Apple, Inc. is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and profitable companies worldwide. Last quarter, Apple made $13.1 billion, it’s highest profits yet and a 117 percent jump from last year. Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook has increased his salary by six-fold and could very well be the highest paid CEO of 2011.
But as TP Economy editor Pat Garofalo notes, that profit is earned on the backs of Chinese workers who “continue to toil in tough conditions.” Apple contracts with companies in China to ensure swift and cheap production of a new product. But rather than put a percentage of those billions into improving working conditions for the people who make the iPad and iPhone, the company sits by and allows its manufacturers to maintain disastrous working conditions.
In fact, as the New York Times reported, according to employees, advocates, and Apple itself, these suppliers force workers — including child laborers — to toil in hazardous working environments:
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.
One of these suppliers, Foxconn, saw so many workers committing suicide at its factories that it instituted a no-suicide pact for employment and installed nets on factory roofs to prevent workers from jumping to their death. A former management employee at this company said, “Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost.” “Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests,” he added.
“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said a former Apple executive who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”
With total cash holdings of $97.6 billion, Apple could cover Greece’s debt repayments for two years or buy 2,000 tons of gold. Or, Apple could simply put a portion of that profit towards enforcing its supplier code of conduct or finding manufacturers that will abide by it. Instead, Apple allows suppliers to subordinate their workers’ welfare for the sake of a cheaper iPad.