The human cost of manufacturing the iPhone, iPad, and other electronics in China

The New York Times is reporting on the human cost of manufacturing iPhones, iPads, and other electronics in China. While Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others are also mentioned, Apple gets most of the focus, no doubt because they have the highest profile. The article details how suppliers approach Apple and what Apple requires of them to produce the devices we all use on a daily basis -- the cost of parts, salaries, and more importantly, the impact on human lives.

“The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,""And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.”

Many of these cuts come at not only the expense of their workers but to their safety as well. A former Apple executive familiar with the supply process agrees that safety and cutting margins has long been an ongoing issue in China -

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,”“If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

A recent explosion in an iPad 2 facility resulted in 2 fatalities with many more injured. The advocacy group Sacom in Hong Kong also published a report warning of unsafe conditions, issues with aluminum dust, and poor ventilation. Debby Chan Sze Wan of Sacom says a copy of the report was sent to Apple. After receiving no response, she flew to Cupertino.

"A few months later I went to Cupertino, and went into the Apple lobby, but no one would meet with me. I’ve never heard from anyone from Apple at all.”

Apple has been making moves to address some of the concerns, including publishing a Supplier Responsibility Progress Report that lists several companies that have continually been found in violation of safety regulations every year since 2007. The problem doesn't just lie with Apple but with many technology companies that continuously pressure suppliers to cut their margins. It's worth pointing out that Apple is the only company that's releasing a supplier list and providing transparency. We're still waiting on other companies to do the same.

And the countries themselves can't be let off the hook either. They want the jobs and money Apple and other manufacturers are creating and providing, and have not yet put in place regulations to safeguard their citizens and workplaces. Perhaps they fear if they do, Apple and other companies will just go elsewhere. But that's a reason, not an excuse.

Source: The New York Times

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • China's biggest export is its people's labor, which unfortunately is cheap, plentiful, and completely expendable. As long as they don't fight for their own rights, (as was done through labor unions in America and Europe), they will continue to be chewed up and spit out when finished with.
  • FYI, its illegal to unionize in China. If you attempt it you are blackballed at the very least, sometimes jailed.
  • I like how the NYT waited until one of their great liberal beacons was extinguished to unleash their usual anti-capitalism rhetoric. Now Apple is just another example of the great American business devil. It's the second or third type of this story they've published recently. None of this was going one while Jobs was alive fellas? Nobody can convince me that they haven't been sitting on these stories, waiting for the "right" time.
  • Ahhhh....mainstream media companies are about as liberal as the corporations that own them. At any rate, I thank iMore for alerting us to this story. Helps make you look more objective when it comes to Apple etc. Thanks.
  • There have been stories about this for a few years now. Were you not paying attention?
  • Not paying attention to what?! To the sweatshop issue?!
    I was simply referring to this latest story about Apple that I had not seen yet; yes, I was aware that Apple and others were guilty of exploitation etc. Further, I just got my first iPhone and started reading this site, so, no, I had not seen any stories on this issue HERE during the past 2 months or so that I've been visiting. Were you making assumptions?!
    Anyway, here's an excellent review of the topic and the NYT story:
  • Blah,blah,blah. We have so many issues here in America to deal with let alone the conditions of workers in the good ol communist China.
  • Well, improve the costs of the Chinese workers, reduce the benefits of outsourcing American jobs there. Which means we'll get our slave labor from some other backwards country...
  • Maybe if apple didn't expect more larger margins in profit then conditioned could be made better for the Chinese workers...
  • Maybe if apple didn't expect more larger margins in profit then conditioned could be made better for the Chinese workers...sadly all these companies are just greedy even with nearly 100 billion in cash they will still ask for higher margines even if it means even worse work conditions.
  • Don't blame Apple. It's just good business. That is exactly why they have almost 100 billion in the bank!! I say let the Chinese workers revolt if they choose. We've got enough to worry about here at home!
  • AAPL. With their top perch comes added responsibility! They squeeze everyone asking them for miniscule profit margins, yet their own margins are exhorbitant. And we continue to buy their stuff at premium prices indulging their greed. Well noMore (sorry iMore) for me. Come on shareholders -- demand more accountability from AAPL. Ask AAPL to forego its next dividend checks in order to fix this unsustainable system. Oh wait. AAPL doesnt do dividends.
  • The fact that you use AAPL instead of Apple, even though it is harder to type, makes you a douche. The fact that you are trying to rally a revolt against them on an Apple fan site, confirms it.
  • You people are just plain ignorant.
  • Simply put, Apple can go kiss my behind, there one of the main reason there thousands of unemployed americans, like i said in another post, Apple needs to to production in china and build factories here and hire americans or they can pack up their S&@t and move to china!!
  • So wait, if I own a third party electronics supplier, and I treat my workers poorly, I can blame my costomer for not being willing to buy my product at the price I want to sell it? What kind of crap is that? A lot of these comments are saying how greedy apple and other brands are, but it sounds like the people running foxconn and other suppliers are the ones who are putting there workers in jeopardy in order to sign exclusive contracts.
  • Helpful info. Lucky me I discovered your site accidentally, and I'm stunned why this twist of fate didn't came about in advance! I bookmarked it.