If you own an Apple iPhone, chances are that Chinas Foxconn Technology manufactured it. The companys 1.2
If you own an Apple iPhone, chances are that China’s Foxconn Technology manufactured it. The company’s 1.2 million workers produced the iPhone 5 and currently assemble the iPhone 6. In addition to making phones and tablets for Apple, the firm manufactures products for Samsung, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Amazon, Dell, and Sony. Despite its size, few Westerners had heard of Foxconn until eighteen of its employees attempted suicide in 2010 by jumping out of factory and company dormitory windows.1 Apple customers wondered whether their devices had cost the lives of workers; Western and Chinese media outlets began to press Foxconn and Apple leaders for answers as to why so many employees were taking their own lives. Foxconn founder Terry Gou and other executives noted that the rate of “self-killing” at the company was close to China’s average. They defended the company’s labor conditions, pointing to the fact that workers are provided with food, dormitories, coffee shops, and swimming pools in a clean, campus-like setting. Indeed, Foxconn facilities appear far superior to those at many other Chinese manufacturing plants where, at least in the past, workers had to find their own food and places to sleep. Gou vowed to “leave no stone unturned” as the company tried to find a way to reduce the number of suicides. Large safety nets were strung around all company buildings to catch any future jumpers. The company also introduced suicide prevention centers and raised wages. Officials at Apple said they were “disturbed and deeply saddened” by the deaths. Apple then hired an outside organization, the Fair Labor Association, to audit Foxconn working conditions. Chief executive officer (CEO) Tim Cook traveled to the Foxconn’s Zhengzhou, China factory to investigate and commissioned a team of suicide prevention experts to make recommendations to Foxconn’s leaders. Unfortunately, worker suicides continued. In 2012, a group of workers threatened to jump off the roof of a Wuhan factory after their bosses refused to provide promised severance pay. In 2013, three workers took their lives over a three-week period. In 2014, there were at least six suicides. Union groups, human rights activists and investigative reporters blame the ongoing suicides on the military-like atmosphere at Foxconn plants. The story of seventeen-year-old Tian Yu illustrates the harsh conditions at Foxconn facilities. Yu jumped from a Foxconn factory window. She survived her fall but is paralyzed for life. Here is a description of her typical work day prior to her suicide attempt: Yu’s job was inspecting screens to ensure they weren’t scratched. She woke at 6:30 a.m., attended an unpaid meeting at 7:20 a.m. and started work 20 minutes later. Lunch was at 11 a.m. and she usually skipped dinner to work until 7:40 p.m.—a 12-hour day. Technicians from the engineering department time monitored every task and, if workers can meet the quotas, the targets are increased. Anyone unable to meet their hourly quota is not allowed to rest. Conversation in the workshop was forbidden.2 Mandatory overtime greatly increases the pressure on workers. One undercover reporter investigating working conditions at Foxconn had to work eighteen days in a row even though he repeatedly asked for time off. Another reporter, whose longest shift was 16 hours, described the fatigue he felt: “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.”3 Exhausted employees rarely have the time or energy to enjoy the swimming pools or coffee shops provided by their employer. Instead, they return to dorm rooms filled with strangers selected to live together by Foxconn management. The Fair Labor Association reports that Foxconn workers are putting in less overtime. However, it is hard to imagine that the relentless demands on employees will ease unless Apple bears more of the cost of improving labor conditions. Apple executives could provide more funding to improve working conditions and/or offer more generous contract terms. And the company could afford to make these concessions. While Foxconn profit margins declined (as low as 1.7%), Apple’s profit margins soared to as high as 44%, making Apple one of the richest companies in the world. According to CBS money columnist Margaret Heffernan, Apple stockholders are increasing their wealth at the expense of Foxconn employees.
Do you think it would change consumer's minds purchasing Apple products if they knew their suppliers were providing subpar working conditions and the suicide aspect?