The iPad’s human cost: Apple’s suppliers are accused of maintaining unsafe work conditions

Apple’s China-based suppliers of iPhones and iPads have drawn international attention with their unsafe work conditions and ill-treatment of workers, said The New York Times in a special report.

The in-depth, front page report, by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza, highlighted the human cost that goes into making the extremely popular iPhones and iPads, which Forbes extrapolated as 23 deaths and 273 injuries from a combination of factory accidents and suicides.

Ironically, on the same day, Foxconn International Holdings Ltd., one of the two suppliers mentioned in the article, had the highest surge in stock in two months, after Apple Inc., posted record earnings this week, according to Bloomberg.

Among the problems at Apple’s supplier factories are excessive overtime, under-age workers, improperly disposed hazardous waste and falsified records, according to The Times.

Two years ago, 137 workers were injured while using a poisonous chemical to clean iPhones and last year four people were killed and 77 injured in two explosions at factories. The article does state that Apple “has made significant strides in improving factories in recent years.”

The Shanghaiist, a blog dedicated to the Chinese city, reported on the reactions of Chinese netizens to The Times’ article. One reader, going by the name Evita, said, “It’s not only Apple that should be blamed, but also the system that tolerates its existence. Made-in-China should not be synonymous with the blood and sacrifice of young lives.” Another anonymous commenter said, “Without Apple, Chinese workers will be worse off.”

More on GlobalPost: Special report: Silicon Sweatshops

The article posits that the pressure of making products faster, cheaper and more efficiently has made suppliers like Foxconn cut corners with worker safety and the quality of products used.

A current Apple executive told The Times, “Right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Apple, meanwhile, posted profits of $13.1 billion for the quarter and a 73 percent increase in revenue to $46.3 billion, making it the most valuable technology company in the world, according to Forbes.

More on GlobalPost: China worker suicides: a lost generation?

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