Opsamling om Apple i Kina: Selvmord, børnearbejde og forurening

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Der er store menneskelige omkostninger for de kinesiske arbejdere, der står ved samlebåndene for lave iPads og iPhones og de andre populære produkter fra Apple. Det skriver New York Times om i dag, hvor avisen har en længere artikel om vilkårene på de fabrikker i Kina, der er leverandører til Apple.

Mens arbejderne står ved samlebåndene i 72 timer om ugen, har Apple netop offentliggjort en rekordstort omsætning på $46.3 milliarder. Det kommer efter flere år med utallige problemer på de kinesiske fabrikker, som Apple har haft kendskab til, men som de har været længe om at reagere på.

Kort sagt får Apple lavet de fleste af sine produkter hos en enkelt virksomhed, der hedder Foxconn Technologies, som er Apples største leverandør. Forxconn er registreret i Taiwan, men det meste af produktionen kommer fra de utallige fabrikker i Kina, hvor virksomheden har 1,2 millioner ansatte.

De største af fabrikkerne er som byer. For eksempel den i Shenzhen, hvor der bor og arbejder over 400.000 personer, og hvor eksempelvis hver af de 20 kantiner har plads til 10.000 spisende ad gangen.

Byerne er delt op i mindre enheder, hvor en enkelt bydel laver produkter for eksempelvis Apple. Eller andre. For Foxconn producerer 40 procent af al forbrugerelektronik i verden, og har også store navne som Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Nokia og Samsung som kunder.

Apples problemer har været kendt længe. En af de første til at se på Apples og Foxconns overtrædelser af arbejdernes rettigheder var Global Post i november 2009, hvor de lavede en serie om “Silicon Sweatshops” i Kina.

En af artiklerne handler om, hvad prisen er for en kinesisk arbejders helbred:

The value of a Chinese factory worker’s life can be neatly calculated with a simple mathematical formula.

The actual number varies by city and a few other particulars, but the total amount is never very much. In Suzhou, where dozens of workers have fallen seriously ill with nerve damage in the past year from chemical poisoning, a factory worker’s health is worth about 130,000 yuan ($19,046) by the government’s calculation.

The number is derived in part by subtracting the worker’s age (usually 21) from the average life expectancy (79), then multiplying by a series of precise percentages, including one to designate the severity of illness, carefully prescribed in the government’s labor regulations. It is cold, calculated business.

Suzhou lawyer Wang Luyuan knows the formulas inside and out. In a cabinet near his desk, he stores a stack of slim brown folders containing the mathematical worth and medical details of 32 factory workers sickened by exposure to n-hexane — the toxic solvent Wintek illegally used in making electronic touch screens. The company has admitted that more than 60 workers were sickened by hexane exposure. Wang now represents about half of them.

For der har længe været problemer for arbejderne, hvor flere blandt andet er blevet syge på grund af giftige kemikalier, som blev brugt til at rense skærmen på iDevices.

ifølge en artikel fra Bloomberg i sidste uge har Apple 320 direkte leverandører, hvor Foxconn og Hon Hai Precision Industry Co får 22 procent af sin omsætning fra Apple.

Efter længere tids kritik gik Foxconn i 2010 med til at fordoble lønningerne. Mindst 12 arbejdere har begået selvmord på Foxconns fabrikker i Kina, og sidste år blev over 70 personer såret ved en eksplosion på en fabrik, der laver iPads.

Men selvom lønnen er blevet fordoblet har det ikke løst de store problemer på fabrikkerne, der stikker dybere end blot arbejdernes lønninger. For få dage siden var der igen en gruppe arbejdere, der truede med selvmord:

Several reports from inside Foxconn factories have suggested that while the company is more advanced than many of its competitors, it is run in a “military” fashion that many workers cannot cope with. At Foxconn’s flagship plant in Longhua, five per cent of its workers, or 24,000 people, quit every month.

“Because we could not cope, we went on strike,” said the worker. “It was not about the money but because we felt we had no options. At first, the managers said anyone who wanted to quit could have one month’s pay as compensation, but then they withdrew that offer. So we went to the roof and threatened a mass suicide”.

The worker said that Foxconn initially refused to negotiate, but that the workers were treated reasonably by the local police and fire service.
A spokesman for Foxconn confirmed the protest, and said that the incident was “successfully and peacefully resolved after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government”.

Omtrent på samme tid gik Apple med til, at den eksterne organisation Fair Labor Association kunne inspicere fabrikkerne, som Bloomberg skrev:

Apple will now subject itself and its suppliers to the FLA’s membership criteria, including submitting to audits and enforcing a code of conduct based on standards approved by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.

Growing scrutiny of global companies by investors and consumers means they are more likely to insist suppliers introduce best practices in countries where governments are unable or unwilling to do so, Van Heerden said.

Her offentliggjorde Apple også sin seneste “Supplier Responsibility report” (.pdf), hvor man blandt andet kan læse, at mængden af børnearbejdere er faldet med 80 procent:

We have a zero-tolerance policy for underage labor, and we believe our system is the toughest in the electronics industry. In 2011, we broadened our age verification program and saw dramatic improvements in hiring practices by our suppliers. Cases of underage labor were down significantly, and our audits found no underage workers at our final assembly suppliers.

