Apple faces possible boycott over Foxconn investigation

Several high-profile media outlets are calling for a boycott of Apple products, amid new reports of mistreatment of workers at the company’s manufacturing chain in China.

The New York Times first ignited media interest last week with a series of articles describing terrible working conditions at factories belonging to Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn. The company has several factories in mainland China where it produces components for an array electronic devices, including the Apple iPad.

The newspaper described conditions resembling bonded labour, with employees being forced to work obscenely long shifts in unhealthy conditions, and without many of the labour rights that workers in the West would take for granted. It also mentioned people being killed in explosions at iPad factories, and workers being given poisonous chemicals with which to clean iPhone screens.

Industry commentators from a number of publications have responded to the New York Times report, calling on consumers to boycott Apple.

Dan Lyons, who writes for The Daily Beast and Newsweek, described the situation as “barbaric”, but said that “ultimately the blame lies not with Apple and other electronics companies – but with us, the consumers. And ultimately we are the ones who must demand change”.

The Los Angeles Times and Forbes magazine added to the outcry, with Forbes columnist Peter Cohanstating that the number of workers who die building iPhones and iPads is “shockingly high”. Others have also pointed to Apple’s failure to adequately respond to the reports, and the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones has suggested that the company needs a new PR strategy.

Apple is not the only international technology company to use Foxconn, however, and this is also not the first time that working conditions at Foxconn have made headlines.

Earlier this year, Microsoft was forced to deal with reports that 150 people working on the Xbox 360 assembly line at the Foxconn Technology Park in Wuhan had threatened to commit mass suicide. Microsoft claimed that the suicide protest had to do with working conditions, and was related to staffing assignments and transfer policies.

Foxconn also faced a string of worker suicides in 2010, amid reports in the Chinese media that its staff were being abused. The company agreed to raise the wages of its workers by 20 percent, despite reports that the it had considered closing its mainland Chinese plants, and Foxconn installed anti-jumper nets on its high-rise buildings to prevent more suicides.

Then in May 2011, a number of Foxconn workers were killed in an explosion at a factory in Chengdu. The explosion happened in a polishing workshop in the factory where Apple’s iPad 2 tablets were being made, and is believed to have been caused by a build-up of aluminium dust.

Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has responded to the latest allegations in an internal email to staff, obtained by 9to5Mac, stating that Apple cares about every worker in its worldwide supply chain.

“Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us,” he wrote. “As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values.”

Cook added that Apple inspects its factories every year and has helped to improve conditions for “hundreds of thousands of workers”. He also said the company was focused on educating workers about their rights, and promised to never turn a blind eye to problems in the company’s supply chain.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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