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NYTimes: Apple execs on working conditions in China

Earlier this week, The New York Times brought us the first half of a lengthy piece on the conditions of Apple’s supply chain in China and the government subsidized factories that make it nearly impossible to shift production stateside. The second installment in the series, titled “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad,” cites a half-dozen current and former Apple execs who said Apple’s attempts to combat working conditions often “falters when it conflicts with crucial supplier relationships or the fast delivery of new products.” The New York Times reported:

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… 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.

NYT also talked to Li Mingqi, a former manager at Foxconn who is currently suing Foxconn over his termination over refusing relocation to Chengdu, who confirmed Apple’s priorities:

“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost. Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests.”

The majority of the article details former Foxconn worker Lai Xiaodong and his journey before being killed in a Foxconn explosion in Chengdu. Unfortunately, NYT said just seven months later a similar explosion happened in Shanghai injuring 59 employees. Occupational safety expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is calling it “gross negligence” on Apple’s part:

“It is gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected. If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.”

A former Apple executive who spoke to NYT anonymously claimed Apple could fix the issues at any time, and noted if the issue was with a product, and not with working conditions, it would not have carried on for four years:

“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. 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? If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

Other former Apple executives with knowledge of Apple’s supplier responsibility group weighed in:

“You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards. And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

“The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,” said an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.”

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Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.