“iPhone” Poisoned Factory Workers

In Asia, News Headlines, Pollution

Technology giant Apple has admitted that some of its workers in China have been poisoned and that many are regularly working in unsafe conditions.

Apple says the revelations are proof that its audit processes are effective and the company says it is working with its suppliers to provide a safer workplace.

But its critics are calling for action now.

Consumers may love their iPad, iPod or iPhone, but many are not aware about the conditions they are manufactured under.

It seems that the price paid for cheaper goods can sometimes come at a great cost to the health of the company’s workers.

Julia Gooding from New York-based China Labor Watch says Apple’s transparency is improving, but they need to act to resolve these problems.

“The conditions in Apple factories and across electronics industries are still lacking in safety protection and many other aspects,” she said.

“So there’s definitely no guarantees for workers in these factories that their safety and their contacts with chemicals or other poisonous materials is ensured.”

Apple’s own audit identified an increase in workers putting in excessive hours, a rise in children working for its suppliers, and that 137 workers were poisoned at a Chinese firm making its products.

Worryingly, less than a third of the factories put under the microscope passed the Apple supplier code of conduct.

Slow reform

While China Labor Watch has welcomed improved transparency at Apple, it is worried reform remains slow across the manufacturing sector.

But Ms Gooding says incidences such as the China melamine scandal in which a number of child factory workers were poisoned, has helped raise international awareness about the issue.

“And so I think people are becoming much more cognisant of the fact that this is a widespread problem and workers are now becoming more and more aware that they do have rights that they need to exert and that the factories really need to be protecting them as employers to ensure safe working conditions,” she said.

Anita Chan from the China Research Centre at Sydney’s University of Technology has visited the vast factories of southern China.

She says Apple’s report on the matter overlooks other, more serious issues within the industry as a whole.

“The state is not very responsible in a certain way. They [Apple] said that they discovered one particular factory that hires more of these underage workers than elsewhere,” she said.

“So Apple is on top of this problem and trying to resolve it. OK, that’s fine, but there are more serious [issues] that Apple does not mention in this report.

“And no other proper social responsibility report mentions this problem and that is the speed of production.”

Ms Chan says the biggest risk to workers remains lagging health and safety standards in the industry.

“You can see in terms of the health and safety, that is a problem that even China does not recognise… Repeated stress, what is it, RSI injuries, is a very serious problem to identify.

“But the speed of the production line is very fast and for big companies, if they are very good in de-skilling, that means having workers do very, very repetitive movements, very simple repetitive movements, and if you speed it up that means your chance of getting RSI is very high.

“And this is never, never portrayed as a problem.”

Apple refused the offer of an interview with The World Today.

A company spokeswoman would only say it takes health and work issues extremely seriously and it is currently working with suppliers to ensure its code of conduct is being adhered to.

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