplier factory list and trying to put the factories into the focus of the immediate public, but we think that Apple should do more to make a positive change in the whole system.”

Though he believes that Apple has done a better job of inspecting its factories than others, Li maintains that the public is right to put more pressure on Tim Cook’s company than its competitors who have the same problems. Because Apple makes the most profit, he reasons, it also bears the most responsibility for fixing a broken system. He maintains that it wouldn’t take more than 2-percent of Apple’s profits to dramatically improve workers’ lives in China while companies such as Dell and HP would have to spend more.

“Although we think Apple is among the best in terms of auditing, we still think that Apple can do more because it is the most profitable company in the world,” he said. “As soon as Apple is willing to give a small percentage of its profits, the workers can benefit a lot. But Apple is not willing to do that.”

If the statement from Quiang in the favor of Apple is true, then one should assume that all the criticism of Apple regarding eh condition of workers was a propaganda of Anti-Apple lobbyists. Or perhaps, media wanted to sensationalize something. If critics of Apple were genuinely concerned about the well-being of workers, they would have criticized Apple’s competitors with Apple or before Apple as the conditions of workers in the factories of Apple’s competitors are far worse.

Do you agree? Voice your opinion through comments.

Source: Cult Of Mac

Image Courtesy: Imagine China

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