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Not Just Foxconn: Looking Into the Shadows of Apple's Factory Empire

Apple’s power over China’s workforce extends to many other suppliers. A new report drills down to the lesser-known plants that piece together our hand-held devices.

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Labor dispatching demands special attention because Apple does not address it in its Supplier Responsibility Progress Reports... If Apple were to take the problem into account, the number of supplier factories that meet Apple's standards would fall considerably.

Apple may for now find it more profitable to maintain a policy of willful blindness when monitoring working conditions. But it may be pushed by political shifts in China.  Strikes, protests and sometimes violent clashes have been breaking out routinely across the country. In recent months, labor actions have erupted at the facilities tied to global companies like Citizen Watch, Sanyo and Panasonic.

At the same time, the Chinese government is trying to contain a  rising tide of pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong has enjoyed political autonomy from Beijing since returning to Chinese rule 15 years ago, its recent social unrest and rising economic inequality portend escalating tension between neoliberalism and social equity. 

CLW’s executive director Li Qiang told In These Times that  since China’s cheap labor costs encourage Hong Kong companies to shift capital to the mainland, “Hong Kong businessmen and companies gain extravagant benefit from this investment, and the unemployment rate in Hong Kong may be higher. Therefore, the widening disparity between the haves and the have-nots in Hong Kong may become a concern.” 

From Shenzhen to Hong Kong to Cupertino, vast political and social distance separates the disparate elements of this industrial regime—workers in the U.S. and relatively well-off regions in Asia seeing employers ship off to China, Chinese workers toiling at the base of the supply chain, and the consumers who absorb the products on the other end. But as everyone gradually realizes that they’re all subjects of a corporate empire, the slickness of the tech industry will begin a slow-motion crash into the hard realities of the global factory floor.

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor to In These Times and a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com and Pacifica’s WBAI. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

 
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