Why does Apple bear the brunt out of seemingly every labor complaint that comes out of China?
This week Greenamerica.org ÷posted a scathing report over conditions in a Chinese electronics part maker factory. The report implicates Apple, though it's about Catcher Technology, a company in Suqian, China. The company manufactures aluminum casings used by Apple for the MacBook and iPad. But that's not all: Catcher makes products for a lot of tech companies, including Dell, HP, Lenovo, Sony, HTC, Motorola and others.
But Apple's the one in Greenamerica.org's headlines — "Two Years of Broken Promises: Investigative Report of Catcher Technology Co. Ltd (Suqian), an Apple Parts Manufacturer," reads the headline on Greenamerica.org's web site.
Greenamerica's report, published in conjunction with undercover research done by China Labor Watch, documents a long list of grievances at Catcher: Mandated, unpaid overtime work; not allowing employees to resign without permission; blocking fire exits; discriminatory labor practices, and more. What's more, the report says that they brought this to the attention of Apple a year ago, and that since then, conditions at the factory have actually gotten worse.
It's a damning report, all right. But the question remains, why is Apple expected to bear the brunt of this alone? Catcher isn't an Apple-owned business; Catcher does business with plenty of other electronics companies.
The obvious answer is also the right one: Because of any one of Catcher's manufacturing partners, Apple is the highest profile business.
Greenpeace is another business that has often targeted Apple for the actions of it suppliers — the company has complained about environmental damage that Apple's suppliers have done in creating the products that Apple uses. Again, those suppliers provide products to other companies, but Apple wears the biggest bullseye.
And in fairness to both Greenpeace and Apple, Apple's actually won kudos from Greenpeace when it comes to power generation for its iCloud services, so the organization is willing to acknowledge when Apple's done right.
Apple's also one of the few companies on the list that has a very public supplier code of conduct, and one that routinely publishes reports and data about supplier responsibility.
Apple deserves kudos for making its relationship with its suppliers as transparent as it does, and it also deserves credit for even requiring its suppliers to agree to the code of conduct. But this transparency comes at a price: It makes Apple more susceptible to criticism when the myriad businesses it works with don't live up to their end of the deal.
China has a population of almost 1.4 billion people. Hundreds of millions of them continue to live in poverty and migrate from rural areas to cities in search of work. That provides companies like Catcher with an easily exploitable and easily replaceable workforce.
Ideally, the Chinese government would be doing its job to better police working conditions at these businesses, making sure that they actually comply with governmental regulation. But until then, we have to rely on companies like China Labor Watch to expose poor conditions and shine light on them.
I just wish they'd stop doing it at Apple's expense. This is a human right problem that the Chinese government should address. Blaming it on Apple is facile: This is a problem that Apple shares with many different consumer electronics firms. But it's the one likely to get the most headlines, so it'll probably continue.
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