Apple is working to head off criticism over how workers are treated in their supplier factories. For the first time, they’ve made public their major suppliers and also say that they’ve increased factory inspections. But last week, some workers at a major supplier in China threatened to kill themselves for better work conditions.

Working Conditions at Apple Suppliers 17 January,2012forum

Katie Quan, associate chair at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center
Kellie McElhaney, faculty director and adjunct assistant professor at UC Berkeley's Center for Responsible Business
Pauline Overeem, network coordinator with the GoodElectronics Network, an international network on human rights and sustainability in electronics
Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a high-tech research and consulting firm

  • Blane

    Apple is unconvincing as ever.

  • Vijay Devadhar

    I hear apple makes $300 per iPhone as profit; Will it be too much to ask them to make $200 and spend that $100 on making the work conditions better?

    • Tim

      $300 per iPhone is an interesting number. Is that net profit? Would like to know if that’s true.

    • utera

      No, because as I’ve said, china has all the power, and thus all the responsibility for its workers.  The money is there, playing poor is extremely pathetic game for chinese companies, they are as big as they are and growing at that pace because they are indeed profitable. You cannot judge by western standards, their costs of living can be much lower.  They win those jobs from us because they out bid everyone else, to turn around after outbidding the competition for job and  production it is ridiculous to then ask for more money.  China isn’t building city after city filled with skyscrapers, maglev trains, high speed trains because they are poor and underpaid, they are rich. It is hilariously patronizing for the west to be so concerned about china when its own workers are without work at all!! How many americans are on food stamps again? 45 million. So why are we crying about china again?

      Plus, ask yourself why all those migrants move to the cities to work in factories.  Why not live in the idealic countryside farming instead?  Perhaps because they are paid more than they would get for farming and such and so the claims of them being under paid don’t really hold up to scrutiny.

      Anyways if you are into charity, why not start closer to home.  How about getting starbucks and mcdonalds to double their prices, same with target, walmart and everyone else so they can pay their workers a living wage.  Start at home, lets see how that goes before one starts crying about people thousands of miles away.

  • ht_guy

    Why not to put pressure on China? 

  • Ted Smith

    the value added to an iPhone by the work done at Foxconn is only $4.00 – the Apple profits are the vast majority of the price – if Apple would “share the wealth” with the workers, conditions would be a lot better!

    • Fifthbullet

      I seriously don’t believe in this, I’m living in Asia and I know for a lot of company in Asia did not charge their client cheap, they just happen to pay their labor cheap. For once I had a change to take a look at my company’s invoice to client, they were charging client 200 per hour to have me overlook the project, but I only get less then 10% of what they receive. Get the picture?

  • Erasmus

    This character, Ms. Quan, must have some comfy hours as an “associate chair”.

    What’s wrong with 16 hours/day?  Ask an investment banker or a facebook coder.  Or to draw a pattern, in 1800-1900 AMERICA, people sacrificed too in crappy mills.

    Changing China and the idea of hard work?  A voice in the workplace?  assert their rights?  In a free market economy, an employee can leave if he/she doesn’t want the wages.  Foxconn doesn’t prevent employees from leaving, just from jumping off buildings.  If free will compels you to end your life, then that’s your right too.  Nobody forced you to join Foxconn, as far as I know.

    Their sh1t wages are a legitimate gripe–but maybe these workers should persuade their well off brothers and sisters from lining up at the Apple Store in China.  That makes a bigger statement, a bottom line to a capitalist company, than a company joining some obtuse organization.

  • Ben

    Excellent piece on “This American Life” about this very topic.  They said that Apple’s factory inspections were always known in advance.  They would pull all the child workers off the line for the day.  Unless this is fixed, all else is window dressing.

  • carlos

    The “People” have spoken…americans want a $10 sweater, we want a $75 kindle, and we want a $100 mega screen tv.  It’s our fault that slave labor is used and until we come together and are willing to pay the “real” price of a commodity…then the hot seat today it’s apple, tomorrow it’s Old Navy, followe by walmart…and so forth…

    • Junk37mail

      take your choice: cheap labor or pay the difference. americans are addicted to cheap labor, first as Big Capital, and during the last two decades, as consumers. now, thanks to globalization, we have both cheap labor and falling living standards.

  • Linitrinidad2010

    Apple has enough power to do something for the humanity being a role model of the other companies economically and politically in some way. it would be a shame and selfish that they having the power on their hands to start pushing the human and labor rights they just pretend that they can do anything. They do enough money and pay enough to the suppliers to ask respect for the people who work for them. Everybody buys phones not knowing that a poor girl or mom works 16 hrs  for a misable pay at day for that get to our hands. I even felt dirty of having a phone

    • utera

      You feel dirty?  How many stores you frequent pay minimum wage to their workers? Do tell.

