After years of protests from anti-sweatshop and human rights activists, Apple has consented to divulge the names of its hundreds of suppliers in China employing workers in secret and oppressive conditions. Apple contractors employ 700,000 Chinese workers assembling iPhones and iPads used by millions of Americans. The Chinese plants produce for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, and Toshiba.
The virtual slave labor conditions were exposed in a lengthy article in the New York Times (January 25, 2012), whose executive editor, Jill Abramson, has pursued stories about economic injustice more aggressively than in the past.
The revelations may not lead to any improvements in the immediate future, and Apple has chosen an audit by a pro-industry group, the Fair Labor Association, widely condemned by anti-sweatshop activists globally. But the audits are sure to reveal horror stories which may stain Apple’s reputation as a progressive corporation, which in turn may lead to new campaigns or boycotts of Apple products unless conditions improve rapidly. Over 100 universities and at least two major cities (Los Angeles and San Francisco) have signed “sweatfree” and “fair trade” agreements to ban sweatshop manufacture products using their logos and brand names. Most of the sweatfree groups contract with the Workers Rights Consortium for independent monitoring.
Apple is a major contributor to Democrats, including President Obama, and the Silicon Valley rivals and even surpasses Hollywood as a liberal business base of donations to the party’s candidates.
As the US intensifies its new Cold War against China, an embarrassing question will be posed: why do US diplomats and politicians demand enforceable anti-piracy laws but not enforceable fair labor standards for US corporations making billions in profits from Chinese sweatshops? Why is there so much Western criticism of China’s treatment of writers and poets and so little of China’s treatment of its working class?
Sweatfree standards would include the right to collective bargaining, non-poverty wages, safe workplaces, back wages, and non-harrassment. Congress and the Obama administration could set sweatfree federal procurement standards, for example, on government-subsidized products like military uniforms, or fund a consortium of cities to monitor and enforce sweatfree standards. The San Francisco and Los Angeles ordinances are budgeted at $100,000 annually.
For more information on China's sweatshops, please contact the Workers Rights Consortium in Washington D.C. - Scott Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org), United Students Against Sweatsops, and Jeff Ballinger (email@example.com).