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Template for Active/Critical Reading Notes
(Complete one for each assigned reading this semester)
Title of the reading:
Author(s):
Date assigned:
Important Points:
list what you find to be the most important points contained in this reading. Write them in your own words. Paraphrase and summarize
properly. Don’t list every single concept presented in the reading; focus on the “significant” points, that is, the ones you find to be most
important and/or interesting.
Quotes:
copy out at least 3 of your “favorite” quotes. Include page numbers.
Questions:
write 3-5 significant questions *of your own* that come up for you as you read the text. You’ll want to ask a range
of questions, including ones seeking the clarification of important points, ones exploring connections with other readings/topics, etc.
Reflections:
write out your own thoughts, reactions, and reflections to the topics and ideas contained in this reading. Strive for a minimum of 250
words.
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January 25, 2012
In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an
iPad
By CHARLES DUHIGG and DAVID BARBOZA
The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and
noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.
When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows.
It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.
Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into
ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by
heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.
“Are you Lai Xiaodong’s father?” a caller asked when the phone rang at Mr. Lai’s childhood home.
Six months earlier, the 22-year-old had moved to Chengdu, in southwest China, to become one of
the millions of human cogs powering the largest, fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing
system on earth. That system has made it possible for Apple and hundreds of other companies to
build devices almost as quickly as they can be dreamed up.
“He’s in trouble,” the caller told Mr. Lai’s father. “Get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies
in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as
well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly
unmatched in modern history.
However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions,
according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by
companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious —
sometimes deadly — safety problems.
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms.
Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers
have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of
hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that,
within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137
workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a
poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad
factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had
been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that
published that warning.
“If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former
chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that
advises the United States Labor Department. “But what’s morally repugnant in one country is
accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”
Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak
working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, HewlettPackard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.
Current and former Apple executives, moreover, say the company has made significant strides in
improving factories in recent years. Apple has a supplier code of conduct that details standards on
labor issues, safety protections and other topics. The company has mounted a vigorous auditing
campaign, and when abuses are discovered, Apple says, corrections are demanded.
And Apple’s annual supplier responsibility reports, in many cases, are the first to report abuses.
This month, for the first time, the company released a list identifying many of its suppliers.
But significant problems remain. More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have violated at
least one aspect of the code of conduct every year since 2007, according to Apple’s reports, and in
some instances have violated the law. While many violations involve working conditions, rather
than safety hazards, troubling patterns persist.
“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing
production cost,” said Li Mingqi, who until April worked in management at Foxconn Technology,
one of Apple’s most important manufacturing partners. Mr. Li, who is suing Foxconn over his
dismissal, helped manage the Chengdu factory where the explosion occurred.
“Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests,” he said.
Some former Apple executives say there is an unresolved tension within the company: executives
want to improve conditions within factories, but that dedication falters when it conflicts with
crucial supplier relationships or the fast delivery of new products. Tuesday, Apple reported one of
the most lucrative quarters of any corporation in history, with $13.06 billion in profits on $46.3
billion in sales. Its sales would have been even higher, executives said, if overseas factories had
been able to produce more.
Executives at other corporations report similar internal pressures. This system may not be pretty,
they argue, but a radical overhaul would slow innovation. Customers want amazing new electronics
delivered every year.
“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said
one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of
confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change
everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”
“If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?” the
executive asked.
Apple, in its published reports, has said it requires every discovered labor violation to be remedied,
and suppliers that refuse are terminated. Privately, however, some former executives concede that
finding new suppliers is time-consuming and costly. Foxconn is one of the few manufacturers in
the world with the scale to build sufficient numbers of iPhones and iPads. So Apple is “not going to
leave Foxconn and they’re not going to leave China,” said Heather White, a research fellow at
Harvard and a former member of the Monitoring International Labor Standards committee at the
National Academy of Sciences. “There’s a lot of rationalization.”
Apple was provided with extensive summaries of this article, but the company declined to
comment. The reporting is based on interviews with more than three dozen current or former
employees and contractors, including a half-dozen current or former executives with firsthand
knowledge of Apple’s supplier responsibility group, as well as others within the technology
industry.
In 2010, Steven P. Jobs discussed the company’s relationships with suppliers at an industry
conference.
“I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry, and maybe in
any industry, of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain,” said Mr. Jobs, who
was Apple’s chief executive at the time and who died last October.
