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Former iPhone Factory Workers Call for Reform in Open Letter

By - Source: via BGR | B 26 comments

Former factory workers join SumOfUs in their call to make Apple products more ethical.

An open letter from two former Apple factory employees has been released by SumOfUs.org. SumOfUs is currently working on a petition that it will deliver during Apple's shareholder meeting on February 23. According to Boy Genius Report, the organization today released the following letter to the media. Written by Guo Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan, both of whom worked assembling Apple's iPhone touch screens in Suzhou, China, the letter calls for reform and education with regard to what goes on at the factories.

"If more people know about what we went through, Apple will feel pressured to change so other workers don’t have to suffer like we did," the letter reads, later adding, "It has been over two years since many of us were hospitalized and treated but our debilitating symptoms continue. Rui-Qiang still can’t find work because he can no longer stand for the long hours most jobs require. Jing-Chuan has to spend nearly $100 a month on health supplements."

On the SumOfUs website, the organization highlights the fact that the iPhone 5 will be a major product launch for Tim Cook as Apple's new CEO and says this is the perfect opportunity to put pressure on the company to change its ways. 

"Right now we have a huge opportunity as ethical consumers: The launch of the iPhone 5 later this year will be new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s first big product rollout, and he can’t afford for anything to go wrong — including negative publicity around how Apple’s suppliers treat their workers."

You can check out the SumOfUs campaign and petition here. The full letter from Guo Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan is available below.

[UPDATE] An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Guo Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan worked at a Foxconn facility. However, Foxconn has said neither Guo Rui-qiang nor Jia Jing-chuan are former Foxconn employees and the situation described in the letter below did not take place at a Foxconn facility. Tom's Hardware would like to apologize for this mistake and any confusion it has caused.

Dear SumOfUs Members and Friends -

You don’t know us but you have seen our work. Until recently, we worked long hours assembling Apple’s iPhone touch screens in Suzhou, China.

In early 2010, it was independently confirmed that 137 workers, including us, were poisoned by a chemical called n-hexane which was used to clean iPhone screens. N-hexane is known to cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, and leads to persistant nerve damage. Apple admitted to gross labour rights violations more than a year later.

If more people know about what we went through, Apple will feel pressured to change so other workers don’t have to suffer like we did.

Can you share this letter with your friends, and ask them to join you in signing our petition calling for a reform of working conditions at their factories?

We have been pressuring Apple, and its new CEO Tim Cook, for years to compensate those of us who were injured working for them, and demanding reform of working conditions at their Chinese factories so that their workers don’t suffer like we do. Now we need your help as customers or potential customers of Apple.

We need your help to send a message to Apple before their shareholder meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23rd. We want to see a strict corporate social responsibility and reform of the audit system to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He will listen to you as current or potential consumers.

You’ve already signed the petition, and 82,000 others have too — for that, we thank you. We believe it’d be symbolicly powerful if 100,000 people signed the petition before SumOfUs delivers it to Tim Cook on Thursday at their shareholder meeting. We’re really close to that goal, but we need you to share our request with your friends to get over the edge.

Can you share our letter with your friends, and ask them to sign the petition too?

It has been over two years since many of us were hospitalized and treated but our debilitating symptoms continue. Rui-Qiang still can’t find work because he can no longer stand for the long hours most jobs require. Jing-Chuan has to spend nearly $100 a month on health supplements.

But with all of us working together to pressure Apple to change, we can make sure what happened to us doesn’t happen to others too.

-       Guo Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan

Follow @JaneMcEntegart on Twitter for the latest news.                       

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    icepick314 , February 23, 2012 11:23 AM
    good luck convincing Americans from NOT buying iPhone...or Xbox 360...or PS3...or other electronics Foxconn makes for rest of the world...
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , February 23, 2012 12:37 PM
    Actually the Chinese Government's problem. But apparently they get a pass in favor of attacking the "greedy" companies.
  • 12 Hide
    drchemist , February 23, 2012 12:54 PM
    Being a PhD Synthetic Chemist for pharmaceuticals I'm able to explain this a little better. Ethanol is commonly used for screens and such to because it is safer hazard wise. However, the reason for n-hexane is not cost as 90-95% Ethanol is very cheap compared to hexanes. It is time related. It takes significantly longer for Ethanol to dry in the air than n-hexane which is much more volatile and will dry extremely fast. Therefore, allowing for many more products to be made per day.

    I use hexanes all the time and honestly it really isn't too bad having spilled on my hands sometimes, as long as it is not continual and prolonged. My guess is that these workers and the plant did not require the following:
    A) respirator for the filtering the fumes (needed by OSHA and Safety standards in the US)
    B) proper safety gloves (Viton) which are resistant for even immersion into hexanes
    So who is to blame here, not the client, but the manufacturer. If you make anything like this in the US and they didn't follow OSHA and various safety guidelines the manufacturer would be sued, not the client. It is up to the manufacturer and the employee to demand this from the employer. The problem is that this will never happen in China because there are hundreds of others waiting for your job outside because the quality of life and pay everywhere else is so bad that you can't have a living wage without working at these places. If Apple and the other manufacters want to complain, fine, but it will only change if you move your production to a safety regulated facility in the US or Europe. That's it.

    In case you needed it here is a portion of the MSDS that is on file at every chemical company in the US to follow appropriate procedures for safety in the US when using it:
    Long-term exposure may cause damage to the nervous system of the extremities
    (the hands, arms, legs and feet). Dangerous for the environment.
    Target Organs: Central nervous system, respiratory system, eyes, skin, peripheral nervous system, testes.
Other Comments
  • 3 Hide
    john_e , February 23, 2012 11:18 AM
    Quote:
    The launch of the iPhone 5 later this year will be new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s first big product rollout, and he can’t afford for anything to go wrong — including negative publicity around how Apple’s suppliers treat their workers."