  • Anon

    Forget China, let’s talk about working conditions in their Cupertino campus. Apple is famous for employing young people and burning  them out. I specifically know people there who work all night long (for a year) (ok, dinner is provided), to meet their aggressive top-down schedule. Family life (mothers) is not a priority here. All, so you can get your favorite phone/pad in time, and Tim Cook can justify his $380m compensation. -Name Withheld For Fear of Reprisals.

  • Anonymous

    As an individual who has monitored factories in China in the apparel and electronics industry, very few question the process of how the monitors work.  Third party monitors are funded predominantly by the Brand and a major problem in this industry is the capacity to actually effectively “monitor and assess the factory”.  Many times, monitors are paid off and factory managers laugh and mock the process as it is another “attempt” to change their business models.  My experience in these factories had lead me to believe that these models serious lack and strength to make any significant impact to the workers.  Apple, like Nike and other major leading brand names can make the changes and lead the industry in truly helping this workers, but that is not how they “believe” the business works.  The culture needs to change..

    • lena mcfarland


  • Linitrinidad2010

    Responding to the other comment about asking to put pressure on China. China needs get pressure from the companies , pressure that must come from the consumers. Consumers are who decide to buy and decide which company choose. Then consumers and companies are responsible for regulating those labor rights, They earn because we buy.People Just do not realize about this.Knowing those horrible condition of the workers I am thinking in not buying anymore apple items until they make respect the labor and human rights and my friends are thinking the same

    • utera

      Wrong, china is responsible.  China is one government, absolute power, able to extract all sorts of concessions from anyone that they do business with. They have absolute power, and thus absolute responsibility.  They out compete america and so now you feel its your job to take irresponsibility for their workers?  Is this a joke?  

    • I’m impressed b y your even considering not buying anymore Apple items. I’m listening to the show on Podcast and thinking, “No Apple consumer will boycott them,” because we (yes I am one of them) love them too much. But I wonder if they’re emphasizing Apple more than other companies just because people love them so much.

  • Brad

    Michael Krasny thank you for this broadcast. You are inspiring me to become involved.

  • Tessa Lee

    i’m a graphic designer here in san francisco, and in our office we’ve aske d ourselves, would we pay double for our apple products if they were made in america, and our answer was yes. but we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy them as often. so apple wouldn’t be losing us as customers, in fact we’d be even more loyal, but they’d still lose business because we just wouldn’t be able to afford as much product. what to do?

    • lena mcfarland

      ” they’d still lose business because we just wouldn’t be able to afford as much product.”

      but if you’re paying twice as much and buying half as much….

      wouldn’t their profit margin remain the same?

      Is the purpose to move maximum product? Or to make a profit?  It seems like your solution would work if their goal is profit.

      (Of course it wouldn’t work if others decided to buy less than half as much as they might otherwise buy…..but this might happen anyway if some consumers drop out of buying apple products because of the slave like working conditions….I might be one of the ones in that last category unless something changes…..)

      • Fifthbullet

        I’m not with those company who exploit employee but ur calculation is just wrong. If u produce in US means higher overhead, thus markup pricing only provide them same margin of profit. And if they got less business means profit going down. Which leads to job cut.

        • lena mcfarland

          If I pay $2,000 for one computer instead of  $2,000 for two computers, the company has an extra $1,000 of my money.

          And it can use that extra $1000 to make sure that the workers they have don’t have to work 36 hour shifts etc. They will save money on parts and pieces that they would have spent on the second computer, and they will save money on labor since it’s less work to create one computer than two.

          The company will net a greater profit from selling me one computer for $2,000 than it does from selling me two computers at that same cost.

          Do you see what I mean?  At some point selling a high number of computers doesn’t matter to the company, as much as what their profit margin is on the computers they sell.

          But the mindset we have is always “more” equals “better.”  And as for laying people off–no. I’m saying that with a greater profit margin, and a lower number of computers to produce, no one should have to work a 36 hour shift.

        • utera

          Its wrong anyways, the biographer for jobs has explained, it can’t be done.  The us does create some of the best engineers and scientists, but you need far more than that to build and run those massive factories.  China produces these armies of average quality technical people and can thus can deliver the goods. Also they will get things done, the government doesn’t stand in the way, if a factory needs to be done in 6 months, it will be built.  Here it would take 6 months just to ask for an environmental review.  So if apple even tried, they would have simply been out of business from the get go from being late to market, never mind doubling the price to keep the jobs here.

