The Mike Daisey scandal is a nightmare for activists who are trying to draw attention to labour conditions at Foxconn.
The Hong Kong-based group, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour, released this statement listing the real atrocities at Foxconn.
Apple and Foxconn are lying and calling the kettle black
On 16 March 2012, the radio programme This American Life announced that spoken word performer Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Estasy of Steve Jobs monologue was partially fabricated. The programme retracted the episode concerned immediately. Soon after the announcement, Foxconn’s spokesperson Louis Woo responded that “I am happy that the truth prevails, I am glad that Mike Daisey’s lies were exposed.” Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) is disturbed by Foxconn’s comments as if it is innocent. Since 2008 SACOM has been monitoring the working conditions at Apple suppliers in China, including at Foxconn and Wintek. During 2010 and 2011, we issued five investigative reports on Apple’s unethical labour practices in four different cities. From our research, the credibility of both Foxconn and Apple is in doubt. Even worse, Foxconn has used money to buy the silence of its victims and cover up scandals. The comment from Foxconn about someone else telling “lies” is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
SACOM visited Foxconn’s production sites in Chengdu, Zhengzhou and Shenzhen in 2011 and we found a very different story from Foxconn’s public claims of humane treatment. Workers invariably experienced excessive and forced overtime. If they could not reach the production target, workers had to skip dinner or work unpaid overtime. Workers were constantly exposed without adequate protection to dust from construction on factory sites. Even worse, they were at risk of poisoning and other occupational diseases in various departments. They were not well informed about the chemicals they were obliged to use. No pre-post training or on-post health examinations were provided. In the polishing departments, workers inhaled dangerous aluminium dust. Vocational school students involuntarily worked in the factory as “interns” driven by fear of disciplinary measures by their schools. Additionally, militaristic management was in practice, characterised by “military training” for new workers.
Even when confronted with evidence and photographs, Foxconn denied that it engaged in these practices. The lies of Foxconn not only damage its integrity, but leave one million workers in an abyss of exploitation. SACOM would like to remind Foxconn to look into its own wrongdoings before pointing the finger at others.
Ignoring combustible dust that triggered an explosion
In early May 2011, SACOM released a report, entitled Foxconn and Apple Fail to fulfil Promises: Predicaments of Workers after the Suicides. In the report, SACOM raised a number of rights violations at Foxconn in Chengdu, including that workers regularly inhaled aluminium dust in the polishing department. Foxconn issued a statement on 18 May 2011 saying that “We are mandated by our own strict policies, Chinese government law, and our commitments to our customers to ensure that the highest level of health and safety standards are applied to our operations in all locations.” Two days after Foxconn’s statement, a deadly explosion of aluminium dust happened at its production facilities in Chengdu. After the tragedy, SACOM pointed out that Foxconn had ignored work safety at its factories despite being warned. Outrageously, Foxconn did not concede its negligence but accused SACOM of capitalising on the blast. It is evident that Foxconn is so arrogant as to resist any criticism, even criticism that comes with sound evidence.
Misrepresenting employees’ protest as a personal conflict
Unrest erupted at Foxconn in Chengdu on 6 January 2011 due to underpayment of wages. Workers in the Southwest Dormitory threw bottles and rubbish from dormitory rooms to show their discontent. Some 200 police quickly went to the dormitory and suppressed the protest. About 20 workers were arrested in the incident. Foxconn told a different story to the media. The company claimed there was a personal clash between workers, that the incident was not work-related but triggered by personal disputes between two rival social groups in the campus. How ironic that Foxconn intentionally covers up the negative news in the factories and deceives both workers and the public and then exclaims “the truth prevails”!
Buying the silence of victims and their families
In the past two years, SACOM has come to know how Foxconn uses money to cover up scandals in its factories. Victims’ families have disclosed to SACOM that Foxconn conditioned its compensation payments to them on their silence about their sons’ and daughters’ cases. The cases range from death from exhaustion to injury after a suicide attempt. According to the victims, Foxconn will only pay the compensation it owes if the family promises not to reveal the case to the public. Unfortunately, to respect the will of the families and the surviving victims who are bound by these confidentiality agreements, SACOM cannot disclose the details.
Apple claims it cares about workers, but refuses to compensate victims
Apple adopts the same strategy of lying to the public and pretending to be socially responsible. In response to the reports of unethical labour practices at its suppliers in China, CEO Tim Cook has stated in an email “[w]e care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern.” Yet Apple refuses to have a dialogue with the victims who have suffered from gross labour violations at its suppliers. Further, it will not compensate the workers who have been harmed by its failure to comply with its own code of conduct.
In 2009, at least 137 Wintek workers were poisoned by n-hexane while cleaning iPhone touchscreens. In contrast to Apple’s statement that they have all been treated successfully, many workers still suffer from weak limbs and other health problems after nine-month hospitalizations. The victims sent three letters to Apple last year, but the company did not answer them at all. Likewise, after the explosion at the iPad case manufacturer Riteng in Shanghai in last December, which injured 59 workers, Apple has not sent anyone to visit the victims. The young workers are in despair because their faces were disfigured due to the fire from the blast. Some of them suffer from bones so severely shattered that they may be permanently disabled. Three months have passed, but the victims have not received any compensation.
In addition, none of the workers whom SACOM has interviewed feels that Apple cares. While Apple hypocritically expressed that the company was deeply saddened by the tragedy, it has never apologized or offered compensation to the workers for its negligence in complying with work safety rules. Apple is fooling the public by claiming that it has turned over a new leaf, but in fact it remains the same.
Foxconn, from SACOM’s perspective, is capitalising on Mike Daisey’s case. In the past two years, there are lots of reports from labour groups and media on deplorable working conditions at Apple suppliers. Foxconn and Apple are not clean and innocent. Foxconn and Apple know about the labour abuses in the factories. They must launch a remedial action plan and announce it to the workers. More importantly, Apple and Foxconn should facilitate democratic elections at the unions in their production facilities. When they can organise trade unions, workers can monitor working conditions themselves and strive for sustainable improvement in the factories.
CHAN Sze Wan, Debby
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +852 2392 5464 or +852 6756 8964
CHENG Yi Yi
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +852 2392 5464 or + 852 6012 0312
 Apple Owes Workers and Public a Response over the Poisonings (May 2010); Workers as Machines: Military Management in Foxconn (Oct 2010); More Workers are Poisoned by Apple (Oct 2010); Foxconn and Apple Fail to fulfil Promises: Predicaments of Workers after the Suicides (May 2011); and iSlave behind the iPhone: Foxconn Workers in Central China (Sep 2011). The reports are downloadable at Students & Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour’s website at www.sacom.hk.
 The report is downloadable at http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/2011-05-06_foxconn-and-apple-fail-to-fulfil-promises1.pdf.
 David Barboza, “Explosion at Apple Supplier Caused by Dust, China Says”, New York Times, 24 May 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/technology/25foxconn.html.
 Tim Culpan, “Foxconn Says Two Injured After Personal Dispute Sparked Unrest at Factory”, Bloomberg, 13 January 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-13/foxconn-says-two-injured-after-personal-dispute-sparked-unrest-at-factory.html.
 Ding Yuanyuan, “Young man must wear a mask; young girl needs her father to bear her to the toilet”, Shanghai Youth Daily, 8 March 2012, http://www.why.com.cn/epublish/node37623/node38420/userobject7ai309017.html (Chinese). Also see Frank Langfitt, “iPad Workers: Plant Inspected Hours Before Blast”, NPR, 12 March 2012, http://www.npr.org/2012/03/12/148421415/apple-workers-plant-inspected-hours-before-blast.
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