“I mean, you go to this place, and, it’s a factory, but, my gosh, I mean, they’ve got restaurants and
movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools, and I mean, for a factory, it’s a pretty nice
factory.”
Others, including workers inside such plants, acknowledge the cafeterias and medical facilities, but
insist conditions are punishing.
“We’re trying really hard to make things better,” said one former Apple executive. “But most people
would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”
The Road to Chengdu
In the fall of 2010, about six months before the explosion in the iPad factory, Lai Xiaodong
carefully wrapped his clothes around his college diploma, so it wouldn’t crease in his suitcase. He
told friends he would no longer be around for their weekly poker games, and said goodbye to his
teachers. He was leaving for Chengdu, a city of 12 million that was rapidly becoming one of the
world’s most important manufacturing hubs.
Though painfully shy, Mr. Lai had surprised everyone by persuading a beautiful nursing student to
become his girlfriend. She wanted to marry, she said, and so his goal was to earn enough money to
buy an apartment.
Factories in Chengdu manufacture products for hundreds of companies. But Mr. Lai was focused
on Foxconn Technology, China’s largest exporter and one of the nation’s biggest employers, with
1.2 million workers. The company has plants throughout China, and assembles an estimated 40
percent of the world’s consumer electronics, including for customers like Amazon, Dell, HewlettPackard, Nintendo, Nokia and Samsung.
Foxconn’s factory in Chengdu, Mr. Lai knew, was special. Inside, workers were building Apple’s
latest, potentially greatest product: the iPad.
When Mr. Lai finally landed a job repairing machines at the plant, one of the first things he noticed
were the almost blinding lights. Shifts ran 24 hours a day, and the factory was always bright. At any
moment, there were thousands of workers standing on assembly lines or sitting in backless chairs,
crouching next to large machinery, or jogging between loading bays. Some workers’ legs swelled so
much they waddled. “It’s hard to stand all day,” said Zhao Sheng, a plant worker.
Banners on the walls warned the 120,000 employees: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to
find a job tomorrow.” Apple’s supplier code of conduct dictates that, except in unusual
circumstances, employees are not supposed to work more than 60 hours a week. But at Foxconn,
some worked more, according to interviews, workers’ pay stubs and surveys by outside groups. Mr.
Lai was soon spending 12 hours a day, six days a week inside the factory, according to his
paychecks. Employees who arrived late were sometimes required to write confession letters and
copy quotations. There were “continuous shifts,” when workers were told to work two stretches in a
row, according to interviews.
Mr. Lai’s college degree enabled him to earn a salary of around $22 a day, including overtime —
more than many others. When his days ended, he would retreat to a small bedroom just big enough
for a mattress, wardrobe and a desk where he obsessively played an online game called Fight the
Landlord, said his girlfriend, Luo Xiaohong.
Those accommodations were better than many of the company’s dorms, where 70,000 Foxconn
workers lived, at times stuffed 20 people to a three-room apartment, employees said. Last year, a
dispute over paychecks set off a riot in one of the dormitories, and workers started throwing
bottles, trash cans and flaming paper from their windows, according to witnesses. Two hundred
police officers wrestled with workers, arresting eight. Afterward, trash cans were removed, and
piles of rubbish — and rodents — became a problem. Mr. Lai felt lucky to have a place of his own.
Foxconn, in a statement, disputed workers’ accounts of continuous shifts, extended overtime,
crowded living accommodations and the causes of the riot. The company said that its operations
adhered to customers’ codes of conduct, industry standards and national laws. “Conditions at
Foxconn are anything but harsh,” the company wrote. Foxconn also said that it had never been
cited by a customer or government for under-age or overworked employees or toxic exposures.
“All assembly line employees are given regular breaks, including one-hour lunch breaks,” the
company wrote, and only 5 percent of assembly line workers are required to stand to carry out their
tasks. Work stations have been designed to ergonomic standards, and employees have
opportunities for job rotation and promotion, the statement said.
“Foxconn has a very good safety record,” the company wrote. “Foxconn has come a long way in our
efforts to lead our industry in China in areas such as workplace conditions and the care and
treatment of our employees.”
Apple’s Code of Conduct
In 2005, some of Apple’s top executives gathered inside their Cupertino, Calif., headquarters for a
special meeting. Other companies had created codes of conduct to police their suppliers. It was
time, Apple decided, to follow suit. The code Apple published that year demands “that working
conditions in Apple’s supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity, and
that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible.”
