Apple CEO Defends Against Reports Of Poor Work Conditions In Company's Factories

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Apple Inc.'s chief executive officer, Tim Cook bristled at suggestions that his company didn't care about the fate of workers in the Chinese factories that produce popular products like the iPad and iPhone. The comments came in the wake of New York Times reports of terrible work conditions in the factories.

Apple Inc.'s chief executive responded to a wave of negative attention to conditions at overseas factories that make its products, saying the insinuation that Apple doesn't care about the welfare of its workers is "offensive."

"Unfortunately, some people are questioning Apple’s values today," Tim Cook wrote in an e-mail to Apple employees. "Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern."

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"We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues," Cook wrote. "What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word."

Foxconn is the actual company that runs the factories and has been the target of complaints in recent years. The Times reported on recent fatalities in one of Foxconn's factories:

The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.

When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.

Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.

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However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

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, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

The Times report was far from the first to discuss these problems. Numerous sources have reported on the rash of suicides and threatened suicides by workers protesting working conditions at the factories that supply Apple. The company contends it has to use Chinese labor because Americans don't have the skills to get the job done:

The Apple argument is that the U.S. schools and education system are not turning out the kinds of workers with the kinds of skills we need. So, we have no choice but to go overseas. But the truth is more nearly the opposite. It’s because the companies are moving the jobs overseas that no Americans are learning the necessary skills. This is true for two reasons. One is that Americans are generally not stupid and recognize that because of off-shoring there won’t be any of those kinds of jobs and thus there is no sense in learning the skills necessary to do them. The second is that most of this kind of job or skill training occurs on the job, and if there are no jobs then there will be no skills.

Apple executives have also belittled the idea that they have any community responsibility, with an executive saying: "We [Apple] don't have an obligation to solve America's problems." The reality, of course, is that the reason Apple doesn't care about American workers and exploits Chinese workers is profit, of which the company has excelled at making in recent years. Profits on the backs of exploited Chinese workers and disappearing American jobs.

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