Just imagine, for a moment, that you've started a new job. Along with your contract, you are told to sign a pledge to not kill yourself because of the working conditions. Sounds like a nightmare? Well, if you work in a certain Chinese factory manufacturing Apple products like the iPad, then that nightmare is a reality.
On May 1st 2011, I read several newspaper reports which detailed the findings of two separate NGOs, Centre for Research on Multinational Companies, and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom):
"Factories making sought-after Apple iPads and iPhones in China are forcing staff to sign pledges not to commit suicide, an investigation has revealed. At least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of horrendous working conditions. Many more are believed to have either survived attempts or been stopped before trying at the Apple supplier's plants in Chengdu or Shenzen. After a spate of suicides last year, managers at the factories ordered new staff to sign pledges that they would not attempt to kill themselves, according to researchers. And they were made to promise that if they did, their families would only seek the legal minimum in damages." - from http://dailymail.co.uk
Apple responded to criticism in July 2010 and summarised the changes they have agreed with Foxconn, however there is nothing in there which says the manufacturers will pay a proper living wage and certainly nothing about anti-suicide pledges. You can read Apple's report in full here: http://images.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/pdf/Apple_SR_2011_Progress_Report.pdf
"Among the allegations made by workers interviewed by the NGOs ... – are claims that:
■ Excessive overtime is routine, despite a legal limit of 36 hours a month. One payslip, seen by the Observer, indicated that the worker had performed 98 hours of overtime in a month.
■ Workers attempting to meet the huge demand for the first iPad were sometimes pressured to take only one day off in 13.
■ In some factories badly performing workers are required to be publicly humiliated in front of colleagues.
■ Crowded workers' dormitories can sleep up to 24 and are subject to strict rules. One worker told the NGO investigators that he was forced to sign a "confession letter" after illicitly using a hairdryer. In the letter he wrote: "It is my fault. I will never blow my hair inside my room. I have done something wrong. I will never do it again."
- from http://telegraph.co.uk
"When the allegations were put to Foxconn by the Observer (UK newspaper), manager Louis Woo confirmed that workers sometimes worked more than the statutory overtime limit to meet demand from western consumers, but claimed that all the extra hours were voluntary. Workers claim that, if they turn down excessive demands for overtime, they will be forced to rely on their basic wage: workers in Chengdu are paid only 1,350 yuan (£125) a month for a basic 48-hour week, equivalent to about 65p an hour." - http://guardian.co.uk
The answer to this awful, horrific situation is for Apple to go further than they have, and demand that conditions are immediately improved. Apple made profits of $6billion in the first quarter of 2011. I think Apple can afford to provide their workers some basic rights, don't you?
Photo shows workers at one of the Foxconn factories. By kind permission from Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom).