Yet another infographic

So I was browsing on Flipboard when I came across this neat infographic. It shows what goes into making an iPad, environmentally speaking. It also mentions the recent safety issues found in Apple’s supplier factories.

It’s a great, concise bit of information that I thought was helpful.

(Don’t you just love infographics?)

I found it here http://mashable.com/2012/04/20/how-green-is-the-ipad/ accompanied by a short article.

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Apple Leads The Way, As Always

Apple Innovation

I was just re-reading the article I posted about yesterday, Foxconn workers talk about jobs, work with Apple, by John Boudreau, and I came across something hidden away in a paragraph near the middle that I wanted to talk about.

It cites Thomas Dinges, an IHS iSuppli analyst, who said,

The focus has mostly been on Apple and its key supplier, Taiwan-based Foxconn. But all global consumer tech brands and countless Asian component-makers will face pressure to ensure the workers who spend their days assembling gadgets get better treatment.

Despite all the negative attention Apple has been receiving about its corporate social responsibility (CSR) practice, it is important to recognize that other technology companies and their supplier factories are no better, and in some cases worse.

Apple’s recent effort to make changes, including aligning with the FLA and vowing to take a more active role in ensuring that its supplier factories are in line with worker’s rights laws and standards, are really the spearhead of a nacent movement for worker’s rights and CSR in the technology industry.

Just as Nike headed this effort in the international garment industry in the ’90s, Apple is the CSR forerunner of today in the technology field.

I’m excited to see where this goes, where Apple takes it. But Apple needs prodding from its consumers.

If we want to see a CSR revolution in the technology field, we, the average consumer, need to be pushing Apple to innovate in this as well as in iPad design.

Do you think that Apple will be able to lead the technology industry in a CSR revolution?

What role should you, the consumer, take on?

Foxconn Workers Have Mixed Feelings

Foxconn Workers

I just got through reading an article from the Chicago Tribune that made me stop and think about how all the media attention and the changes that resulted have affected the Foxconn workers.

In the article, Foxconn workers talk about jobs, work with Apple, John Boudreau of the San Jose Mercury News discusses what journalists who were allowed to interview Foxconn employees about their thoughts on the recent changes made by Foxconn and Apple.

Some of the workers are not completely happy with the changes.

The changes include limiting overtime to no more than 18 hours per month, and raising the base pay to $400. None of the workers have a problem with the pay raise, except perhaps that many wish it were higher. The problem many workers have is with the limitation on overtime.

As one worker, Wang Yu Ping, said, “I am working here for the money, if I can’t make more money, I may not choose to work here.”

The article points out that for some workers, the work that we in the U.S. and other Western countries see as horrible and grueling is the fastest track up and out of poverty.

Boudreau makes it clear that Foxconn workers have differing opinions of the new reforms. Some still have issues with the way they’re treated. Others are happy with the reforms. Still others wish, as Wang does, that overtime hours were not limited.

Wang believes, however, that the reforms implemented by Foxconn are temporary, and will end as soon as the media attention has died away.

It is clear that Foxconn employees have many different feelings towards their employer. As one worker, Liu Jing Fang, said of Foxconn, “I kind of like it, I kind of hate it.”

What should we take from this?

Is there any way to make all of Foxconn’s employees happy? In many cases, that would include returning to the practice of illegal overtime.

This is a far more complicated issue than it may appear in the West. It is not simply a case of oppressed workers and an evil company bent on exploiting them.

There should be oversight so that worker’s human rights are not disregarded, but shouldn’t the workers themselves have some say as well? After all, it is their lives, not ours that are affected by Foxconn’s policies.

It is my opinion that we should support them in their efforts to get safe working conditions and fair wages, without imposing our own standards.

What is Apple’s role in this? How involved should Apple be in Chinese labor laws and regulating Foxconn’s labor practices?

What do you think?

The Bad Apple VS. The Wiley Fox

Bad Apple VS. Wily Fox

I just read a great article from csr-asia.com, called, Apple: take that genius and put it to good use!

The author, Michelle Brown, makes some interesting points and gives an update on the situation between Apple and its suppliers (mainly Foxconn). I thought this description she had was really great:

The bad apple: An attack on any brand. The products belonging to Brand X (fill it in with various large brands) are made under poor (or appalling) working conditions. This could include general health and safety, the ages of workers, working time, and compensation.

The wily fox: An attack on the supplier. The flip side is the commentary that the brand does not own its factories, it sources products from another company. This story often puts blame on the suppliers for not ensuring decent working conditions in the factories.

The two above descriptions are generalized models, that could apply to many different companies.

But where does Apple fall?

Apple uses suppliers to make all of its products, so the company can’t be directly implicated for bad or illegal labor practices.

Using suppliers is a good business model, because it can cut down on product cost. However, when the suppliers don’t follow the country’s labor laws, or treat their workers badly, the hiring company can place all the blame on the suppliers, and claim it didn’t have any knowledge of the supplier’s actions.

I don’t mean to imply that Apple, or other companies that use suppliers, are trying to actively get away with breaking laws.

I do think that sometimes, companies don’t pay close enough attention to the labor practices of their suppliers.

The line between supplier and corporate responsibility is hazy, and as yet, has not been defined. It is difficult to tell where supplier responsibility ends and corporate responsibility begins.

There needs to be a shift in corporate thought towards accepting more responsibility for the workers hired by suppliers, and for a supplier’s compliance with local labor laws and the FLA’s labor standards.

