BBC Shows Apple Inc. Working Conditions, CEO Cook Responds [VIDEO]

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Following a BBC Documentary showing exhausted workers in China, Apple’s Tim Cook answers personally.

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Firstly, in the interest of full-disclosure, I do hold Apple stock. I don’t, however think this precludes me for commenting on these stories any more than my living in China does. I will, however, mention that sleeping and repeatedly napping is firmly entrenched in Chinese culture. I’ve observed people who have just woken, napping on a subway right after rising for the day. Students of mine who simply learned English four hours a day napping for five minutes between classes. I’ve also seen horrible working conditions throughout the country. I don’t have an opinion.

Apple doesn’t run its factories in China but those factories are used to make the company’s products. There is no question that a number of these assembly factories are breaking Apple’s rules, but no one can say with certainty that Apple isn’t trying and that is what the company continues to maintain.

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I’m no more a fan of endangering workers than you are of paying $2000 for an iPhone 6. So rather than discussing the documentary which if not embedded here, is readily available elsewhere, let’s turn to Mr. Cook’s “deep offense” with the “Panorama” documentary.

At the request of Tim Cook, Jeff Williams, Apple senior vice president of operations, sent and email to roughly 5000 Apple employees throughout the UK stating that each were “deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way.”

“Panorama’s report implied that Apple isn’t improving working conditions,” he continued. “Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Working conditions at Apple: Additional excerpts from the email include:

Williams spoke to 93% compliance with the 60-hour work week saying, “We can still do better. And we will.” Adding that the roughly 1,400 workers in China are “talented engineers and managers who are also compassionate people, trained to speak up when they see safety risks or mistreatment.”

“We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers,” he said.

The “Panorama” documentary included children working in tin mines in Indonesia to which Williams answered:

“Apple has publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines,” Williams countered.

“Tens of thousands of artisanal miners are selling tin through many middlemen to the smelters who supply to component suppliers who sell to the world. The government is not addressing the issue, and there is widespread corruption in the undeveloped supply chain. Our team visited the same parts of Indonesia visited by the BBC, and of course we are appalled by what’s going on there.

“Apple has two choices: We could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism. But it would be the lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution.”

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While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. <i>To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at theflask@gmail.com</i>
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7 COMMENTS

  1. Not Apple factories. Supplier factories. That’s a BIG difference.

    And it would be a lot more worrying if Apple didn’t voluntarily spend a fortune scrutinizing these suppliers for this kind of thing. And specifying their minimum standards for workers rights and practices. And making these standards public so that the world knows *exactly* what they’re doing. And then the BBC ignoring all that and broadcasting a misleading documentary that implies Apple alone is directly causing workers to be treated inhumanly and doing nothing about it.

    You know, it strike me as kind of ironic. That the BBC is accusing another organisation of covering up systematic abuse of poor unfortunates less able to speak up about their immoral treatment…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Savile_sexual_abuse_scandal

  2. It’s utterly dumbfounding that anybody thinks they can defend Apple.

    It’s Apple that can’t be trusted. Not learning from the No Poach Agreement lawsuit, Apple has screwed over another set of employees.

    Felczer v. Apple Inc., Judge Ronald S. Prager of the Superior Court of California granted class certification as to a class of approximately 21,000 current and former Apple retail and corporate employees on claims alleging Apple failed to provide timely meal and rest breaks as required under California Law.

    If they don’t care about their employees at their headquarters in Cupertino, how can you expect them to care about the employees of their suppliers thousands of miles away?

  3. Every high-tech manufacturer uses Asian suppliers, but Apple treats them the worst. Apple want you to think they care, but their actions at home and abroad proves otherwise.

    Apple claims they care about the workers, but their constant pressure on suppliers to increase productivity while reducing costs are the cause of the deplorable working conditions. Apple insists on knowing the supplier’s cost of the parts and labor. Apple then decides how much profit the supplier can have. A year later, Apple will demand a 10% price cut. The suppliers start cutting corners, exposing their workers to dangerous and sometimes fatal working conditions.

    Even American suppliers are fair game for Apple. They told GT Advanced to “Put on your big boy pants” when they were hesitant to sign an unfavorable agreement. Just a year later, that agreement cause GT Advanced to file for bankruptcy protection.

