Tim Cook Defends Treatment of Chinese Workers

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a story about working conditions and accidents at Chinese production plants used by Apple and others. Responding to the heat, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook explained Apple’s position in an e-mail to employees on Thursday, according to 9to5Mac.

Mr. Cook wrote, in part:

As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are….

“Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain. As we reported earlier this month, we’ve made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. We know of no one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people….

“We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word. You can follow our progress at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.”

The emerging awareness of conditions with workers in China also brought out some responses, pointed to again by the NYT, from Chinese workers themselves at microblogging sites. Many pointed out that conditions at other plants are much worse.

One of them said, “If people saw what kind of life workers lived before they found a job at Foxconn, they would come to an opposite conclusion of this story: that Apple is such a philanthropist.”

Another said, “Don’t you know that Samsung’s products are from its OEM factory in Tianjin? Samsung workers’ income and benefits are even worse than those at Foxconn….”

However, another pair of contributors relayed their feelings about the basic problem. “I told some people about the terrible working conditions in the Apple suppliers’ factories, and asked how they felt. They said, ‘We can’t do anything about it. That’s what cheap labor is about… People are getting numb to this… That’s horrible.’” And this: “Working conditions in smaller factories are even worse (than Foxconn). They have even longer work hours. The major reason is that suppliers are not at the top of the value chain and major brands can easily replace them. Also, workers in China do not have labor unions, and the Chinese government always protects the large companies.”

The result of all this has been an elevated discussion. Chinese workers’ voices are being heard and Apple is responding in a positive way.