Apple has repeatedly denied knowledge of a toxic gas accident in May 25, 2017 at Catcher Technologies, which led to the hospitalization of over 90 workers. Despite the presence of Apple employees at all supplier factories and an official order from the government to halt operations at the affected workshop after the incident, Apple claims to be unaware of the event. Reports by Bloomberg and 中国劳工观察 identify further issues at Catcher including lack of personal protective equipment and training, as well as poor living conditions.
3M, H&M and C&A are currently investigating allegations that prison labor is used in the manufacture of packaging for their products. The probes came in response to a Financial Times article by Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator who served almost 2 years in a Chinese prison and claimed he witnessed fellow inmates making packaging with the names of the three companies.
A proposed lift of presidential term limits was announced by Xinhua on February 25, meaning that President Xi’s time in office may be longer than previously expected. Independent labor groups are facing restrictions under President Xi’s crackdowns on activists and NGOs.
Workplace safety also continues to be a concern in China. On February 6, the government urged steel mills to increase safety checks after two gas leak-related incidents killed 17 people, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, a recent report notes how deaths related to overwork are overwhelmingly common in China’s medical industry, with more than 31 reported sudden deaths in 2017.
Labor arrears continued to be an issue in February 2018. One of the most unique solutions was implemented in Nanchang, where employers paid a portion of wages in bricks. Many more workers faced the New Year with wages still unpaid.
While #MeToo and #TimesUp movements continued to gather steam, particularly in the US, the movement failed to generate equivalent momentum in China, in part due to government censorship. At the end of January, a female worker at a Foxconn factory wrote about her own experiences with systemic sexual harassment, stating “if there is no action, there can be no change.”