    • utera

      Cheap sentiments..very cheap sentiments indeed.  How many in san fran buy american cars?  Or do they drive prius’s..?  Think about it…the left votes with their wallet for things like brazilian coffee farmers, but frankly they don’t give a **** about american workers, talk is cheap, just look at what you buy.  A car is many lifetimes of iphone purchases. The left lost its credibility on this issue long ago, when it abandoned american workers with decent wages and healthcare, to buy foreign cars.

  • hmm

    The suppliers make a incredibly thin profit margin. If there is to be change it’s going to have to come fromt he consumer side with the acceptance of higher prices. It’s on us as the consumer to make the change

    • utera

      Why?  China priced our people out of jobs, so now we must consider  chinese wages charity?
      They achieved their success  through capitalist competition, it is their governments responsibility to take care of their workers, not americans.  Their government has absolute power, over everyone in china, corporation or not, thus they have absolute responsibility.  The consumer shouldn’t have to pay higher prices so chinese companies can reap higher profits, are you kidding?  The profits they have are incredible already, you might as well feel sorry for wall street bankers, this misplaced sympathy is ridiculous, the number of millionaires in china is incredible these days, I think such sympathy comes from a patronizing view of china.  Worker migrants who work at these factories can sometimes save enough to build new homes in their villages when they return, how many mcjobers in the us can say the same?

      Save your tears.

  • Blane

    How about 1080p webcams inside Foxconn factories?

  • timholton

    In a country like ours that’s jettisoned manufacturing, in which
    consumers are not themselves manufacturers, sympathy with factory
    workers in China can’t be expected to be very realistic, tenacious, or
    broadly or deeply felt. When Chinese workers are organizing to commit
    suicide, things are very, very far gone. Let us not delude ourselves of
    our collective insularity and complicity—a condition built in to our
    debased and dehumanized domestic economy.

  • Spysea

    Folks its Chinese workers , you think China actually cares and why are you defending a bunch of delusional wacko’s at a major supplier in China threatened to kill themselves for better work conditions….. Going to kill themselves disqualifies any rational discussion immediately….

    • Brad

      wow that’s an incredibly insensitive and uninformed comment

    • Brad

      I recommend you check out Mike Daisy’s interview on This American Life which broadcast on this channel last Saturday night. Ironically it’s available on iTunes as a podcast. It’s an expose of Foxconn which will show you why the workers were driven to use suicide as a bargaining tool.

  • Spysea
    • Cleaner

      Snopes has no credibility.

      • Spysea


  • ht_guy

    High Tech is very competitive world and it is a little what really coming from USA. Already made impossible to make mass production here. If you’ll kill high tech here, in Korea it’ll pop up, you’ll just buy more from Samsung which I’m sure also uses Chinese labor force.  

  • From posted over a year ago:The media are at it again.  Foxconn, the Taiwan-based company that actually builds iPhones and iPads, has factories all over mainland China.  About a million people work for them.  And the media has their knickers in a twist over the fact that 13 Foxconn workers have committed suicide during the past year.Number-crunching is what this blog is about.  So here are some numbers.  According to the World Health Organization, China’s suicide rates for 1999 were 13.0 (males) and 14.8 (females).  That’s the rate per 100,000 population.  Foxconn has a rate of 13 per million, about 1/10 of the nationwide  average.Instead of castigating Foxconn, the media should be congratulating them for their high-quality mental health programs.Tony Lima

    • M Thwaites

      Interesting point. However to make a comparison like this I need to know how do suicides break down in the job market? Otherwise the statistics might be saying the opposite of your conclusion.

    • lena mcfarland

      We don’t actually have an accurate number of the Foxconn suicides though. All we have are various leaks that have come from inside the factory and group threats to commit suicide.

      And those that have committed suicide–many appear to have done it in exactly the same way.

      Your conclusions are pretty easy for a situation where there are this many unknowns.

    • Jason

      How can you offer 13 year old statistics as if they are still relevant? Also, how can you compare suicide rates for a nation vs. those who are employed? Granted, any of these variables could potentially serve to strengthen your argument. However, it is also very possible for them to completely destroy it.

    • utera

      Yea the problem is folks in the west don’t realize the scale of their operations.  Those are factory towns..factory cities, such things no longer exist in the west so people draw the wrong conclusions.  

      Like it or not they have jobs..more than can be said for many westerners.

  • Marcy Sheiner

    Too much singling out of Apple–because they ARE so admired? I find that unfair and disturbing, particularly in response to something positive they just did! I’m in no way excusing them running sweatshops anywhere in the world, but I feel like I got a skewed story here.

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