Even though Apple's Chinese consumers bask in the luxurious image Apple has built for them, their workers oftentimes live far from the high life. While it isn't that they outright put their workers in danger, it's that Apple is so slow to react when things go wrong.
NPR has a lengthy piece regarding the ongoing health issues of one Jia Jingchuan, a 27-year-old former employee at Wintek, a company that manufactures iPhone parts. He's one of the many workers who continues to suffer from nerve damage after being exposed to the now-illegal N-hexane chemical used in their screen cleaning products. While Apple has since responded to the issue—among many others—by banning the use of the chemical and pledging to follow-up with and monitor the treatment of the affected workers, Jia has had to pay for his own medical care. When he tries to reach them, he gets no response. And Steve Jobs won't return his letters. In the meantime, he must get by without a job and without any prospects.
It comes as a surprise, as this is only one sad chapter in an even longer and sadder story. The shadow of the 17 Foxconn suicides last year, followed by the more recent explosions that rocked the Chengdu plant and took the lives of three people, still looms large over Apple. But Apple has spoken out and taken steps towards bettering the quality of life of their present employees, one would hope as much out of an abundance of concern for the human beings who work in these factories as well as for public relations' sake.
However, Jia's story is likely only one of many that asks how far Apple still needs to go. The company is currently ranked "dead last" behind 28 other companies in China in terms of their responsiveness to employee concerns, according to a 2010 report commissioned by the Green Choice Alliance. According to NPR:
"According to Ma [Jun, one of the leaders of the Green Choice Alliance, a coalition of 36 Chinese NGOs that tracks pollution reports among international brands operating in China] most multinational companies go through an evolution in dealing with complaints presented by Chinese civil society groups: "from nonresponsive, to somewhat resistant, to at least listening, to a proactive response." ...Apple, however, has stayed resistant, fighting off attempts by others to uncover whether factories where workers have been poisoned or where pollution is extreme are their suppliers."
A striking contrast when you consider they're a leader in the computing world, and are richer than the US government.
It seems to me that Apple is quite capable of squashing a few PR fires. But they are wanting in the caring for the little guy department. I understand that Steve Jobs and Time Cook are busy men, and looking after people not directly in their employ wouldn't be very high on a list of priorities. But it's not as though Apple lacks for the resources needed toward aiding people in their supply chain like Jia Jingchuan and anyone else in need. It should not be this way. [NPR, Image Credit: AP Photo/Kin Cheung]