Chinese workers who produce the iPad make only about $8 per unit, according to Korean Daily. That means, they make only 1.6 percent of the price of the cheapest iPad ($499) and substantially less from the most expensive one (which costs $829). In contrast, workers in Korea are paid about about $34 per unit among them, giving them 6.8 percent of the sales price. Apple has not responded to requests to comment, says Phil Muncaster on Channel Register.
In the wake of continued reports about dismal working conditions at Chinese factories operated by Foxconn, Apple has asked the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to audit Foxconn facilities in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China. After these audits are completed, Apple says that it will have the FLA review other of its production partners so that, in the end, some 90 percent of its products will have been inspected.
At an an investor conference on February 14, Apple CEO Tim Cook specifically said that “No one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple.” He also spoke of child labor as “abhorrent” and said that such is “extremely rare” in the company’s supply chain.
Apple does seem to be responding to the reports about human rights abuses in its suppliers’ factories in the midst of more and more coverage about such issues. A recent CNN report about Foxconn workers included an interview with a “Miss Chen,” a young woman from rural China, who emphasizes the mind-dulling repetitive work of putting stickers on iPad screens:
“At Foxconn we have a saying, she says, women work like men and work like machines. A better way of putting it is that women work like men and men work like animals.”
“It’s so boring, I can’t bear it anymore. Everyday was like: I get off from work, and I go to bed. I get up in the morning, and I go to work. It became my daily routine and I almost felt like I was some kind of animal.”
“Miss Chen” makes about 1300 RMB — about US$200 — a month, including overtime.
The iPad and Ethical Concerns
Like many — and like many parents of children with disabilities and with autism in particular — I have sung the praises of the iPad. Muncaster calls the device a “shiny toy” (and a “fondleslab”) and that is what the iPad is for many of us. For my teenage son Charlie, who’s moderately to severely autistic, the iPad has been a device that he can operate independently, so that, for the first time in his life, he can listen to the music and see the photos and videos he likes (Charlie doesn’t seem able to read, at least not yet) all on his own. Many parents have described how helpful numerous apps have been for the children with disabilities; for Charlie, the touchscreen technology of the iPad has on its own been the key. Some individuals with disabilities use iPads as augmentative communication devices; while the cost of an iPad is beyond the means of many families, other kinds of communication devices are far more expensive.
Certainly I feel fortunate that we’re able to provide Charlie with an iPad. But even while lauding it, I think it’s necessary to keep the human costs of producing the iPad, and all Apple products, in sight; to remember that the shiny technology that our society gloats over is made in conditions that we would find intolerable for any workers.
My husband and I hope that Charlie will have a job when he is an adult. Due to his disabilities, the sort of job that Charlie will have is likely to be somewhat similar to that of the workers at the Foxconn plant, repetitive and the kind of thing many would prefer not to do. Not only do we need to keep the pressure on Apple to ensure that employees in overseas factories work in humane and ethical conditions; we need to protect the rights of workers like Charlie, of workers with disabilities, and call for transparency and fair wages.
The “shiny toys” we buy at the Apple are smudge free when we take them out of the box. We need to remember they were made by human hands, whose fingerprints have been carefully wiped away.
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Photo by macreloaded.com