A Fair Trade iPad? How Apple Could Change the Industry's Game

This year's public outcry against Apple and Foxconn factory conditions might finally point electronics production in a fairer direction.
Electronics Worker photo by Gualterio Pulviren

Photo by Gualterio Pulviren.

 

In April, the most valuable publicly traded company of 2011, Apple, announced that it would implement labor reforms for the Chinese workers who assemble Apple products.

The announcement followed an inspection by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) of factories in China where Apple’s products are assembled. 

The factories, run by Foxconn Technology Group, have been criticized by fair labor groups for years because of harsh conditions such as extreme overtime, dismal wages, and exposure of workers to toxins. Media focus on the factories increased over the past year, and Apple consumers around the world staged protests and sent petitions calling for reform.

When Apple announced in February that it would allow the inspections, some fair labor advocates questioned the FLA’s ability to conduct a truly independent inspection because it receives funding from corporate giants Nike, Nestlé, and Adidas. 

But many who advocate for the rights of workers in an increasingly globalized world welcomed Apple’s announcement. Kristen Beifus, executive director of the independent nonprofit Washington Fair Trade Coalition in Seattle, said, “It is critical that Apple lead the way in the electronics industry by adhering to International Labor Organization standards and upholding local labor laws. When workers can exercise the freedom of association and collective bargaining, then they themselves can advocate for changes needed.”

Fair labor advocates point to Brazil’s success in requiring multinational companies to provide more equitable working conditions. Because of Brazil’s strong labor rights and laws, Foxconn employees there are entitled to collective bargaining agreements, a work-week limit of 44 hours, and union representation. 

Apple’s pledge may lead to wider reform in the electronics industry, given that Foxconn also manufactures products for Amazon, Cisco, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nokia, and Samsung.


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