Were Workers Forced To Violate Chinese Labor Laws To Make The New iPad? [Interview]

Were Workers Forced To Violate Chinese Labor Laws To Make The New iPad? [Interview]

Watchdog group SumOfUs has launched a new petition asking Apple to prove that workers at Foxconn factories in China weren’t subject to illegal overtime to make the iPad 3.

Specifically, they’re looking for Apple to turn over individual worker hours from November 2011-February 2012 to prove they’re not violating China’s labor laws which prohibit more than 36 hours of overtime per month.

Cult of Mac talked to SumOfUs founder Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman about what the group hopes to achieve with this latest petition, launched the morning of the iPad event as of this writing reached 41,500 of its 50,000 signature goal.

CoM: So you just issued another petition about Apple and its labor policies, have you had any reaction from them?

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman: No.

CoM: What do you hope to achieve with this petition?

TSK: As an iPhone user and Mac user, I hope that they will release this data and that workers were not forced to violate labor laws in China to make the new iPad.

CoM: But you’re not calling for a consumer boycott, correct?

TSK: There are a lot of things short of a boycott that we can do, though I wouldn’t rule it out in the long term. These company changes do take some time, they don’t happen overnight.

CoM: What do you think those worker records would show, if they were made public?

TSK: Frankly, I would be very surprised if the iPad workers weren’t forced to work illegal overtime to get these products on the shelves in March.

If they were made public, it would serve as a wake-up call for a lot of people. Apple can’t require the kind of turnaround time from suppliers who have those tiny profit margins and still expect them them to respect labor laws.

Chinese law states 36 hours a month of overtime, but for many people it’s more like 80 hours – sometimes it’s hard to tell because they can massage the data with clock-in times, etc. There have been cases of workers dropping dead from exhaustion

CoM: With the FLA audit, Apple is doing more than other global electronics companies who all make their products at Foxconn. But you think it’s not enough?

TSK: Apple really has to take responsibility for how its products are made.

If Apple is serious about worker’s rights, showing the time cards is not a research project that takes three months to obtain or requires an audit or anything. It’s computer data that’s readily available…

The issue is really cut and dry: Apple’s suppliers should be following local laws. It’s not the only issue surrounding labor, but this should be a red flag for people…

CoM: So I take it you won’t be lining up to get the new iPad then?

TSK: (Laughs.) It’s possible I’ll be next to the line outside the Apple store handing out flyers. It’s unfortunate, it sounds like a great product, but I don’t feel comfortable being complicit in the way it was made…


  • Eric

    What can Apple really do?  Foxconn employees are just that…Foxconn employees.  They are NOT Apple employees.  Apple doesn’t own Foxconn.  Foxconn is only a supplier for Apple and a number of other tech giants.  Apple can request this information from Foxconn, but it’s what information Foxconn decides to release.  Its like Social Workers and Foster homes.  Once they leave the Foster home, unless they are informed of any infractions they have no idea what goes on behind the closed doors.  And I doubt the Foster parents would divulge anything incriminating.  Don’t rag on Apple or other companies using Foxconn, rag on Foxconn.

  • FriarNurgle

    Only 36hours of OT a month? That’s not too much. 

  • DaveWeinstock

    Tagging Apple for this is rediculous. Foxconn should be getting all the heat.

  • Markiezy

    Here we go again…

  • kavok

    If these people are so concerned about Apple and their relationship with the Chinese manufacturers, then why aren’t these people passing out flyers at all the Wal-Marts and anyone else that imports stuff from China? Apple is being singled out because they have popular products and have lots of cash. This isn’t anything more than a publicity stunt to get attention and give people their 15 minutes of fame..

  • drexyl9944

    I worked 36 hours of overtime this week.

  • lebaanul

    I don’t think anyone gives a damn anymore; it has to do with Foxconn not Apple.

  • Len Williams

    This protest makes no sense at all. Foxconn is a private company in China that builds devices for Apple and many other companies. SumOfUs should be flying to China to picket Foxconn to force them to hire more workers and stop overworking the ones they have. Of course, China is a communist country with its own set of laws and mores and should be policing itself and protecting its own workers like we do here in the western world–but they don’t. So SumOfUs is trying to change a Chinese company, over which Apple has little control, and the Chinese communist government, over which Apple has no control.

