Damage Control: Labor Rights Abuses in the Tech Industry
Where did your cell phone come from? How about your tablet, your computer, and your TV? An electronics company developed them, but who actually made them? Those questions probably don’t cross our minds much, but a recent report from Apple Inc. sheds some unusually candid light on the tech giant’s manufacturing processes. What effect could this information have on the rest of the industry?
The report—the company’s sixth annual “supplier responsibility report”—explicitly identifies 156 suppliers and subcontractors responsible for producing everything from Macs to iPads to iPhones. It further points out notable violations of international labor laws across that network of companies. Among the report’s findings:
- Only 18 facilities screened workers for hepatitis, and 52 had no stated policy against discrimination on the basis of the results of medical tests.
- Records at 90 facilities showed that employees had worked 7 or more consecutive days at least once; 37 facilities lacked explicit policies to ensure that workers took at least one day off every week.
- Pregnancy tests were standard practice at 24 facilities, and 56 lacked policies prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy.
- Half of workers at 93 facilities worked over 60 hours during at least one week of the 12 covered by the report.
- Disciplinary practices at 67 facilities included docking employee wages.
- 108 facilities failed to pay overtime wages properly.
After publishing the report, Apple took action, with CEO Tim Cook announcing that the company was the first in the tech industry to be granted membership in the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
According to the FLA Web site, Apple joins 34 other companies such as Nike, Adidas and Liz Claiborne in committing to uphold rigorous standards in efforts to “end… sweatshop conditions in facilities around the world.”
It may be worth noting that Apple is the first tech company to join the FLA. Will other giants in technology follow suit? Is Apple truly a trendsetter here, or are they just being singled out because they’re such a high-profile company? In fact, the US public radio program This American Life recently ran a story about a man named Mike Daisey who has begun performing a monologue poking fun at Apple’s manufacturing practices.
The program can be heard here.
Share your thoughts: Is Apple’s membership in the FLA a sign of things to come for the tech industry as a whole, or is the company just trying to save face? Does this development signal a change in the way technology will be imagined and built?