Former Apple executives say the company ignores dangerous manufacturing conditions, accusations that may prompt drastic changes beyond its recent improvements.
“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice,” an anonymous executive told the New York Times.
“If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?” the Times’ source continued.
The executive’s comments allude to reported abuses at Foxconn and other Apple factories in China, where human rights groups say workers must stand for hours, live in cramped dorms and breathe in poisonous fumes.
A Foxconn building spontaneously combusted last May because of high dust concentrations in the air, killing and wounding several workers that might have lived given increased ventilation.
Foxconn also saw a rash of suicides last year, tragedies blamed on poor wages, long overtime hours and public humiliation for those who failed to follow company rules.
Apple’s track record is bleak on its labor practices, but the company has lately made changes that show its desire to improve working conditions in foreign factories.
For example, Apple previously kept its supply chain private to protect trade secrets, but revealed the information this month under pressure from rights groups.
The iPad maker also increased independent audits on Chinese factories like Foxconn to ensure compliance with fair labor laws, conducting a reported 229 inspections last year.
According to CEO Tim Cook, these audits revealed several instances of underage employment. “This is something we feel very strongly about and we want to eliminate totally,” he insisted.
Apple’s slow yet steady progress faces stagnation, however, unless the company heeds those who suggest its business practices must change to improve manufacturing conditions. Revelations from the former execs may pick up the pace of progress, but only if they are the catalyst for larger discussions among consumers.
“You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,” said a current Apple executive. “And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”