Today, SACOM issued a public letter to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, with the endorsement of 200 university teachers and students from 96 universities in 19 countries. This endorsement demands Apple to end the use of student workers and rectify blatant labour rights abuses in its supply chain. When confronted with escalating criticism of Apple’s unethical labour practices, Tim Cook responded, “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern.” However, promises without action are merely empty rhetoric. Furthermore, Apple attempts to whitewash its unethical labour practice through purchasing membership from the Fair Labour Association to “probe” the problems at its suppliers. Apple has known about the labour rights abuses in its supply chain for years, however it has not addressed these abuses. Given this, Apple should act without hesitation to remedy labour rights violations.
In 2010-2011, SACOM has investigated a number of Apple’s suppliers, including Foxconn, in China and found that workers always have to work incessantly in factories, day and night to meet production demands. Many of them are student workers, only 16-18 years old. These students should be studying, but rather they now work 10 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, taking on night shifts for months at a time, equivalent to that of adult workers. Many of these student workers report that after repeating the same motion thousands of times a day, they feel like machines, and are treated as such. Any mistake, or working slowly, leads to reprimand or punishment. Their lives consist only of waking up, working, eating, and sleeping. They have no social life whatsoever. Sometimes, such exhausting conditions rendering these students depressed and unsociable. Moreover, the 16 to 18 year old students endure hazardous working environments without proper protective equipment. When SACOM conducted offsite interviews with Foxconn workers, nearly all the respondents had no knowledge of what kind of chemical they were using or what the potential harm to them might be. The students are de facto workers on the production lines. And the so-called “internship” is a sham as it has no relevance to the students’ studies. SACOM always find that students who major in subjects such as pharmacy, tourism, and language end up working as intern at Foxconn. Some students even complain that if they refuse the “internship” at Foxconn, they will be forced to drop out of school. This is a form of involuntary labour, which is approved by Apple in producing its products.
The unethical use of student workers is a consequence of the deplorable conditions at Foxconn. Many young workers have high aspirations when they arrive at Foxconn but are soon disappointed by the inhumane working conditions in the factory. As a result, the turnover rate in the factory is high. To counter this problem, the factory uses student workers to maintain the stability of the workforce, especially during the peak season.
There is neither a genuine trade union nor any effective communication channel at Foxocnn to handle labour disputes. A worker who produces the iPhone cases reports, “I have never seen an iPhone. Not to mention having a chance to use one. I’m not proud of producing iPhones at all. All I want to tell the Apple CEO is not to exploit the workers anymore.” The workers at Foxconn have no means to express their grievances to Tim Cook. Therefore, SACOM and the university students and teachers across the world have to speak up for the workers.
Apple undoubtedly has ability to rectify these problems. It is simply a matter of commitment. SACOM and the signatories strongly demand that Apple:
1. end the use of student workers;
2. provide a living wage for all the workers so they do not have to work excessive overtime hours;
3. conduct labour rights training for workers, including training on occupational health and safety;
4. facilitate the formation of a genuine trade union through democratic election; and
5. compensate the victims if there is non-compliance with the Apple code of conduct.
Although Apple is infamous for ignoring public criticism on labour rights abuses, we repeatedly call upon Apple to respond to the above demands by 30 March 2012.