I love my iPhone. I really do. It works well, it’s convenient, it’s versatile. And it’s sleek, shiny and seductive. So seductive, in fact, that I have a hard time looking at the ugly facts about how it’s produced.1
About those nets…
The most spectacular and unsettling evidence about the harsh conditions in Apple’s supply chain – contract manufacturers in China – is the presence of ‘suicide nets’ around the dormitories. In recent years, 18 Chinese factory workers have committed suicide by throwing themselves off their dormitories or factories. The emergency response to this crisis is pictured below:2
Minor pay raises and call centers have addressed some of the employees’ concerns, but conditions continue to be deplorable. Some of the highlights include:
- A mostly teenage workforce recruited from rural China works twelve-hour shifts up to six days a week.
- Employees have been forced to work double shifts.
- The workers live in dormitories crowded with 20 people in a three-bedroom apartment.
- Employees who arrive late are sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotations. Other offences have been punished by withholding pay or forcing workers to do push-ups.
- Last year, four people were killed and 77 injured in two explosions at factories where iPads were being built; the explosions were caused by aluminum dust in the air.
- Two years ago, 137 workers in one factory were injured by a poisonous chemical, n-hexane, which was used to clean iPhone screens because n-hexane evaporates much more quickly than rubbing alcohol.
Recent news coverage has only begun to expose the abuses.3 Will it make a difference? Judging by the slogan posted on a banner in one of the factories, change will be slow: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.” The sleek, shiny, beguiling device in my pocket speaks of a world of pain-free communication and endless entertanment; it comes from a much harsher world, at a much higher price than the manufacturer’s list price.
- For an in-depth investigation, see the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all ↩
- Photo source: http://publicintelligence.net/apples-chinese-workers-forced-to-sign-anti-suicide-pledge/ ↩
- See further coverage from the BBC at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17121978?utm_source=twitterfeed and Mashable at http://mashable.com/2012/02/22/foxconn/ ↩