New iPhone Release Covers Up a Dark Reality About Apple

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On Tuesday, September 10, Apple will welcome members of the press to an event announcing the creation of a new smartphone. Since Steve Jobs unveiled the first smartphone in January 2007, few would argue that Apple has dominated the industry. Lately, however, market analysts claim that Apple is beginning to lose to competitors, as consumers opt for the more cost-effective options that became readily available as the industry expanded. In the second quarter of 2013, Apple's share of the smartphone market shrank by 4%, and research demonstrates that under one-third of first-time smartphone buyers chose the iphone. The new iPhone to be announced on Tuesday (which the techie rumor mill claims will be called the iPhone 5C) is Apple's attempt to offer a more affordable option to buyers who may not wish to fork over such a hefty sum for a new phone. Unfortunately, making your product more affordable sometimes comes at an ugly price.

This week, a Chinese labor rights group publicly exposed the fact that Apple flouts human rights in the production of its wares. In the spring of 2013, the Chinese non-governmental organization China Labor Watch sent undercover investigators into three of Apple's supplier factories located in Shanghai, China. The investigators spent 5 months researching the factories and conducting interviews with over 200 employees. Their work resulted in the publication of a 60-page report which details how production-line employees are forced to work 11 hours a day, 6 days a week, for $1.50 an hour (an amount insufficient to cover the basic cost of living in Shanghai) to ensure that Apple's new, affordable iphone is assembled in a timely fashion. To make matters worse, the 70,000+ employees are housed like cattle in 12-person dorms, where they are forced to queue for access to one of the several dozen cold showers they share with hundreds of other employees.

According to the report, "CLW's investigations revealed at least 86 labor violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations. The violations fall into 15 categories: dispatch labor abuse, hiring discrimination, women's rights violations, underage labor, contract violations, insufficient worker training, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labor health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution." The abuses described are both numerous and outrageous. Underage students and pregnant women are forced to work long hours along with the rest of the employees, pregnant women are denied maternity leave if they become pregnant out of wedlock, management was witnessed photographing sleeping employees without their permission, disciplinary pay deductions are enforced for missing unpaid meetings, and workers are scolded if they ask to use the restroom more than twice a day. Additionally, the discriminatory hiring practices of these factories are especially blatant, as candidates who are over the age of 35, shorter than 4'11, or belong to the Hui, Tibetan, or Uighur ethnic groups, will not be considered.

Unfortunately, this report is far from the first accusation of human rights abuses laid at Apple's door. Just last year, after several employees attempted suicide, the company admitted that it has a human rights problem and permitted inspectors from the Fair Labor Association to examine supplier factories owned by the company Foxconn in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China. The inspection, however, has done little to change the company's bad practices. Apple's complete disregard for China's 49-hour statutory limit is just one example. Apple requests that its suppliers limit the workweek to 60 hours, and claims that its suppliers have a 99% compliance rate with the 60-hour workweek limitation. In the three factories investigated, however, the workweek lasted between 6-9 hours over the limit set by Apple. This means that in Apple's Shanghai-based supplier factories, employees are working between 17-20 hours over the legal limit. The fact that Apple can fix all of its engineering problems in record time, but is unwilling to improve the living standards of the very people whose labor makes their products possible, belies Apple's commitment to "protect every worker in the supply chain."

International human rights groups have responded to these accusations by issuing a series of recommendations that Apple must follow if it is to correct this situation and earn its status as an ethical company.  Apple's website specifically claims that it does not allow suppliers to "act unethically or in ways that threaten the rights of workers," and that it is "working to end excessive work hours, prohibit unethical hiring policies, and prevent the hiring of underage workers," but the company will need to take decisive and immediate action to improve the lives of Chinese workers if it is going to demonstrate the validity of these affirmations and live up to its own standards.