Apple's supply chain workers are exploited with low wages and forced overtime.
Apple has claimed for years that they have worked to eliminate unsafe working conditions and the exploitation of workers in their supply chain, but an investigation into the labor practices of Chinese factories owned by Foxconn and Pegatron revealed that workers are being grossly underpaid and overworked.
China Labor Watch, a non-profit based in New York that increases transparency of conditions in supply chains to advocate for labor rights, conducted the investigation into Apple’s supply chain by analyzing more than 1,200 pay stubs from workers at a Shanghai Pegatron factory. Despite Apple’s public claims that their laborers work no more than 60 hours per week, the stubs revealed that more than 70% of the workers toiled more than 60 hours per week, some up to 72. The only saving grace for these workers is that China’s overtime regulations have a maximum of 36 hours of overtime allowed per month.
The report from China Labor Watch states that young production workers toil for six days a week with 12 hour shifts. They are only paid for about 10.5 of those hours, which also does not include the extra half an hour that they are forced to come in early and stay late for work meetings. The non-profit goes on to say that, “Before overtime pay, workers making the iPhone earn only the local minimum wage of $318 per month, or about $1.85 per hour. This is not a living wage. Even if the factory did not mandate overtime as it does, workers would still depend on their 60-hour workweeks to get by.” While most developed countries offer overtime as an option for workers to earn some extra cash, these factories force workers to stay for mandated overtime. In some cases, workers are allowed to refuse overtime, but are then told that they will get no other overtime for the rest of the month. They then must choose between no overtime or a gross amount of overtime with no control over the schedule.
An undercover BBC investigation conducted in 2014 uncovered similar wrongdoing and accusations towards Apple about the poor working conditions. Read what the BBC said in their report about the conditions their reporters experienced:
One undercover reporter, working in a factory making parts for Apple computers, had to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for a day off. Another reporter, whose longest shift was 16 hours, said: “Every time I got back to the dormitories, I wouldn’t want to move. Even if I was hungry I wouldn’t want to get up to eat. I just wanted to lie down and rest. I was unable to sleep at night because of the stress.”
On top of the poor conditions at work, the workers must ride a bus to and from their dormitories each day, where a cramped room they share with 13 others filled with growing mold and bed bugs awaits them.
These conditions have a direct impact on the workers’ health as well. In 2015, one 26-year-old worker was found dead in a dorm he shared with other Pegatron workers. The cause of death was ruled as “sudden death” with no further investigation or autopsy. It was discovered that he had been working 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. In 2013, a 15-year-old worker died allegedly from pneumonia and the factory ruled it as non-work-related. In a work log provided to his parents postmortem, it showed that he had worked an average of 70 hours per week in the month preceding his death.
The workers are aware of the need for change in the factories, but many need the money and can’t afford to protest for better conditions. For those brave enough to challenge the company, the outlook is grim on whether they can influence the company to make changes or if they can even live through the protest. In 2010, Foxconn had 18 workers leap off of the roof to commit suicide in protest of the working conditions, which led to the death of 14 of them. In 2012, 150 workers threatened to do the same, but were coaxed down two days later. After the mass suicide of 2010, the only changes made to the company were counselors that were hired to speak with workers and the installation of safety nets around some of the buildings.
In 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook earned $10.3 million, about 2,500 times what each worker makes in a year at these factories. China Labor Watch reported that Apple’s profits in the last quarter of 2014 were $18 billion, while the wages for 1.6 million workers in their supply chain was just $3.4 billion. By their conservative estimations, it would cost Apple only $1.9 billion each quarter to dramatically improve working conditions for these production workers.
Despite Apple’s claims that it is working to “eradicate unethical hiring and exploitation of workers—even when local laws permit such practices,” they still have a long way to go before the people working to churn out immeasurable profit for Apple have fair working conditions.
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