  • joewaylo

    It probably is done illegally, sure. But since it’s ran by Foxconn in China, you can’t blame Apple for it. Plus Foxconn being in another country can falsify their numbers unless China’s FLA finds out and executes their auditors.

  • TheMacAdvocate

    Keep banging your drum, guys. Keep making demands of Apple and keep piping your PR to any outlet that will blight its pages with your hyperbole. Apple will quietly address its supply chain issues insulated from whatever “demands” you want to make. The only thing you’re calling attention to is your own hypocrisy, but I’m sure it makes you feel like you’re “making a difference”.

    You’re not. 

  • prof_peabody

    Really disappointed that you didn’t actually ask any pointed questions Nicole.  

    Asking them why they are petitioning Apple for the worker records of a different separate company comes to mind, as does the obvious “so why are you targeting Apple when it’s really Foxcon and fox con manufactures for many other companies as well?”  

    So many things you *could* have asked but didn’t.  Sad. 

  • ElVox

    My question to Taren is…have you started a petition to Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, HTC and other companies that have their electronics made in China so you can get the same info from them? Or is this just attention whoring on your part?

  • ElVox

    My question to Taren is…have you started a petition to Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, HTC and other companies that have their electronics made in China so you can get the same info from them? Or is this just attention whoring on your part?

  • Al

    Okay.

    And were you forced to do that against your will?

    Were you threatened with being fired if you didn’t?

    Were you punished with press-ups for not doing your work properly?

    And if not, what are you saying? That this is acceptable?

    Oh, and can I assume you were PAID for your overtime? Well, many people building iPads are not.

  • Al

    If Apple says jump, Foxconn asks how high. I’m sure Apple can easily help the situation.

  • Al

    Passing out flyers at Walmart will not get anywhere near as much attention as targeting Apple. It’s the most efficient way to raise this important human rights issue, it’s nothing about “fame”, lol.

  • hellorabbit

    “As an iPhone user and Mac user…” – if she’s so serious about this issue, why is she still using Apple products? I find it hard to take her protests seriously given that. Well, I find the whole thing hard to take seriously, actually. There are so many worthy causes to devote one’s impassioned energy too, where you can actually address the root problem with the people directly involved, and not look like someone who just doesn’t have anything better to do with their time besides barking up what is probably the wrong tree. 

  • Al

    I suppose so, but the issue isn’t overtime per say, its forcing people to work overtime against their will, and threatening them if they don’t. Some are not even being paid for the overtime they do.

  • Al

    Okay then. Let’s just give up and let them exploit people as much as they want (and ignore all the positive changes already occurred because of the media interest).

  • Al

    True, but Apple can pressure Foxconn more than we can. They can fire them! :)

  • Al

    So what about all the changes that Foxconn has already made, such as some wage rises? Out of the kindness of their hearts? Why do you think that happened?

    “The only thing you’re calling attention to is your own hypocrisy, but I’m sure it makes you feel like you’re “making a difference”.”

    Childish.

  • Al

    That would not be as effective as targeting the world’s number #1 tech company. Apple can change the industry, Motorola won’t coz nobody cares what they do.

  • Al

    I think Apple deserves everything it gets.

    It has been said that it’s Apple’s stringent demands that pressures suppliers into cutting corners on safety.
    For example, the recent people blown apart in explosions and those getting permanent nerve damage to their bodies — these were all blamed on safety corner-cutting in order to fulfil Apple’s demands for speed and low production costs.

  • Al

    “What can Apple really do?”

    Fire them, or threaten to.

    Diversify their suppliers.

    Open up their own factories (like they used to).

    Or use some of their $100 bln cash pile?

  • drexyl9944

    If I refused to work overtime yes it wouldn’t be long before i was fired. But I knew when i took the job that overtime was a requirement so i do it to get the work done. last year in my busiest month i worked 133 hours of overtime in a month and did it because it was my job.  There are other issues at foxconn to worry about than OMG 36 HOURS OF OVERTIME ARE THEY CRAZEEEEYY?!?  Apple is an industry leader in this issue and despite that you troll the site and seemingly blame them for every single issue and not other tech companies because it brings attention to your cause.  i think that’s bullshit.

