The New York Times article, “In China, Human Costs are Built into an iPad” published in January. millions of eyes. While most of the comments on the Times’ website criticize Apple for its lack of corporate social responsibility and its neglect of the workers’ human rights, little attention has been given to the responsibility that the Chinese government should assume.
The Chinese government often emphasizes the low cost of labor when trying to attract new investments. But should this be prioritized above the cost of lives and basic human rights?
The government should supervise the protection of workers’ human rights. The Times reported how “workers assembling iPads, iPhones and other products often work in abusive and sometimes deadly conditions.”
Apple factories run 24 hours a day. Each worker is required to work 12 hours per day, six days per week. Workers must choose shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Although they work 72 hours, they can only receive “$112 before tax.” In addition, child labor was found in Apple factories. These facts are against the Chinese labor law, which states that the maximum of working hours per week is 44 hours and that it is illegal to hire child labor. However, no action has ever been taken by the government to protect these workers.
The Chinese government fails to protect workers’ human rights and conceals the fact that workers are being exploited. Standing for 12 hours at work makes it difficult for a lot of workers to walk after their shift. The materials and work environment that they face every day are also poisonous. Back in 2011, 137 workers had nerve system injuries due to the material used to clean iPhone screens. The material is poisonous. However, these accidents did not draw the attention of the government to take action.
Before an explosion, which took place in May 2011, a non-profit organization warned factories to address the safety issues, but the tragedy still happened. But the explosion last spring, which resulted in four deaths, was only reported 10 months after the incident. This makes me wonder — did the government cover it up?
If working conditions are so dangerous, why do so many workers still insist on working for Apple? The lack of social welfare in China definitely can be blamed. Workers who stay at home to farm, for example, earn as little as $20 per year. For these people who live below the poverty line, the government provides an average of $130 each month, depending on the specific area’s policies. It is impossible for them to afford to send their children to school. It might cost a family all of its annual income to pay for an undergraduate’s tuition — which is $1,100 per year.
So even though workers suffer in these factories, they have to stay in order to pay for their family’s expenses. The money they receive is a large amount compared to how much they can earn at home.
To boil it down, the Chinese government has to take the responsibility to protect workers’ human rights and more them more of a priority. While the wealth gap between underdeveloped areas and developed areas continues to be a constant problem, more attention should be paid to social policy and welfare needs.
Yumeng Zuo is a first year Master of Social Work student from Shanghai, China. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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