Apple may be the world’s most successful brand of computers and deluxe lifestyle-oriented technology, but increasingly the company is coming under fire for allegedly inhumane working conditions in some of its overseas manufacturing operations.
Apple farms much of the fabrication of its computers, iPads and iPods out to independent suppliers and only lately has responded to calls to make those suppliers known publicly. (According to The New York Times, Apple recently released the names of 156 of its suppliers.)
Many media outlets have begun investigating the working conditions in these manufacturing plants specifically in China. Some of the abuses being suggested by both workers at the Chinese factories and employment safety advocates, reports the NY Times, include excessive overtime, inhumane living conditions—with up to 20 people living in three rooms—a reliance on underage workers, and improper disposal methods for hazardous waste.
In January, that same newspaper detailed a troubling incident at a Chinese factory in 2010. There, employees were reportedly ordered to clean the screens of iPads with the toxic chemical known as n-hexane, which can cause nerve damage and paralysis. Apparently over a hundred employees were exposed.
The New York Times reports: “Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.”
After learning of the incident, Apple claimed they ordered n-hexane to stop being used at the plant.
On Monday, Apple asked outside labour group The Fair Labor Organization to begin the process of inspecting its overseas operations for perceived violations of worker safety. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO offered this statement: “The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports.”
The move hasn’t satisfied worker advocates, however, who argue that large companies such as Nike and Apple in part sponsor the Fair Labor Organization. Apple claims Fair Labor is impartial and independent and that if violations are uncovered—the reports are to be made public—they will stop working with the plants implicated.