updated 10:10 pm EDT, Tue July 14, 2009
Chinese factory conditions
Poor factory conditions in a number of Chinese manufacturing facilities, including those that make the iPhone and iPods, may be reflecting poorly on Apple, according to a Bloomberg report. Despite new laws designed to protect the workers, many of the employers are ignoring or circumventing the regulations.
Apple has continued to monitor factory conditions, while doubling the number of audited locations from last year. Of the 83 audited factories, 45 were found to violate standards for proper overtime pay. More than one in four also provided workers with less than the minimum wage.
The iPhone maker was blasted earlier this year by workers at Wintek, a manufacturer with facilities in Taiwan and China. Although Apple has publicly disclosed its ethics standards, the employees accused the company of leaving them unenforced and allowing Wintek to cut salaries, neglect safety issues, fire hundreds of workers without warning and even terminate several for participating in a strike.
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling claims the company has trained hundreds of its employees to monitor compliance, while 27,000 supplier employees and managers were allegedly provided with details regarding worker rights and social responsibilities.
A number of analysts point out that pushing ethics forward is particularly difficult during the ongoing economic recession, although many do not place the blame solely on the suppliers. "The brand-name companies are not putting more money on the table to make sure that suppliers have incentive to obey labor laws," said Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund. "In fact, every year they come back and say, 'Do it for less.'"
The Chinese government has also been accused of allowing the companies to ignore certain rules for an indefinite period of time. The country's Minister of Human Resources and Social Security, Yin Weimin, late last year provided flexibility for local authorities to temporarily delay the implementation of new standards to protect against job cuts.
U.S. State Department spokesman Andrew Laine acknowledged the concerns involving changes to China's labor laws, although the domestic regulators also want to avoid the financial crisis from being "used as a pretext to weaken labor rights or other human rights."
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang admitted that his country is still "lagging behind" in providing workers with benefits, but he also blamed the U.S. for contributing to the continuing problems. "I would like to remind you to think, which country initiated this financial crisis? If you make mistakes, at least stop pointing fingers at others."