Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Feeling Guilty

No, I'm not hanging my head in shame because I've been neglecting my blog (I decided to switch from posting every day to 3 times a week), but because it seems increasingly likely that my beloved iPad was assembled by underpaid, overworked employees who may have been exposed to dust and hazardous chemicals in the process. Workers at Foxconn, a Taiwanese company that produces electronics for Apple and other brands, report that their salaries are less than what they were originally promised unless they work overtime (which is sometimes forced on them), and complain that the long hours and low pay leave them little opportunity to do anything in their off-hours besides commuting (for those not living in Foxconn dormitories), eating, and sleeping. Foxconn, which was in the news last year after a rash of suicides among employees, says that conditions have improved, counselors have been brought in to help the workers, and wages have been raised. However, SACOM ("China, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour"), a non-profit organization devoted to improving conditions for workers, reports that "military-styled management is still in practice" and the work environment still needs lots of improvements.

In its "Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report" (warning: PDF), Apple says that it was "disturbed and deeply saddened to learn that factory workers were taking their own lives at the Shenzhen facility of Foxconn" and it "will continue to work with Foxconn through the implementation of...programs" to better train hotline staff and counselors, maintain employees' mental health, and ensure effectiveness through monitoring. It's sad to hear that a company that's earned a reputation for making technology easy and fun to use could be even indirectly involved in such miserable treatment of workers. Apple's hardware already has a reputation for being expensive (a reputation that Apple justifies with the argument that its systems are more reliable and virus-resistant than competitors', although Apple has lowered its prices somewhat over the last few years to stay competitive). Would consumers pay more for computers and devices like iPhones if it meant better wages and working conditions for the people who assemble them? I'm definitely thrifty, but if I want the coolest new toys, I should be willing to pay enough to provide a decent salary to all the people involved in making them, from the designers who created the awesome interfaces to the folks who box up the final product.

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