Apple is in a period of limbo. It is at the forefront of the technology industry; it needs to be at the forefront of CSR policy too.

I totally agree with Brown when she says, “What would endear me even more to Apple would be if they take their creativity and ingenuity and try to actually tackle some of the root causes of the challenges they face in their supply chains.”

Do you agree with her?

Do you think that most of Apple’s customers would share this view point, if they knew more about the issue?

FLA Report Old News?

I stumbled across an article on Forbes written by Tim Worstall, entitled, FLA’s Report on Apple and Foxconn: Little Found and Even Less To Do

In his article, Worstall claims that the FLA’s recent report on Apple’s supplier Foxconn includes no new information; nothing surprising, nothing we didn’t already know. He also asserts that there is nothing more to do on Apple’s part as a follow up to this report.

Overtime = Illegal-Time

According to Worstall, most of the workers surveyed actually want to work more, so they can make more money.

Do you think that, as Worstall says, “breaking the law is bad but a law that stops the workers doing what the workers want to do just might be a bad law in itself”?

As for the clearly illegal violations of maximum work hour laws, Worstall comments,

Is it really a surprise to anyone at all that un- and semi-skilled labour in a developing country works long hours for low pay? Isn’t that actually the definition of what life is like for someone in a developing country?

I would have to say no. It really isn’t a surprise to me. After all, working conditions in the U.S. during its developmental phase were just as bad, if not worse, before worker’s rights laws were promulgated and enforced.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t do anything? That Apple has no responsibility to monitor its suppliers and enforce their compliance with Chinese law?

NO.

Apple does have a responsibility to ensure that its suppliers are complying with the local laws. I agree that it is not possible, nor is it a good idea, to force manufacturers in other countries to comply overnight with U.S. labor laws, which developed over a long period of time.

As part of its CSR policy, Apple should be a guide to its suppliers, mandating that they follow Chinese law, and then advocating for increased worker protections to be enacted and enforced.

The Chinese government also has a role here. Although there are laws on the books regulating the maximum number of hours worked per week, they are obviously not being enforced.

What about worker safety?

Worstall claims that,

The big issues that have prompted the petitions and the demands for ethical changes seem to have already been addressed. The explosion from aluminium dust did happen and won’t happen again: the necessary corrective equipment has been installed.

This may very well be true. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stop monitoring the situation, or to assume that because that one aspect has been corrected, that no other problems remain.

I encourage you to go and read Worstall’s Article. I think that some of his points are valid, at least worth considering, although his leanings are clear.

Do you think that the FLA Report is “useless” or that it’s “old news”?

What about the workers?

Do you believe that they really want to work so much overtime?

If so, should they be allowed to do so illegally? Or should they petition for a change in Chinese law?

The FLA Reports From China

FLA Logo
Last month, the Fair Labor Association issued its report on Apple’s Chinese supplier Foxconn. In the report, the FLA says that it found at least 50 issues related to both China’s labor laws, and the FLA Code. There are several different types of issues discussed in this report, including: health & safety, worker integration and communication, and wages and working hours.

I would encourage you to skim through the full report, which can be accessed here: Independent Investigation of Apple Supplier, Foxconn

The report is rather lengthy and technical. Therefore, I would like to focus specifically on working hours for this post.

According to Chinese labor laws, a worker can work a maximum of 40 hours per week, with a total of 36 overtime hours per month. The FLA Code caps the hours per week, both regular and overtime, at 60 hours. The FLA report found that Foxconn factories excede both of these limits.

These violations are caused mainly by high labor turnover, as well as periods of high production (when demand is high).

Interestingly, the report states that,

When asked in the survey how they feel about working hours, 48% thought that their working hours were reasonable, and another 33.8% stated that they would like to work more hours and make more money. 17.7% of the respondents felt that they worked too much.

I think that it’s obvious from the above quote that Foxconn workers might have different opinions on their situations than we do.

Do you think that it is ok for these workers to work illegal overtime if it isn’t against their will?

What Does Apple Have To Say?

There are a lot of critics out there…
But what does Apple have to say?

When problems in Apple’s supplier factories began appearing in the news, Apple upped its efforts at transparency. Part of this effort included the creation of a page designed to provide this information to its consumers, in Apple’s trademarked “accessible to everyone” format.

It is important to consider all the data available when learning about an issue, so I encourage you to visit the apple page and read their public message.

http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/

This is the introductory paragraph from Apple’s page on Labor and Human Rights:

Apple prohibits practices that threaten the rights of workers — even when local laws and customs permit such practices. We’ve taken action toward ending excessive recruitment fees, preventing the hiring of underage workers, and prohibiting discriminatory policies at our suppliers. And as the first technology company to be admitted to the Fair Labor Association, Apple is setting a new standard in transparency and oversight.

I think it is important to recognize that, as in other areas, Apple is at the forefront of CSR in the technology industry. Indeed, Apple is “the first technology company to be admitted to the Fair Labor Association.” Apple will be the vanguard organization in the technology industry when it comes to CSR, and so it stands to reason that they will not be able to completely alter their labor practices, and crack down on their suppliers, overnight.

Therefore we should remember that Apple is innovating here just as they have in technology, and innovation takes time.

What are your thoughts and comments on Apple’s website? Do you think we, as consumers, should be understanding of Apple’s slower process of change? Or should we push for all or nothing in the proximate future?

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