Apple is on the right path

Story by Nick Gourdoux

Posted: 11:00 p.m. 2/28/2010

For years now there have been movements to boycott companies with controversial overseas labor regulations. Add Apple to that list.

The technology giant that stresses its California roots has been accused of numerous violations of safety policies in its Asia-based factories. According to an article in The Telegraph at least 11 15-year-old workers were discovered working in factories that supplied Apple last year.

On top of that, numerous other violations were cited in the article. Sixty-two workers at a Chinese factory that supplies both Apple and Nokia were exposed to n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause the degeneration of muscles and the blurring of vision. Other factories producing Apple products were discovered to be shipping hazardous wastes to unqualified disposal companies.

In an even more bizarre incident, an employee of Foxconn, one of Apple’s largest suppliers, committed suicide after being beaten by security following accusations that he stole a prototype of the iPhone.

Foxconn in general has been a bit of a black mark on Apple’s record. The company boasts enormous factories – sometimes employing more than 300,000 people; has been accused of having an “inhumane and militant” management that treats the employees harshly, neglects human rights, ignores laws and regulations regarding the number of hours an employee can work; and doesn’t follow proper safety procedures.

To sum it all up: Apple, or the companies that supply it, violated practically every employment law or regulation. It seems recently that news like this facing major corporations slips through the cracks, and no actions seem to be taken. I believe, however, that this will be an exception.

The headline of the article – “Apple admits to using child labor” – points out a major difference between Apple and other corporations facing similar accusations. They’re admitting to it. I’m no public relations expert, but I don’t believe Apple would voluntarily face this much negative publicity if it wasn’t planning on changing the ways they get things done.

While Apple is continuing to use these controversial factories, they have begun taking steps in the right direction. The article points out that Apple has required the factories found to be improperly disposing hazardous wastes to “perform an immediate inspection of their wastewater discharge systems” and hire an independent environmental consultant to prevent future violations.

As the environment moves to the forefront of worldwide debates, news of these violations could have a huge effect on the public opinion of Apple, and would negatively affect sales. Merely issuing a statement like that would help quell those negative notions, but doesn’t necessarily imply that anything will actually be done.

In 2008, Apple found that it had 25 child workers employed in its factories. While that is obviously bad, that number did reduce by more than 50 percent in 2009 when just 11 child workers were found. Those 11 children found to be working in the factories that Apple buys from, according to the article, either are of age now, or no longer work there. Clearly, Apple is trying to make improvements in their overseas policies.

As members of Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you, the first step to recovery is admittance. Apple clearly has a problem with their overseas factories, but I believe they are on the right path. Admitting their problem publically was a good first step towards improved working conditions and environments.

Assuming Apple follows through with this recovery step, it could become a good example for the countless other corporations that use foreign, underdeveloped nations as a source for cheap labor. In the capitalistic economy that we live in, it would be ridiculous to expect corporations to avoid using cheap labor forces like those found in Asia. While it would be nice to bring all those jobs back to the United States, it just isn’t likely. Instead, we should hope that our fellow human beings should be offered safe, humane working conditions.