The financial world's eyes are on Apple this week after it announced record-breaking quarterly earnings. In the midst of all this commentary and congratulations, there was also a sobering article by New York Times reporters Charles Duhigg and David Barboza. Titled "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad," the story was critical of Apple's relationship with its overseas manufacturing partners.
The piece details the purported harsh working conditions found in the factories of the contract companies that build Apple products. The 7-page article claims Apple puts incredible pressure on its partners to produce a large volume of components in a short amount of time and for little profit.
This incredible pressure forces companies like Foxconn and Wintek to cut corners and risk the safety of their workers to meet Apple's demands. Apple supposedly turns a blind eye to these practices and will even cut money to companies that complain. The article ends with a statement that implicates Apple fans in this scandal by saying "And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China."
This report was reprinted in the Chinese business magazine, Caixin, and elicited equally emotional responses by the Chinese who both support and condemn Apple. Here are a few samples of the comments left on the Chinese report,
If people saw what kind of life workers lived before they found a job at Foxconn, they would come to an opposite conclusion of this story: that Apple is such a philanthropist. - Zhengchu1982
Apple has gained so much sales revenues from China. Do you think the company really cares about the conditions of those workers? I think they are just proud of having an Apple product. - 李凌云-深圳
1.) It is a pity that, we know that for Apple fans, such a story won't stop their enthusiasm. Just like people are still buying Nike and Adidas shoes, knowing that shoe manufacturing is highly environmentally hazardous; 2.) if a government cannot guarantee the welfare of its own 120 million disadvantaged population and even suppresses their appeals, then how could we require an overseas company to protect the labor rights in a Chinese factory? - Jionglegejiong
When the explosion happened, I was working for media in Chengdu. Domestic media were all silenced and only allowed to use the (Xinhua) official report, because that (Foxconn factory) was a key project. Compare to what The New York Times wrote, the gap really saddened my heart. - Chen Qiye
Without Apple, Chinese workers will be worse off. I hope China can some day soon have dozens of its own companies like Apple, who (only) work on high-end research and development and send manufacturing lines to Africa. - Anonymous
In the end, there's no easy answer to this problem. Apple tries to be transparent and releases an annual report that details its progress in improving supplier working conditions. Apple can pressure its suppliers to conform to its standards, but it has no control over regulation in a foreign country.
Is Apple doing enough, or does it need to do more to ensure the safety of workers at other companies? Right now, the best thing we can do is bring this problem to light and get people (and companies) talking about it.