‘iPhone Factory Workers’ Beg Apple Inc. for Better Working Conditions

A public letter that claims to be from two former workers at a plant that made iPhone touchscreens has been issued, begging Apple Inc. to improve working conditions in factories.

Workers assemble electronic components of Apple's iPhones at the Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, China. Photo: Union Coast/Flickr

The pair of workers – Guo Rui-Qiang and Jia Jing-Chuan – claim to have been poisoned by toxins in a factory in Suzhou, China, while assembling touchscreens for Apple’s iPhones.

Their open letter to the SumOfUs, an organisation campaigning for an ‘ethical iPhone’ is signed by Guo Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan, asks readers to sign a petition in support of improved working conditions at Chinese factories, reports The Telegraph.

The letter says: “You don’t know us but you have seen our work. Until recently, we worked long hours assembling Apple’s iPhone touch screens in Suzhou, China.”

“In early 2010, it was independently confirmed that 137 workers, including us, were poisoned by a chemical called n-hexane which was used to clean iPhone screens.”

“N-hexane is known to cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, and leads to persistant nerve damage. Apple admitted to gross labour rights violations more than a year later.”

“If more people know about what we went through, Apple will feel pressured to change so other workers don’t have to suffer like we did.”

“We have been pressuring Apple, and its new CEO Tim Cook, for years to compensate those of us who were injured working for them, and demanding reform of working conditions at their Chinese factories so that their workers don’t suffer like we do. Now we need your help as customers or potential customers of Apple.”

“We need your help to send a message to Apple the day before their shareholder meeting. We want to see a strict corporate social responsibility and reform of the audit system to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He will listen to you as current or potential consumers.”

“Nearly 84,000 people have signed the petition so far — for that, we thank you! We believe it’d be symbolically powerful if 100,000 people signed the petition before SumOfUs delivers it to Tim Cook on Thursday at their shareholder meeting. We’re really close to that goal, but we need you to share our request with your friends to get over the edge.”

“It has been over two years since many of us were hospitalized and treated but our debilitating symptoms continue. Rui-Qiang still can’t find work because he can no longer stand for the long hours most jobs require. Jing-Chuan has to spend nearly $100 a month on health supplements.”

“But with all of us working together to pressure Apple to change, we can make sure what happened to us doesn’t happen to others too.”

The poison they’re talking about is from a chemical called n-hexane, which is used to clean iPhone screens. And the factory in question this time is another Apple manufacturer – Wintek, says CBS News.

Apple has recently come under heavy scrutiny for working conditions at Foxconn, the manufacturer of Apple products, with 13 factories located in nine of China’s largest cities.

In a piece for NPR’s This American Life last January, Mike Daisey, an actor, went undercover as a wealthy businessman to see the factory for himself and gave a harrowing account of working conditions inside the Foxconn plant.

His account set off a string of news reports that would bring Foxconn to the front pages of the world’s largest newspapers and force the manufacturer to pledge to improve wages and working conditions.

Apple is currently allowing the Fair Labour Association to inspect factories owned by its supplier Foxconn. The organisation’s chief executive has said that while there are “tons of issues”, conditions are far better than he expected. It is not clear where the letter’s authors claim to have worked.

Inaes Kaempfer, an independent assessor working with the Fair Labor Assocation (FLA), told ABC News’s Nightline that publicity surrounding suicides and accidents at the Foxconn plant meant Apple was facing pressure similar to that which forced Nike to reassess ‘sweatshop’ suppliers in the Nineties.

“We call it the ‘Nike moment’ in the industry,” she said. “There was a moment for Nike in the ’90s, when they got a lot of publicity, negative publicity. And they weren’t the worst. It’s probably like Apple. They’re not necessarily the worst, it’s just that the publicity is starting to build up. And there was just this moment when they just started to do something about it. And I think that’s what happened for Apple.”

Apple has been auditing suppliers since 2006 and publishing the results since 2007. After 229 audits last year, it claims that at least half of workers in over 90 factories exceeded the 60-hours-a-week work limit or worked more than six days a week. The company has terminated the use of 11 suppliers.

The company’s chief executive, Tim Cook told investors last week, “We think the use of underage labour is abhorrent. It’s extremely rare in our supply chain, but our top priority is to eliminate it totally.”

Apple isn’t the only company that uses Foxconn. Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard are some of the biggest companies in the worlds – they also manufacture products at Foxconn.

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