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Measuring the Human Cost of an iPad made in China

By Ariella Tai

On May 20th, an explosion that killed two and wounded sixteen others rocked a factory in Chengdu owned by the Taiwanese Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. The workshop where the explosion occurred was a manufacturing site for the iPad. Apple, like Hewlett Packard, Dell, Sony and others, has outsourced product assembly to China, where low cost of labor allows these companies to maintain competitive pricing and maximize their profits. They are not, however, held accountable for the lax safety standards and mistreatment of workers that lead to explosions like that which occurred two weeks ago- caused by improper ventilation in a metal polishing workshop which led to the ignition and subsequent explosion of metal dust.

As John Bussey reports for the Wall Street Journal, “Measuring the Human Cost of an iPad Made in China,” not even Hon Hai Industries, much less Apple, is facing any strict review or government investigation of the conditions which caused the explosion, or of the claims from labor advocacy groups that employees are underpaid, overcrowded and forced to spend excessive hours in dangerous and unclean conditions. In fact, in the past year and a half there have been several suicides on factory facilities that have brought this particular company’s failings into the public eye.

In attempts to counteract the lack of government oversight and protect their reputations from the potential scandals caused by such egregious worker exploitation, companies like Apple have tried to establish their own standards for suppliers and manufacturers. Codes of conduct have been written in order to protect workers and maintain safe working conditions. “Supplier Responsibility” codes, attempt to further ensure that workers should expect fair hiring practices, and workplace safety among other basic rights. Apple and other clients like Hewlett-Packard, insist on on-site reviews of the factories in addition to the aforementioned initiatives. Neither the Chinese nor American governments, however, are capable of holding these companies legally accountable for the maintenance of these standards.

All across China’s hugely industrialized cities, however, factory workers suffer under these conditions or worse. In Shenzhen, Shu Haolun’s documentary Struggle examines the stories of three workers who lost their limbs during factory accidents after being forced to work 17-hour shifts for months with heavy machinery in unsafe and poorly supervised conditions. After being denied adequate compensation by their employers, they are defended by lawyer Zhou Litai, who fights to hold their bosses accountable and change workplace regulations for the better in an inspirational story of the fight for worker’s justice.


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