Do you own an iPad? In the UK, right now, there are 29.6 million tablet users. Of those, 53% (Sparkes, 2014) use an Apple product, which works out at roughly 15.7 million people in the UK. That’s right, almost one quarter of the population of the UK (according to the Office for National Statistics, 2013, who estimates the population to be 64.1 million) uses an Apple tablet. To those of you who do own one, have you ever stopped to think about how they came about? Or what the human price is?

Currently 1.2 million people are employed with Foxconn (as reported by Alexander, 2012), one of Apple’s production companies. It is also the largest private sector employer in China (O’Brien and Williams, 2013). They have installed anti-suicide nets around many factories (Watts, 2010). The reason why they were installed is that in 2010, 18 Foxconn employees attempted suicide (Chan, 2013), sparking debate as to the working conditions of these employees.

Why did they decide to commit suicide? Is it because of horrible workers’ rights such as illegal overtime hours or awful working and living conditions (Garside 2012)? Previously, it may have been for pay-outs for the families of the deceased – the victims’ families received more than 100,000 Yuan ($14,640) as compensation (Hogg, 2010).

However, China’s Xinhua news agency posted in July 2010 that Foxconn’s complex in Shenzen will no longer pay compensation money to families of employees who kill themselves (also reported by Hogg) to prevent such tragedies before they occur – morally very grey. After this point, we can say that no suicide was linked to the promise of compensation.

Chan reported on one particular case of an attempted suicide – Tian Yu survived her jump, a 17 year old girl. Chan noted that for Tian, she attempted suicide due to the slave-like shifts and poor sleeping conditions. Tian is now paralysed from the waist down.

But how can it be possible to attempt to improve conditions for more than a million workers? The issue at hand is not that Foxconn are overtly and purposefully hurting employees (although they might be), but that they have so much demanded from them from companies such as Apple, that it is a necessity to work these employees to their limits.

So, while people are working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week and routinely throwing themselves off buildings, Apple are enjoying a 39.4% profit in the third quarter of 2014 (Apple,2014). How many deaths and how much stress could be prevented if Apple decided to recycle just a small portion of that profit back into the system to ensure a little employee safety?

It needs to become common knowledge that corporations such as Apple routinely support the inhumane conditions of these factories in order to turn a larger profit, and it needs a large enough acknowledgement from Apple themselves to change the status quo – as Crouch (2011) said, ‘Only giant corporations are in a position to impose standards of their own’. A larger, more profound change needs to happen in the first world before it can trickle down to the impoverished of the third. We need a change that forces Apple to rethink exactly what they are subjecting people to, and to make a change which may sacrifice their exorbitant profits a little, but greatly benefit the people who make their success possible.

By: Maria Homolova

References:

Alexander, R. , 2012. Which is the world’s biggest employer?. BBC News, [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17429786 [Accessed 15 November 2014].

Apple, 2014. Apple Reports Third Quarter Results. [press release] 22 July 2014. Available at: http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2014/07/22Apple-Reports-Third-Quarter-Results.html [Accessed 15 November 2014].

Chan, J. , 2013. A Suicide Survivor: the life of a Chinese migrant worker at Foxconn. The Asia-Pacific Journal, [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/may/28/foxconn-plant-china-deaths-suicides [Accessed 15 November 2014].

Crouch, C., 2011. ‘The Market and it’s Limitations’ The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism. Polity Press: Cambridge.

Garside, J. , 2012 Apple’s efforts fail to end gruelling conditions at Foxconn factories. The Guardian, [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/may/30/foxconn-abuses-despite-apple-reforms [Accessed 15 November 2014].

Hoggs, C. , 2010. Foxconn factory ends condolence payments over suicides. BBC News, [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10271933 [Accessed 15 November 2014].

O’Brien, R. and Williams, W., 2013. ‘Global Division of Labour’ in Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics. London: Macmillan.

Office for National Statistics, 2014. Population. [online] Available at: http://ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index.html?nscl=Population [Accessed 15 November 2014].

Sparkes, M. , 2014. Apple’s iPad ‘will lose market share despite robust sales’. The Telegraph, [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/11168785/Apples-iPad-will-lose-market-share-despite-robust-sales.html [Accessed 15 November 2014].

Watts, J. , 2010. Foxconn offers pay rises and suicide nets as fears grow over wave of deaths. The Guardian, [online] Available at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jenny-Chan/3977 [Accessed 15 November 2014].

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