Technology

US responsible in Chinese labor rights violations, advocates say

Workers' rights advocates waiting for a response on US-owned factories they say violate Chinese labor law

A visitor tries out an iPhone at an Apple store in Beijing April 2, 2013.
Kim Kyung-Hoon/ Reuters

Washington must share the blame in recent Chinese labor rights violations, workers’ rights advocates say.

China Labor Watch (CLW) told Al Jazeera Friday that it is demanding the United States regulate the practices of American companies in China, after the organization released a report accusing a U.S.-owned factory -- which CLW says manufactures iPhone components -- of violating Chinese labor laws.

Apple is reportedly set to unveil its newest iPhone on Tuesday, and the CLW says the “soon-to-be-released ‘cheap iPhone’” is being produced under abusive conditions in a factory in Wuxi, a city near Shanghai.

More than 80 percent of workers at the plant, which is owned by Florida-based electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit, work more than 60 hours a week, according to a CLW report published late Thursday.

Chinese law bars people from working more than 49 hours week.

In recent years, Apple has come under fire for multiple labor rights violation scandals at factories that manufacture parts for Apple products in China. In previous instances, the factories have been non-U.S. owned.

Allegedly harsh working conditions at the Taiwanese-owned Foxconn factories, which help produce Apple products, have in recent years been blamed for multiple suicides.

CLW also addressed, among other alleged infractions, "millions of dollars in unpaid overtime wages."  

The organization's report was filed by one investigator who spent a month undercover at the Wuxi factory and two outside investigators who interviewed workers off-site, according to CLW's New York-based program coordinator Kevin Slaten.

Slaten and other China labor-watchers blame lax labor law enforcement for the chronic breaches.  

"Many local officials prefer to turn a blind eye to these abuses," said Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for Chinese labor monitors at the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin. "They feel they don't have any power to enforce the law anyway. The companies bring in lots of tax revenue, they provide employment."

Still, Slaten says the U.S. government must act to address concerns emanating from American enterprises in China.

"We think that the U.S. government does share some responsibility for this," Slaten said.  

"We just recently sent this information to a couple of departments asking for them to investigate and ensure that there are remedies and punishments where law has been broken. We're waiting on an official response," he added.

The State Department had not responded to an interview request at time of publication.

Slaten said that in addition to allegedly breaking Chinese law, companies like Jabil and Apple are not abiding by their own codes of conduct.

The Apple "Supplier Code of Conduct" limits work weeks to 60 hours except in unusual circumstances.

Apple did not respond to multiple interview requests.

Jabil Circuit has pledged to abide by the values of the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (EICC), which also observes the 60-hour-per-week maximum.

Jabil did not respond to interview requests at time of publication.

According to Chinese law "Apple and EICC code doesn't abide by legal standards," Slaten said. "Their own code is already illegal, and they can't even meet that standard."

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