Apple Inc. says in its “Commitment to Human Rights” document that it is required to comply with all local laws. In China, an example is when Apple removed 674 virtual private network (VPN) apps that would help users to bypass China’s “Great Firewall” in 2017. In 2020, Apple also removed more than 47,000 games lacking government approval from its Chinese App Store. A Tech Transparency Project investigation has identified more than 3,000 apps that are not in the App Store in China but appear in other countries, many related to human rights topics targeted by China’s censors.
Due to Chinese censorship, iPhone users in China cannot use news apps from the New York Times, CNN, Wall Street Journal, social media apps including Facebook and Twitter, and many VPN apps. Apple explains that all Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available.
However, while Apple follows Chinese censorship laws, it does not follow Chinese labor laws. According to information provided by former Apple employees who worked in the supplier responsibility team, and a former senior media manager, Apple put profits over compliance with Chinese labor laws. An example is that Apple has ignored suppliers violating a Chinese labor law that caps the maximum proportion of temporary dispatch workers at 10%, allowing Apple suppliers to hire more dispatch workers than legally permitted in peak production seasons. When the dispatch workers are not needed anymore after the launch, the suppliers will lay off up to two thirds of the workforce. An internal Apple presentation revealed that temporary dispatch workers constitute over 50% of the workforce at over 80 Apple factories, mostly hired to reduce production costs.
Dispatch workers are cheaper to hire because part of dispatch workers’ wages are often withheld by dispatch agencies, and many dispatch workers do not get fully paid when the contract term is up. In such cases, workers will be forced to continue working in Apple supplier factories in hope of getting the wages they were promised. From November to December 2020, thousands of dispatch workers at the factories of Apple’s largest supplier Foxconn, and second largest supplier Pegatron, organized large-scale protests over unpaid wages. Dozens of workers were subsequently arrested.
Evidence suggests that Apple further violates China’s labor laws through practices such as using child labor and forced overtime work.
So far, the Chinese authorities have turned a blind eye since Apple obeyed censorship orders for media content and social media apps upon the request of the Chinese government. In exchange, the Chinese government acquiesced to Apple’s suppliers not complying with Chinese labor laws, and the infringement of workers’ rights became a kind of privilege awarded to Apple by the Chinese government.
Under an authoritarian regime, Chinese workers are already oppressed without the freedom to organize independent labor unions, and Apple has doubled down the exploitation of Chinese workers by restricting the rights of workers in order to maximize profits.
Please write a letter to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, asking Apple to comply with China’s labor laws.
Use the template below, or draft your own letter to voice your concerns over labor violations by Apple’s suppliers.