  • Al

    Yeah, it’s so annoying, almost offensive to my eyes to have to see this on my screen! Why can’t we just forget about the rights of these so-called “people”? Not only are they foreign, but *poor* as well! If a few should be abused or exploited, or even die, so what!?! Just ship a few more in. There’s plenty more where they came from.

    Then we can enjoy our nice little gadgets happy not knowing or caring who was supposedly “abused” or “killed” (god I hate these whiners and their stupid facts). These people shouldn’t have any rights at all IMHO. It’s their own fault for not being white.

    /sarcasm

  • SBacklin

    I absolutely refuse to back these people because its only Apple that they’re after.  The guy at SomeOfUs was asked about the other companies that use Foxconn and he ignored it….kept on talking about Apple.  Until I see these fame grabbers give ALL the other companies the same kind of attention as they do Apple, I’m not buying what they’re talking about.  If you are going to go after a company on these kinds of issues…then you need to go after ALL of them…not just one.

  • ElVox

    You do realize that Motorola is now property of Google, right? One of the best known companies in the world? The owner of the most used mobile OS in the planet? As for the rest…so, being bad at their job makes it so they can skate free doing lees than the successful one does for the workers? I didn’t know being a looser made you immune from being decent.

  • theotherphil

    Those are some interesting claims. Can you back any of them up with evidence?

    Many moons ago, I worked in a factory environment. It was a requirement that staff would be expected to work some overtime due to operational demand.

    Here I am,15 years later, an Intensive Care Paramedic and I’m still expected to work overtime as per operational demand.

    It is claimed that these workers earn very little. What’s to say that they don’t offer to work extra overtime? I know I would like a little bit of extra cash if I was earning so little.

  • zviivz

    This is ridiculous! Even if it’s true, there are thousands of factories out there that are doing the same. People want to work the extra hours so that they can earn more money. Sure, the pay sucks in US dollars but it’s very lucrative in China! Low cost of living makes it really nice.  

  • zviivz

    Those who are opposing this really have no idea what’s going on. The issue should be directed at Foxconn and not Apple. I’m not defending Apple but get a reality check. Then again, I’m pretty sure the condition at Foxconn is as good as other tech factories, if not better. 

  • GregsTechBlog

    You know, Apple has done more than any other manufacturer to ensure good working conditions from their suppliers. Where’s the outrage over the other tech companies? It’s this kind of thing that actually makes it harder for me to be sympathetic to the cause, the sheer ignorance of those pushing for better working conditions detracts from the actually objective. 

    Also, I’ve worked 7 days in a week for over 10 hours each day. It was at a Target. I know people who have been fired from Walmart because they tried to call off to go to the hospital to be there when their child was born. Let’s not kid ourselves here, there are poor working conditions even here in the US. 

  • jake

    Soon, Apple will require Foxconn to  manufacture its products in the absence of these workers — through automation. And then these iCritics will take heed on another issue — unemployment.

    Even the world goes upside-down, there will be people who keep on nagging who fail to realize they own iProducts.

  • TheEndre

    Nicole,
    There’s one follow up question I would love to hear the answer to in this interview:
    - What kind of tablet/phone/computer do you currently own, and how do you know it was made responsibly?

  • markbyrn

    I’m still waiting for the media to hold the myriad of other companies that use cheap Chinese labor to the same standard as Apple.  If you’re feeling guilty about exploited workers, don’t buy anything made in China.

  • Eric

     I’m sure Apple would if they could.  But Foxconn is probably the largest electronics supplier and manufacturer out there, not to mention the cheapest, and can produce within given timelines.  That’s why so many other tech giants use them. ie. Microsoft, Samsung, HP, IBM, Sony, Intel, and the list goes on.  If Apple were to fire them, they would lose billions.  And no company I know will ever allow that.  Not one.  Not even the government.  People have died, countries have been impoverished, communities have been decimated so that companies never lose that much money.  And even if they were to find another manufacturer, it would cost them twice as much to produce their products, and at slower pace.  Which would end up costing consumers more money to buy their products.  So less sales for them, less money to make.

    What it all boils down to is politics.  Just like the White House, can’t control what laws and policies that go on in each state, that’s the job of the State Senator, Governor, Mayor.  Apple’s hands are pretty much tied.  They can demand, and press Foxconn to make things better for their employees, but that doesn’t mean Foxconn will once all eyes are turned away.  The only way to get Foxconn to change their methods, is for ALL companies using them to threaten to take their business away and go some place else.  But for the same reason why Apple wouldn’t at this time, neither will any other company.  Unfortunately, the all mighty dollar rules here as well.

