Author's Opinion

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of iTWire.

Have your say and comment below.

Friday, 26 August 2016 16:24

Is Apple guilty of Chinese worker exploitation? Featured


Reader Scott (his nom de plume) has suggested iTWire was Apple bashing in reporting accurately the China Labour Watch report titled “Apple making big profits, but Chinese workers wages on the slide.”

 The iTWire report quoting the highly respected China Labour Watch is here.

The report resisted any proselytising as mandated by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Journalist Code of Ethics, else it would have been clearly identified and published as an opinion piece (as this article clearly is).

But faceless Scott raises one valid point in his attempt to protect Apple – what about the other Chinese smartphone makers?

Last year I toured OPPO’s factory in Dongguan and its headquarters in Shenzhen. Having previously heard horror stories about Chinese smartphone workers' conditions, I looked very closely at OPPO's operations and found a clean, well-run, modern operation with happy workers. The same was the case with its BBK-owned sibling Vivo, although it was an older factory.

I set out to "desktop investigate" if there were any claims made about Samsung (South Korea), and Huawei (China), OPPO (China), and Vivo (China) to round out the top five global smartphone makers. I have no doubt that many of the thousands of smaller makers paddling in the “Android cesspool” will do anything to keep prices low to sell more volume.

But that is totally irrelevant, because we are talking about Apple and the others in the top five who make premium products and earn big money along the way.

A Google search for “Chinese smartphone workers' conditions” yielded more than a million results. Cutting that down to the past year reduced it just under 200,000. Note the search did not include the words Apple, iPhone, exploit, etc., because if it did there would be more than two million results!

I encourage Scott to do a similar search to verify what we have found. On the first page there were 10 links to articles ranging in date from 22 October 2015 to 24 August 2016. The headlines read:

  1. iPhone 6s factory investigation reveals Apple still violates human ...
  2. Apple Supplier in China's Poor Labor Practices Clash with US Tech …
  3. Low wages, long hours persist at iPhone factory, says labor group ...
  4. Apple Pays Chinese Workers $1.85/Hour for a 12-Hour Shift, 6 Days a …
  5. Apple China Factory Exposed: Working Conditions Have Very Low ...
  6. A Day In The Life Of An iPhone Factory Worker | Fast Company ...
  7. Chinese iPhone factory where 50k staff assemble the must-have ...
  8. Rare and horrifying look at living conditions in an iPhone factory …
  9. 'Despicable' conditions at China iPhone plant …
  10. Apple under fire for factory conditions as iPhone ...

On page two of the search results an article from Wikipedia titled “Criticism of Apple Inc” appeared. While it covered lots of things like vendor lock-in practices; iTunes and app store monopoly; heavy handed banning of competing apps from the app store; collusion with record labels; App store tardy compensation arguments; media relations (in fact, lack thereof as “Apple does not comment”); tax practices like the Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich; Error 53 and total rejection of third party repairs; quality control and customer service; data security and iCloud hacks; misleading warranty claims; vexatious litigation; environmental destruction; and potentially NSA backdoors; the bulk of the lengthy article was on labour practices.

This covered sweatshop conditions in contract assemblers including Foxconn, Inventec, and Pegatron highlighting safety problems and harsh working conditions, illegal overtime, lower than mandated wages, student and child labour abuses, and employee suicides.

But it all kept coming back to Apple’s unconscionable business terms with these contract suppliers: namely that it did not care how it was achieved, but the labour costs per unit had to come down by 10-15% annually. And it has had this condition in place for many years.

Apple argued that productivity and automation were the prime cost reduction drivers giving it a form of plausible deniability, but the contact assemblers simply took the easy route and extracted more blood out of a stone.

To its credit, Apple has a nice Web page titled supplier responsibility and it states “There’s a right way to make products. It starts with the rights of the people who make them.” It is filled with pretty pictures, but the shots leaked from the tightly secured Foxconn et al., factories don’t reflect that.

So after exploring the first 20 pages of Google results (ah – you smell a conspiracy theory, so I tried Bing too), I had not found a single positive article about Apple. Importantly I had not found a negative article about others in the top five.

Maybe Apple is victim of the tall poppy syndrome, maybe if you throw enough mud some sticks, but maybe there is an element of truth in it too.

In the end, I concluded that the issue is that Apple does not own the factories that make their products. Whereas the majors like Samsung, LG, HTC, Huawei, OPPO, Vivo, Lenovo, Xiamoi, and other larger brands do.

So I repeat my offer to Scott and all other iTWire readers: please find examples of worker abuse by any major vendor and we will follow up – relentlessly without fear or favour.


You cannot afford to miss this Dell Webinar.

With Windows 7 support ending 14th January 2020, its time to start looking at your options.

This can have significant impacts on your organisation but also presents organisations with an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the way users work.

The Details

When: Thursday, September 26, 2019
Presenter: Dell Technologies
Location: Your Computer


QLD, VIC, NSW, ACT & TAS: 11:00 am
SA, NT: 10:30 am
WA: 9:00 am NZ: 1:00 pm

Register and find out all the details you need to know below.



iTWire can help you promote your company, services, and products.


Advertise on the iTWire News Site / Website

Advertise in the iTWire UPDATE / Newsletter

Promote your message via iTWire Sponsored Content/News

Guest Opinion for Home Page exposure

Contact Andrew on 0412 390 000 or email [email protected]


Ray Shaw

joomla stats

Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!



Recent Comments