But the next year, a British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, secretly visited a Foxconn factory in
Shenzhen, China, where iPods were manufactured, and reported on workers’ long hours, push-ups
meted out as punishment and crowded dorms. Executives in Cupertino were shocked. “Apple is
filled with really good people who had no idea this was going on,” a former employee said. “We
wanted it changed, immediately.”
Apple audited that factory, the company’s first such inspection, and ordered improvements.
Executives also undertook a series of initiatives that included an annual audit report, first
published in 2007. By last year, Apple had inspected 396 facilities — including the company’s
direct suppliers, as well as many of those suppliers’ suppliers — one of the largest such programs
within the electronics industry.
Those audits have found consistent violations of Apple’s code of conduct, according to summaries
published by the company. In 2007, for instance, Apple conducted over three dozen audits, twothirds of which indicated that employees regularly worked more than 60 hours a week. In addition,
there were six “core violations,” the most serious kind, including hiring 15-year-olds as well as
falsifying records.
Over the next three years, Apple conducted 312 audits, and every year, about half or more showed
evidence of large numbers of employees laboring more than six days a week as well as working
extended overtime. Some workers received less than minimum wage or had pay withheld as
punishment. Apple found 70 core violations over that period, including cases of involuntary labor,
under-age workers, record falsifications, improper disposal of hazardous waste and over a hundred
workers injured by toxic chemical exposures.
Last year, the company conducted 229 audits. There were slight improvements in some categories
and the detected rate of core violations declined. However, within 93 facilities, at least half of
workers exceeded the 60-hours-a-week work limit. At a similar number, employees worked more
than six days a week. There were incidents of discrimination, improper safety precautions, failure
to pay required overtime rates and other violations. That year, four employees were killed and 77
injured in workplace explosions.
“If you see the same pattern of problems, year after year, that means the company’s ignoring the
issue rather than solving it,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the
supplier responsibility group. “Noncompliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try
harder next time. If we meant business, core violations would disappear.”
Apple says that when an audit reveals a violation, the company requires suppliers to address the
problem within 90 days and make changes to prevent a recurrence. “If a supplier is unwilling to
change, we terminate our relationship,” the company says on its Web site.
The seriousness of that threat, however, is unclear. Apple has found violations in hundreds of
audits, but fewer than 15 suppliers have been terminated for transgressions since 2007, according
to former Apple executives.
“Once the deal is set and Foxconn becomes an authorized Apple supplier, Apple will no longer give
any attention to worker conditions or anything that is irrelevant to its products,” said Mr. Li, the
former Foxconn manager. Mr. Li spent seven years with Foxconn in Shenzhen and Chengdu and
was forced out in April after he objected to a relocation to Chengdu, he said. Foxconn disputed his
comments, and said “both Foxconn and Apple take the welfare of our employees very seriously.”
Apple’s efforts have spurred some changes. Facilities that were reaudited “showed continued
performance improvements and better working conditions,” the company wrote in its 2011
supplier responsibility progress report. In addition, the number of audited facilities has grown
every year, and some executives say those expanding efforts obscure year-to-year improvements.
Apple also has trained over a million workers about their rights and methods for injury and disease
prevention. A few years ago, after auditors insisted on interviewing low-level factory employees,
they discovered that some had been forced to pay onerous “recruitment fees” — which Apple
classifies as involuntary labor. As of last year, the company had forced suppliers to reimburse more
than $6.7 million in such charges.
“Apple is a leader in preventing under-age labor,” said Dionne Harrison of Impactt, a firm paid by
Apple to help prevent and respond to child labor among its suppliers. “They’re doing as much as
they possibly can.”
Other consultants disagree.
“We’ve spent years telling Apple there are serious problems and recommending changes,” said a
consultant at BSR — also known as Business for Social Responsibility — which has been twice
retained by Apple to provide advice on labor issues. “They don’t want to pre-empt problems, they
just want to avoid embarrassments.”
‘We Could Have Saved Lives’
In 2006, BSR, along with a division of the World Bank and other groups, initiated a project to
improve working conditions in factories building cellphones and other devices in China and
elsewhere. The groups and companies pledged to test various ideas. Foxconn agreed to participate.
For four months, BSR and another group negotiated with Foxconn regarding a pilot program to
create worker “hotlines,” so that employees could report abusive conditions, seek mental
counseling and discuss workplace problems. Apple was not a participant in the project, but was
briefed on it, according to the BSR consultant, who had detailed knowledge.
As negotiations proceeded, Foxconn’s requirements for participation kept changing. First Foxconn
asked t …
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