    Apple screws their own employees with the No Poach Agreement. Why is it taking so long for Apple to make amends?
    Now we hear Apple screwed their hourly employees too.

    On July 21, 2014, in Felczer v. Apple Inc., Judge Ronald S. Prager of the Superior Court of California granted class certification as to a class of approximately 21,000 current and former Apple retail and corporate employees on claims alleging Apple failed to provide timely meal and rest breaks as required under California Law.

    The Court also certified a class on Plaintiffs’ claims that Apple failed to properly pay them their final paychecks and seek the unpaid wages and waiting time penalties because meal and rest period premiums were not included in their final paychecks. The California Labor Code requires an employee whose employment is terminated to be paid his or her final paycheck upon termination of employment. Employees who provide 72-hours’ notice that they are quitting must be given their final paycheck on either their last day worked or within 72 hours of having given notice if they stop working before the 72-hour notice period has run. Plaintiffs allege Apple failed to pay them premium or timely payments pursuant to Cal. Lab. Code §201 and §202 and thus are liable for waiting time penalties under Cal. Lab. Code §203.

    Additionally, the Court granted class certification on the Plaintiffs’ claim that Apple failed to provide them with accurate itemized employee wage statements.

  4. In the perspective of the recent BBC report, at the end of the day, you have to call a Spade a Spade. Apple made a commitment to fix challenges within its supply chain, and allocated resources to that effort.

    After two years of publication of the “Apple Supplier Code of Conduct” where members of the Board of Directors held a vote, and agreed to be held accountable to those published standards.

    However, the unfortunate thing we learned is that Apple’s efforts won’t survive a third party audit led by investigative journalists in the field. The BBC is not an overnight journalist organization. They’ve been in the business of reporting since 1922.

    It seems that Apple’s heavy reliance on outsourcing, even to third party auditors to develop paperwork to substantiate their position is an oversight at best, negligent at worst. However, in recent news, related to GT Advanced Technologies, we learned that even US companies that fail to turn their head, or meet Apple’s standards can actually be left to go bankrupt.

    Still, we have to admit that in order for Apple to continue to be #1 in customer satisfaction within the computing industry, most likely, Apple employs secret shoppers who grade retail employees on their skills and knowledge. The accurate report from the BBC shows that Apple doesn’t perform similar efforts within its supplychain. That is a tragedy.

    What’s more appauling is that Apple set standards for work, and employee relations, that were broken. Taking shortcuts like reading training test answers aloud over a Public Address system as shown in the video isn’t really training, or for that matter, learning. However, the reporting from the BBC shows that someone is asleep at the wheel and using their title to not manage the business, but instead manage contracts with outside auditing firms. A company like Apple, with a valuation of over US$500,000,000,000.00 doesn’t need to take shortcuts like that, unless it’s to pump their stock up to a valuation exceeding $1T as Wallstreet analysts have been pushing forward those goals in recent news.

    Still, I wonder… Even if Apple achieved a goal, of a $1T company what’s next? An apology letter for overcharging customers for over a decade? Building a rocketship and placing an iPhone on the moon as part of an ad campaign? What’s the point? Some goals, if listened to long enough, result in dysfunctional, and delusional behaviour. I have to wonder why Steve Jobs took a US$1.00 per year salary; was it to prove a point that being paid £1 per hour (as reported by the BBC, who found inconsestent payroll stubs and documents) is a measure for success in China?

  5. So the synopsis here is that the Chinese can’t be trusted to keep the promises they made to AAPL.
    At the same time; why not attack other Brands; especially Chinese & Korean; who use factories that are far, far worse than depicted here.
    Attack those breaking the rules; not those enforcing them. Once AAPL conducts an inspection and moves on to the next factory, the curtain is drawn. Do you expect AAPL to live there; own Pentagron, or take over tin mills.
    This is another inane attack on the works biggest and best company.
    If it was an honest documentary on Chinese working conditions; AAPL certainly would not be the object of your distain.
    This paradigm is with anything made in China, to varying degrees; and AAPL is far from being at the top of the list.

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