Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

The Production Behind The Consumption

Apple products continue to enjoy high praise for their performance and appearance.  Largely ignored are the oppressive conditions experienced by those workers that produce them.

China Labor Watch has just released a new report on ten factories producing Apple products in China, including a Foxconn plant. It found that labor violations “are still common at Foxconn but also that these violations are rampant throughout Apple’s supply chain.  In fact, conditions can be even worse at other Apple suppliers, including the Riteng factory in Shanghai.”

More specifically, according to the China Labor Watch press release, investigators found the following problems to be common in the ten factories:

Excessive Overtime:  The average overtime in most of the factories was between 100 and 130 hours per month, and between 150 and 180 hours per month during peak production season, well above China’s legal limits.

In most factories, workers generally work 11 hours every day, including weekends and holidays during peak seasons.  Normally they can only take a day off every month, or in the peak seasons may go several months without a day off.

Low wages compel workers to accept long overtime hours.  Most of the factories pay a basic salary equal to the minimum wage stipulated by the local law (around $200/month), so low that workers have to work long hours to support themselves.

Workers are exposed to a variety of dangerous working conditions. Workers in all the factories reported safety concerns such as metal dust and hazardous working environments.

All too often, workers find the food offered in the factory cafeterias unsanitary.  Their housing conditions are frequently overcrowded, dirty, and lacking in facilities.

Most workers are not familiar with unions and their function. They have little ability to push for reasonable working conditions.

Some factories do not pay for workers’ social insurance, work injury insurance, and other insurance required by law.

The report also noted serious problems with the use of dispatched labor.  For example, China Labor Watch’s report: 

revealed that the biggest problem overlooked by Apple in their Social Responsibility Reports, is the prevalent use of dispatched labor in their supply chain.  Except for Foxconn in Shenzhen which transferred all dispatched workers to direct-hire status in 2011, all other investigated factories overused dispatched labor, including Jabil in Shenzhen where dispatched labor made up almost 70% of the workforce.  Of note:

1.   Factories can use dispatched labor to employ people short-term without having to pay severance compensation.

2.   Factories can use dispatched labor to shift responsibility for worker injuries onto another party.

3.   Factories can use dispatched labor to prevent workers from organizing into unions or establishing democratic management systems.

4.   Factories can reduce other forms of worker compensation, and thus their labor costs, by hiring dispatched labor. For instance, when companies contribute to social insurance programs for dispatched workers, they pay a smaller percentage or sometimes do not sign up workers at all. Their labor costs can be reduced by 10% to 15% in this way.

5.   Dispatched workers have no limitation on the amount of overtime that they work. Some have to work more than 150 hours of overtime every month.

6.  Dispatched workers often have to pay sizable fees to the dispatching agency.

Of course, Apple isn’t alone in relying on oppressive working conditions to maximize profits.  In response, Chinese workers have increasingly shown the willingness and ability to take action in defense of their interests.  As China Labour Bulletin’s new interactive strike map shows, strikes in China have increased over the last six months, encompassing different sectors and a growing range of issues. 

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For more on the labor situation in China see here and here.  Given the nature of contemporary capitalism’s global production system, workers everywhere have a stake in what happens in China. 

 

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