WASHINGTON, D.C. – As U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) chairs a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) regarding workers’ rights, he also sent a letter to the CEO of Apple on the harsh and often-dangerous working conditions faced by workers in the company’s China-based factories. In March 2012, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) issued findings of an investigation into the factories of Foxconn, an Apple supplier. Apple has made commitments to take concrete steps to address findings identified in the report.
“Workers making popular products like iPads and iPhones—consumer goods that sell for hundreds of dollars in the United States—can toil under the harshest conditions thousands of miles away in China, often for just over a dollar per hour,” Brown said. “Apple should move quickly to fulfill its promises to improve working conditions in its supply chain and keep the American people informed of its progress in this regard.
“While the Chinese government must do more to abide by international law, guarantee freedom of association, and strengthen its labor laws, at the same time U.S. companies should be accountable for working conditions in their supply chains,” Brown added.
The hearing Brown is chairing today will discuss the prevalence of harsh working conditions in Chinese factories, assess implementation of China’s labor laws, and examine the roles the Chinese government, China’s state-controlled union, Chinese NGOs, and private companies play in addressing worker rights. Panelists will provide recommendations for U.S. policy on worker rights in China. In recent months, several reports have been released regarding Chinese factories that manufacture products popular in the U.S.-laptops, iPhones, iPads, and cordless phones. These reports document excessive overtime, crowded and unsafe working and living conditions, underage workers, and unpaid wages. They note that Chinese workers do not have the right to organize into independent unions, and that the state-controlled union does little to represent them.
The full text of the letter is below.
Timothy D. Cook
Chief Executive Officer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Dear Mr. Cook:
Apple’s iPads, iPhones, and other products have understandably earned the devotion of people around the world. American consumers and the American public, however, expect more than just innovative and user-friendly products. They want to be assured that the products they buy are made by workers whose dignity and basic human rights are respected. I was encouraged by Apple’s commitment to addressing reports of the harsh conditions reported at numerous Chinese factories that manufacture Apple products. Harsh working and living conditions have been reported not only at Apple-producing facilities run by Foxconn but at other Apple suppliers as well.
As reports indicate, Chinese workers who make iPads and iPhones have often toiled long hours under dangerous conditions for little pay. The Chinese government does nothing to stop these abuses, and workers in China lack the basic right to freedom of association. The result is that Apple shoulders a great responsibility for improving working conditions and providing workers with a voice.
In March 2012, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) released the findings of its investigation into Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu. As a result, Apple and Foxconn promised to take concrete steps to address some of the problems identified in the FLA report. Promises include complying with China’s overtime laws while protecting pay; ensuring union elections free from management interference; improving the system of recording accidents; paying workers fairly for overtime and work-related meetings; and helping workers secure employment and insurance benefits.
Apple should move quickly to fulfill these promises and keep the American people informed of its progress in this regard. To that end, I request that Apple provide my office with periodic updates on its progress toward fulfilling these promises, as well as updates on Apple’s broader efforts to improve working and living conditions throughout Apple’s supply chain in China.
In addition, I urge Apple to share this information with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) and to strengthen its engagement with ILAB. ILAB’s work with China touches upon many of the concerns raised in the Apple reports, and the agency would be a helpful partner in addressing such concerns.
Apple has a proud tradition of innovation in its field. It should exercise that same creativity and leadership to improve working conditions in China. By doing so, Apple would set a powerful example for other companies to follow.