  • Eric

    That’s not Apple’s fault is it.  Foxconn wants to please Apple, so they tell them their time frames can be met.  If you were Apple and asked Foxconn, if they can meet the deadline, and they said no problem.  And as far as you know, from your tours of the facility, documents Foxconn shows you, even what Foxconn employees tell you (or are told to tell you) all is well at Foxconn, would you think there would be an explosion?  Exactly.  Apple doesn’t demand Foxconn produce their products at a specific
    time.  They give Foxconn a time frame, and Foxconn tells them not a
    problem.  Apple has paid Foxconn more and more every year to “ensure” that they take care of their employees.  But whether Foxconn honors that, is really all up to Foxconn.  Apple has no control in what they do behind closed doors.  And taking an unbiased view of that incident, there was never any proof of “cutting corners for safety” that caused the explosion.  Accidents happen at every manufacturing plants all over the world.  Machines breakdown, they fail, they get compromised.  There’s no conspiracy there.  IMO, Foxconn would never compromise the safety in their plants.  They have nothing to gain.  Cutting corners on safety can only loose them millions.  Loss of man power, loss of products, loss of facility, loss of time.  It is in their best interest that the factory keep running in tip top shape.  But that doesn’t mean, they still won’t over work their employees.  In Foxconn’s point of view, it’s easier to replace an employee (there are literally thousands of people waiting in line looking for work, why do you think current employees put up with their working conditions.  Work is better than no work is what they are thinking).  Than it is to replace a whole section of the a factory and all it’s equipment and supplies.  You really need to view issues more as a 3D polygon, rather than a flat square with a side A and side B.  And learn to do more research on the issues, instead of basing your opinions on what you hear from the majority of people who are thinking like you do.  Not everything is cut and dry.  Though like you, and me, and many others wish it WERE that easy.  Not saying Apple’s hands are completely clean, they are a corporation after all, but to say the conditions at Foxconn is THEIR fault is just complete ignorance.

  • Eric

    Well Alfred, you seem to be passionate about the issues of employees at Foxconn.  Let me ask you this, do you own any electronics?  From Sony, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Intel, Samsung, Motorolla, Logitech, Nintendo, Philips, Panasonic, etc… the list goes on.  Exactly.

    Pretty much everyone in the world that has a cellphone, HDTV, dvd player, computer, MP3 players, a mouse, a monitor, speakers, video games etc.., they are (you are) “contributing” to the conditions at Foxconn.  Don’t be a hypocrite now Alfred.

  • Eric

     Wow Alfred, now your just making things up as you go along.  Except for the threat of being fired, can you prove any of those things happen at Foxconn.  I didn’t think so.  I listened to an hours account of a person that spoke to Foxconn employees, as undercover.  What he was told, there were no physical abuse, just a lot of work.  Employees, would be hired from all over the poor provinces of china, and many were given room and board in the factory’s facility.  They did speak of over crowding in rooms, and long hours of work, and there were underage kids working for Foxconn too.  But the thing all of the employees told him, was that they needed to work.  They needed the money to support their families back home.  Without their jobs at Foxconn, they would have surely died where they came from.  So in a sense, China’s government is partly to blame as well.  For not making a better life for it’s citizens.  That they are forced to take on ANY job that is given to them.  Ya, i get it, your an anti-Apple guy.  But certainly you are not that stupid or naive to think this is all Apple’s fault.  And that only THEY can do something about it.  Or are you?  Hmmmmm.

  • Eric

     Alfred is just anti-Apple. You can probably show him proof that Apple isn’t the one to blame with Foxconn’s policies, Foxconn could tell him “it’s us, not Apple”, and he’ll still find some way to make himself believe Apple is the anti-christ.  lol  Haters.  They all come in different shapes, forms and names…one is called Alfred2612.  lol

About the author

Nicole MartinelliNicole Martinelli heads up Cult of Mac Magazine, our weekly publication available on iTunes. You can find her on Twitter and Google+. If you're doing something new, cool and Apple-related, email her.

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