Yesterday, Apple introduced the latest generation of its flagship smartphone - the iPhone 11 Pro. The newest features of the 11 Pro include stronger battery life, water resistance, the ability to shoot 4K video, and three multi-functional 12 MP cameras. One of the most surprising aspects is that the smartphone will sell for only $700. That’s less than the iPhone 10 whose retail price was $750 at its unveiling last year.
The product launch keynote not only showcased the iPhone 11 Pro’s shiny, new features but the latest iPad Pro, the Apple TV+ streaming platform, and another series of Apple Watches. These announcements didn't shock spectators. Since 2011, Apple enthusiasts have learned to expect a new iPhone generation launched every September. The story behind the lastest iPhone, however, could draw less positive attention.
Foxconn has served as Apple’s largest product manufacturer for over a decade. The Chinese factories, commonly referred to as “iPhone Cities,” are being accused of breaking labor laws in order to crank out the new iPhone 11s.
The most glaringly obvious of these alleged violations relates to the number of dispatch workers the factory currently employs. Dispatch workers are temporary employees assigned to a company from an agency. China Labor Watch asserts that the country’s labor laws only allow dispatch workers to provide 10% of an organization's total workforce. They account, USA Today reports, for half of FoxConn's.
According to the Observer, who charged Amazon with similar violations in 2018, dispatch workers don’t have the same rights as permanent employees which makes them especially vulnerable to exploitation. Not only can these workers be laid off during periods of low production without compensation, but they don’t receive benefits like paid sick leave or holidays. Labor right inequalities make dispatch workers an easy target for manufacturing companies trying to fill the production quotas for tech giants like Apple and Amazon.
In addition to the dispatch worker issue, labor activists are accusing Apple of failing to offer a living wage for Foxconn factory workers. Workers are making a meager $1.68 US per hour and $2.52 US for overtime hours. China Labor Watch deemed this wage “insufficient to sustain the livelihood for a family living in Zhengzhou city”. Maybe that’s why the iPhone 11 is cheaper this year?
On Apple’s Supplier Responsibility site, they state, “We require our suppliers to treat their employees with dignity and respect. They must provide fair working hours, a safe workplace, and an environment free from discrimination.”
Foxconn surely is not helping Apple live up to this standard. Both companies have confirmed the allegations that the tech giant exceeded the dispatch worker limit. Apple stated that, upon internal investigation, they will resolve the issue immediately.
Actions speak louder than words. After all, this isn’t the first time that Foxconn has weathered labor law controversies. In 2010, Foxconn factories were the site for an alarming number of worker suicides. These were thought to be an effect of sweatshop-like working conditions and resulted in the construction of now-infamous "suicide nets." Furthermore, labor activists have been probing Foxconn for years claiming that they underpay workers, assign excessive overtime hours, and rely on underage employees—some as young as 14. That's not to mention deaths due to workplace accidents and explosions. 2012 alone saw more than 20 of those.
Considering Foxconn’s checkered history, Apple’s ethical reputation may be at risk. The latest news happened to drop just hours before Apple’s iPhone 11 announcement. Perhaps the coincidental timing will alarm consumers and push Apple to take a long look at its manufacturing partnerships. Doing so could help them better serve a new generation of consumer, one that's insistent upon supply chain ethics and responsibility.