Conditions at Apple suppliers’ factories in China improving

“One day last summer, Pu Xiaolan was halfway through a shift inspecting iPad cases when she received a beige wooden chair with white stripes and a high, sturdy back,” Keith Bradsher and Charles Duhigg report for The New York Times. “At first, Ms. Pu wondered if someone had made a mistake. But when her bosses walked by, they just nodded curtly. So Ms. Pu gently sat down and leaned back. Her body relaxed. The rumors were true.”

“When Ms. Pu was hired at this Foxconn plant a year earlier, she received a short, green plastic stool that left her unsupported back so sore that she could barely sleep at night,” Bradsher and Duhigg report. “Eventually, she was promoted to a wooden chair, but the backrest was much too small to lean against. The managers of this 164,000-employee factory, she surmised, believed that comfort encouraged sloth.”

Bradsher and Duhigg report, “But in March, unbeknown to Ms. Pu, a critical meeting had occurred between Foxconn’s top executives and a high-ranking Apple official. The companies had committed themselves to a series of wide-ranging reforms. Foxconn, China’s largest private employer, pledged to sharply curtail workers’ hours and significantly increase wages — reforms that, if fully carried out next year as planned, could create a ripple effect that benefits tens of millions of workers across the electronics industry, employment experts say… The changes also extend to California, where Apple is based. Apple, the electronics industry’s behemoth, in the last year has tripled its corporate social responsibility staff, has re-evaluated how it works with manufacturers, has asked competitors to help curb excessive overtime in China and has reached out to advocacy groups it once rebuffed.

Much more in the full article here.

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13 Comments

    1. There is a very clear timeline of cause and effect in place here. NYT has every right to be self-congratulatory on this. The whole “natural pace of social change” idea certainly has some value, and likely may have played a part in this, but has most certainly NOT been the critical catalyst for the changes that had transpired in mere ten months.

      Apple has always been careful about its suppliers and has been known to require standards that were higher than others. Still, over the past year, Apple made significant changes in its dealings with the suppliers, tripling their own social responsibility team and significantly improving oversight. Now, Apple has been dealing with Chinese suppliers for over ten years. Why would all the significant and sudden changes to their dealings with them happen only over the past ten months? What could have possibly percipitated this sudden, unexpected and major shift??? It couldn’t possibly be a series of articles in a major daily publication, could it…?

      1. How nice it is this kind of scrutiny of corporate worker responsibility doesn’t seem to extend to any company besides Apple. Samsung continues to use China child labor and other abuses unabated and with impunity. The NYT can take a flying leap off a very steep precipice for their disingenuousness.

      2. No. It could very well be over the course of the passed two years Apple has grown large enough that they can make these types of requests now and these companies are more willing to listen to their biggest customer.

        Labor issues in China have been on going for decades. The NYT only took notice after the suicides that occurred on a line that assembled Microsoft XBoxes, not Apple products. Because Apple is Foxconn’s largest customer… everyone looked at Apple as the problem when all along Apple has worked very hard at corporate responsibility. They’ve put out yearly reports for a long time now.

        Sorry, but NYT does not deserve any kind of credit for anything, they sensationalized an issue by pointing the finger at Apple. If every company had been as diligent as Apple then the conditions in China would’ve improved a long time ago.

        1. Precisely. Nobody wants to read about my uncle’s business that employs children, since that affects very few people. One of the primary criteria in journalism on which newsworthiness is judged is how many people are affected by the issue that is being reported. Nobody wants to read an article about some LG, or Samsung, or other bit player abusing children in factories. However, Apple is by far the biggest of them, and therefore, news worthy. Not only that; if you highlight some bit player and force change, the only change you’ve effected would be of that bit player; big players will likely remain unaffected. Only by going after the biggest one can you affect all the smaller ones as well.

          As I said; the timeline is very clear here. You can argue until the cows come home that Apple was planning on doing this, but first significant change only occurred AFTER the articles started coming out.

          1. Predrag dude,

            the PC guys say they own 90% of the world’s business.. so they are hardly “your uncle’s business”.

            Msft, Google, Intel, HP, Dell are HUGE. Samsung which the press keeps touting as selling many more phones than Apple has numerous China factories which as the other commentator posted has numerous child abuse violations.

            Yet hardly any of these (90% of the PCs, 100% of TVs, 95% of cell phones) has NYT etc bothered to criticize to anywhere close to the hate they spewed on apple (which even BEFORE the articles was LEADING in worker protection).

