After two decades of student-led protests of global sweatshops, it appears that the Big Apple — producer of Macs, iPads and iPhones used by the younger generation – is feeling the bite. A major Apple supplier, Foxconn, which also supplies Amazon, Dell and Microsoft, has pledged to improve wages, hours and working conditions in their Chinese sweatshops in a one-year time frame.
Many activists are responding warily to the announcement, citing past broken promises and the conflicts-of-interest of the monitoring group, the Fair Labor Association, whose board is dominated by high-tech firms. They are right to be skeptical.
But this is the second time in one month that the mainstream media has published front-page stories on the scandals uncovered in a year-long probe that included interviews with 35,000 Chinese workers. Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, met with the top Chinese leadership and personally visited one Foxconn plant employing 35,000 workers.
It is unlikely that the Chinese government will concede enforceable rights to Foxconn workers that don’t exist for other Chinese workers, like the right to collective bargaining. But improvements in worker housing, hours on the job, and protections against harrassment would be among the most significant changs in corporate globalization since the Seattle protests over a decade ago In succeeding years, student at more than one hundred campuses were successful in gaining university endorsements of core labor standards where campus logos are used. The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco adopted binding “sweat-free” standards for their supplier chains as well.
The US and Western governments invest massive resources in promoting human rights in China, but not the rights of millions to lift themselves out of poverty and exploitation. Apple’s initiative could be an opening in that direction at last.
Meanwhile, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reports that a mass movement has arisen in Japan against secret negotiations that might result in a NAFTA for the Pacific – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – that might extend one day to China, Vietnam and Australia. The next round of closed talks will be in Dallas.
For more information on Wallach's report, please wirte firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on this story, please read "Rotten Apples in China Sweatshops."