Monday, 26 March 2012

Give Apple Workers a Voice in their Future!

Give Apple Workers a Voice in their Future!
Posted on March 23, 2012 by
A most unusual joint statement by two
major international labor organizations and 3 NGOs demands that Apple respect
the rights of Chinese assembly workers to collective bargaining over wages and
working conditions.  The statement is signed by the International
Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC),
GoodElectronics, MakeITFair, Students & Scholars Against Corporate
Misbehaviour (SACOM), and SumOfUs. pdf
file here
23 March 2012
 By joining the Fair Labor Association, Apple has embarked on its latest
program of auditing its suppliers, ostensibly to investigate and remedy the
appalling abuses in its supply chain that have been well documented and widely
reported. While Apple claims that it is finally taking the issue seriously, its
top-down auditing approach can never be a long-term solution to the systematic
violations of labour rights that are occurring every day in the manufacture of
electronic products. Indeed, Apple promised in 2006 that auditing would protect
the rights of workers in its global supply chain, with results that are all too
The FLA will likely publish next week some of the results of its audits at
Foxconn and the organization will no doubt report that labor rights violations
are taking place at these factories. Since violations at Foxconn have been well
documented by independent investigators, and in many cases admitted by Apple
itself, the FLA could hardly claim that all is well. We also have no doubt that
the FLA’s report will be coupled with another round of promises from Apple and
Foxconn that they will finally clean up their act. The question, however, is not
whether there are severe labor rights problems in Apple’s supply chain. This has
been obvious for years. And the question is not whether Apple will promise,
again, to fix these problems. They surely will. The question is whether anything
will actually change.
Because once the audits are over and FLA has gone home, the workers in the
factories will again be left to deal, as best they can, with the brutal labour
conditions that are imposed on them. Any hope that conditions for workers will
improve rests not on the work of auditors, but on the ability of workers
themselves to monitor whether their labour rights are being respected and to
push for remedies when they are not.
If Apple is genuinely concerned about improving the labour rights of workers
that manufacture its products, it must ensure that they can negotiate with their
employer to bring lasting change to the way that work is performed and
compensated. For the Foxconn workers this means allowing workers to conduct
elections to democratically select their own representatives in the workplace
who can negotiate with management on the pay and conditions of the workforce.
Such elections must be conducted by the workers without interference from
management and all managers must be prohibited from taking up union positions.
In order for the elected worker representatives to be able to meet management on
an equal footing to negotiate on pay and working conditions, they will need
support in terms of skills and knowledge. Apple must therefore insist that union
representatives be allowed to access training and capacity building that is
independent of management, so that they have the knowledge and skills necessary
to advocate on behalf of the workers they represent.
Collective bargaining is the mechanism that will enable workers to negotiate
with management on appropriate levels of pay and decent working conditions and
is one of the fundamental labour rights recognized by the ILO. It is especially
critical to addressing health and safety problems. Apple and Foxconn must
immediately establish a schedule of negotiations which will lead to a collective
agreement that covers all aspects of work including wages and working hours,
overtime, health and safety, etc. A collective agreement would help reduce the
vast disparity between workers’ pay and the massive profits generated by both
Foxconn and Apple, which has announced that it has $45 billion to spend on
buying back its own shares rather than on improving pay and conditions for the
workers that make its products.
There is no question that giving workers a real say in the way that their
work is organized and remunerated will challenge the repressive management
practices for which Foxconn is notorious. Foxconn must learn to work together
with its employees, through their democratically elected representatives, to
find solutions together that reconcile the demands of production with
recognition of workers’ rights. This will mean giving access to information on
wages, working hours, production schedules and financial information that enable
worker representatives to take an equal seat at the table and work with
management to resolve the issues. It will also mean that Apple must roll up its
sleeves and get involved directly in the bargaining process, so that its demands
on unit prices and production deadlines do not undermine agreements on pay and
working conditions.
Bargaining should take place above a floor of decent minimum standards. This
must include an immediate end to illegal overtime hours, coupled with wage
increase to ensure that every worker in Apple’s supply chain is paid a genuine
living wage that covers basic needs for a family for a statutory work week (40
hours in China). Given Apple’s gargantuan profits and mountainous horde of cash,
there is no financial, practical or moral excuse for any worker making Apple
products to go another day without being paid a living wage for a normal
Finally, it is clear that organizations like ours will need to continue to
scrutinize conditions in Apple’s supply chain for the foreseeable future, to
hold the company accountable and remedy any abuses. For this to be possible,
Apple must be more forthcoming about the identity of its suppliers, not just
releasing the company names, but the countries and specific factories in which
all the components that go into its products are made.
SACOM is a Hong Kong based investigative NGO advocating for rights of
workers in China.
The International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) is the global union for
electronics workers.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is the global umbrella
organization for most national trade union confederations.
Good Electronics and MakeITFair are European-based advocacy
SumofUs is a USA-based global advocacy