            No matter how you slice it NYT etc weren’t really into ‘protection’ but selling papers. If they were into protection they would be PRAISING apple for leading in worker rights while contrasting it to the horrible conditions in the samsung etc factories. The chinese press ironically is more balanced on the issue with articles showing how much better apple is than the others.

            1. Look, I agree with you on that point. What I am saying is, Apple is the most influential company out there; most visible one; most relevant one. Nobody would really care much if the media reported about Samsung, or Dell, or Acer using child labour. Nowhere near as much as when it is Apple. In other words, even if the transgression is much less serious than others (which we all know it always was), Apple is so much bigger and easier target, it is a no-brainer for all media out there. Much like “nobody got fired for buying IBM” (20 years ago), for every journalist out there, is is so much easier to write (and sell) a story about Apple (no matter what they are doing and what kind of a story it is) than about ANY other company, even if such company holds 100% of the market on TVs, cellphones, PCs, etc. No other company has anywhere near as high a profile as Apple.

              Bottom line here is that by virtue of becoming the largest corporation in the world (by market cap) and the most successful one, Apple has become the largest and easiest target, and most attractive subject of journalistic reporting (good or bad). This is how free, commercial (for-profit) media works in the developed (and free) world.

  1. Another important part to this story is that Apple can easily afford to force all these social changes with their Chinese suppliers. However, by doing that, Apple also forces the hand of all other big brands, as well as other Chinese suppliers. Unlike Apple, most of the others operate on razor-thin margins, which can easily evaporate if the supplier must raise wages by 40%, or cut overtime in half.

    No matter how one slices this issue, Apple comes out ahead.

  2. @Predrag-you have a point that if Apple implements changes, that the others(LG, Samsung, etc) will follow. However I have not seen any followup reports about the other suppliers doing the same for their workers. I do not think that “monkey see, monkey do” has worked. Most MDN readers felt that Dainty Daisey and the deplorable NYTimes just went after Apple only for whatever their misguided reasons. I have not seen hit pieces of the other consumer electronics about thei child labor they are employing, making people work 16 hours a day, no real lunch breaks, etc. This is why many people felt that it was just another Gotcha! journalism article. I do agree in the long run Apple will get kudos and did right to investigate labor abuses at their suppliers but it was not ethical journalism to concentrate on one company and let others get off scot free.

    1. you are right.

      and of course these other companies are not changing AS THE PRESS ARE NOT CRTICIZING THEM FOR ABUSE, there is no PAIN so need to change.

      As far as I can tell few of the other dozens of companies have put their labor audits on their webpages like Apple. Lenovo is the world’s largest PC maker yet try finding their labour audits on their webpage. And none of them have the balls to invite FLA etc in to have a look.

      Samsung’s uses Child labour, one chinese article claims 50% of the workers in one Samsung factory are underaged (vs the handful in the tens of thousands that work at Foxconn – they got in using fake I.D), other factories have workers remove gold from circuit boards with mercury without gloves or masks etc.

      Yet NYT, Mike daisey etc hardly criticize them.
      surely NYT does not belive that for the last 10 years hundreds of millions of PC netbooks selling for peanuts or later BOGO android phones were built in paradise factories? yet where the criticism?

      This also proves that NYT , Mike daisey have ZERO interest in protecting workers. Criticizing Acer etc will gain them few extra SALES so trying to help 99% of the workers in China (those who work in those other companies not protected by Apple) is OF NO CONCERN TO THEM. If they were serious in helping workers they would be putting many times more articles on those to help those 99% vs that 1% (or less) that works on apple products — gaining sales be damned – , but they aren’t. NYT, Mike daisey only care about making money: no money so they don’t give a rats azz about workers.

      predrag praising of NYT “NYT has every right to be self-congratulatory on this” is misquided.

      1. Hey Predrag did you read the latest NYT hack job on apple?

        Part 1: How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work
        Part 2: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad
        Part 3: How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Global Taxes
        Part 4: Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay
        Part 7: The Patent, Mighty as a Sword
        Part 8: As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living
        Part 9: Signs of Changes Taking Hold in Electronics Factories in China

        http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/12/27/apple-times-pulitzer-china/?section=magazines_fortune&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fmagazines_fortune+%28Fortune+Magazine%29

        as Phillip e Dewitt says:
        “Never mind that Apple’s competitors all outsource work, sidestep taxes, use patents as weapons and turn an even blinder eye to labor abuses in the Asian supply chain. The fact is, Apple — always a draw for readers — made a big, fat, easy target.”

        Predrag anymore: ““NYT has every right to be self-congratulatory on this”

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