Kort før, i begyndelsen af januar, kom amerikanske NPRs “This American Life” med en udsendelse, hvor Mike Daisy blandt andet kom frem med følgende:

One Foxconn worker Mike Daisey interviewed, outside factory gates manned by guards with guns, was a 13-year old girl. She polished the glass of thousands of new iPhones a day.

The 13-year old said Foxconn doesn’t really check ages. There are on-site inspections, from time to time, but Foxconn always knows when they’re happening. And before the inspectors arrive, Foxconn just replaces the young-looking workers with older ones.

In the first two hours outside the factory gates, Daisey meets workers who say they are 14, 13, and 12 years old (along with plenty of older ones). Daisey estimates that about 5% of the workers he talked to were underage.

Det er nu ikke kun arbejderne, som Apple har problemer med i Kina. Det er også miljøet. Sidste år kom en række organisationer med beskyldninger om, at Apple ignorerede miljøpproblemerne i Kina. Først i november sidste år lykkedes det for organisationerne at få et møde med Apple i Kina, som China Diaologue skriver her i en artikel, der er skrevet af en journalist fra det ansete kinesiske magasin 21st Century Business Herald.

The green groups said that they used the meeting to flag up pollution cases at more than a dozen suppliers as evidence of major failings in supply-chain management, while Apple admitted that oversights such as out of date water-quality standards may have created problems. The NGOs remained unimpressed by Apple’s reluctance to publicise supplier information and allow public supervision, they said, while Apple continued to stress that it can deal with the problems internally.

Apple told the NGOs that, contrary to some reports, it is closely involved with all aspects of its supply chain: Apple makes no distinction between first and second tier suppliers, purchases almost all materials itself and applies identical labour and environmental standards to all suppliers, the representatives said. If any supplier breaches Apple’s rules, they added, it will be ordered to make changes to its operations and, if those changes are not made, suppliers will be subject to further measures and orders may be cancelled.

Before this meeting, Apple had shown itself consistently unwilling to engage in talks with environmental groups. “Apple is a company that does things in a very low-key way,” one representative reportedly stressed at the meeting.

But the publication of the Chinese campaigners’ report in August this year put huge pressure on the Californian firm. The report documented “shocking” pollution in Apple’s supply chain, attracting attention from around the world.

The NGO coalition named 27 polluting companies they suspected to be affiliated with Apple in its report. To date, Apple has admitted that 15 of these are suppliers.

China Dialogue interviewede i august sidste Ma Jun, der er en af Kinas mest fremtrædende forkæmpere for miljøet.

Liu Jianqiang: You published a report in January pointing out that Apple has broken its own promises on environmental protection, occupational health and workers’ rights. What has changed since then?

Ma Jun: Unlike last time, this report focuses [exclusively] on Apple’s environmental problems. In our previous report, we covered the environment, occupational health and workers’ rights. A month later, Apple published a progress report on supplier responsibility admitting that 137 workers in its supply chain had been poisoned, but said nothing about environmental issues – so we decided to do more work on Apple’s environmental pollution.

LJ: How did you get hold of the information about Apple’s suppliers?

MJ: One source was the map of pollution data that we already have [IPE has developed China’s first public databases of pollution information] – we went through the database checking who the polluters were, what they produce and who they supply. Another method was first finding out who Apple’s suppliers are, and then checking them against our database.

One example from the report is Kaedar Electronics. Pollution from this company has a major impact on the local community and harms children’s health. How did we find out they are an Apple supplier? Interestingly enough, Apple once sued one of its own managers for taking bribes from suppliers – one of which was Kaedar. So that was a rare piece of evidence. We searched for that company, found that it was recorded in our database, along with lots of public complaints about its pollution. We went to talk to the locals to find out what was happening, and then went to carry out an on-site investigation. I myself went twice, as did [environmental NGO and co-author of the report] Nanjing Green Stone.

Artiklen i dag i New York Times samler historien om Apple, og viser de menneskelige omkostninger ved produktionen af de populære produkter. Og den viser, at selvom Apple har gjort fremskridt og er blevet mere åbne, så kendte Apple højst sandsynligt til de mange problemer:

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

But significant problems remain. More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have violated at least one aspect of the code of conduct every year since 2007, according to Apple’s reports, and in some instances have violated the law. While many violations involve working conditions, rather than safety hazards, troubling patterns persist.

“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost,” said Li Mingqi, who until April worked in management at Foxconn Technology, one of Apple’s most important manufacturing partners. Mr. Li, who is suing Foxconn over his dismissal, helped manage the Chengdu factory where the explosion occurred.

:: Foto af Jordan Pouille som viser Foxconns fabrik i Sichuan, hvor 60 procent af Apple’s iPads bliver lavet.

Skribent

Hurtige klik fra Kina af Kim Rathcke Jensen. Jeg er journalist og BA i kinesisk. Jeg bor i Beijing, hvor jeg arbejder som Politikens korrespondent i Kina og Asien.

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