    Yeah 1 way would be to vote with our pockets and not buy any Apple products. Only then would Apple do something to improve working conditions, but knowing Apple they'll just do it to stop losing sales and the cash flow it brings to its greedy investors. Same applies to all other companies using Foxconn factories.
  • 11 Hide
    Houndsteeth , February 23, 2012 11:21 AM
    Not apologizing for Apple, but in this case, they were not the culprit for the n-hexane poisoning. Apple production specs called for the use of alcohol to clean all the affected parts. It was the decision of a line manager to use n-hexane because it was cheaper and easier to acquire than alcohol. Since there really is not government oversight body like OSHA to enforce worker safety, the change of cleaning chemicals also raised to red flags or warnings, and all the workers in the section were affected by n-hexane poisoning, leaving several of them hospitalized for months.

    Should Apple step up and do something for these workers? At least from a public relations standpoint, they should do what they can to help these workers, since they profited from their misfortune. But doing so would amount to a claim of responsibility, so I am sure their lawyers are warning them against any public admission of any level of responsibility.

    By the way, Apple was not the only company that contracted with this manufacturer. The company in question had contracts with a large number of major electronics companies, American, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese. Are any of them being held to the flame like Apple? Or is it because Apple happens to be the one holding the most cash at the moment?
  • -5 Hide
    phishy714 , February 23, 2012 11:22 AM
    I get the feeling that this letter will have a place to put in your credit card information in at the bottom so that you can support a princess held captive there.. or something.
  • 13 Hide
    icepick314 , February 23, 2012 11:23 AM
    good luck convincing Americans from NOT buying iPhone...or Xbox 360...or PS3...or other electronics Foxconn makes for rest of the world...
  • 6 Hide
    Microgoliath , February 23, 2012 11:27 AM
    Only way things will change is if people stop buying products from these companies that use foxconn, but that's not realistically possible since so many use foxonn :|
  • 3 Hide
    javiermontes , February 23, 2012 12:15 PM
    Shouldn't be Apples, HP, Cisco, or any other company that uses Foxcon problem, Foxcon problems should be foxcon problems
  • -2 Hide
    wopr11 , February 23, 2012 12:34 PM
    Apple products more ethical? Not in this life
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , February 23, 2012 12:37 PM
    Actually the Chinese Government's problem. But apparently they get a pass in favor of attacking the "greedy" companies.
  • 6 Hide
    Achoo22 , February 23, 2012 12:40 PM
    This situation represents a failure from the Chinese government to protect its people. The Lord knows that there are folks in the US who are at this moment working in environments riddled with asbestos and diacetyl and worse. If the US government fails to protect its citizenry from big business, I have little faith that China can or will do so. Attempting to pressure industrial forces to police themselves is futile. While I have great sympathy for these suffering workers, at home and abroad, it is likely that their suffering will continue.
  • -8 Hide
    __-_-_-__ , February 23, 2012 12:42 PM
    javiermontesBy the way, Apple was not the only company that contracted with this manufacturer.

    what other company sells iphones? because what are we talking about here is about apple products. no n-hexane poisoning occurred in other factories.
  • 2 Hide
    javiermontes , February 23, 2012 12:48 PM
    Dude that was not my comment, this was my comment

    Quote:
    Shouldn't be Apples, HP, Cisco, or any other company that uses Foxcon problem, Foxcon problems should be foxcon problems


    and yes no poisoning occurred in other factories, still, should be problem of Foxcon or the Chinese government.
  • 12 Hide
    drchemist , February 23, 2012 12:54 PM
    Being a PhD Synthetic Chemist for pharmaceuticals I'm able to explain this a little better. Ethanol is commonly used for screens and such to because it is safer hazard wise. However, the reason for n-hexane is not cost as 90-95% Ethanol is very cheap compared to hexanes. It is time related. It takes significantly longer for Ethanol to dry in the air than n-hexane which is much more volatile and will dry extremely fast. Therefore, allowing for many more products to be made per day.

    I use hexanes all the time and honestly it really isn't too bad having spilled on my hands sometimes, as long as it is not continual and prolonged. My guess is that these workers and the plant did not require the following:
    A) respirator for the filtering the fumes (needed by OSHA and Safety standards in the US)
    B) proper safety gloves (Viton) which are resistant for even immersion into hexanes
    So who is to blame here, not the client, but the manufacturer. If you make anything like this in the US and they didn't follow OSHA and various safety guidelines the manufacturer would be sued, not the client. It is up to the manufacturer and the employee to demand this from the employer. The problem is that this will never happen in China because there are hundreds of others waiting for your job outside because the quality of life and pay everywhere else is so bad that you can't have a living wage without working at these places. If Apple and the other manufacters want to complain, fine, but it will only change if you move your production to a safety regulated facility in the US or Europe. That's it.

    In case you needed it here is a portion of the MSDS that is on file at every chemical company in the US to follow appropriate procedures for safety in the US when using it:
    Long-term exposure may cause damage to the nervous system of the extremities
    (the hands, arms, legs and feet). Dangerous for the environment.
    Target Organs: Central nervous system, respiratory system, eyes, skin, peripheral nervous system, testes.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , February 23, 2012 1:56 PM
    Just to be clear, the supplier that allowed its workers to use n-hexane was not Foxconn, it was Wintek. When the poisonings came to light, Apple terminated Wintek as a supplier due to the health and safety violations.
  • -4 Hide
    Northwestern , February 23, 2012 2:30 PM
    icepick314good luck convincing Americans from NOT buying iPhone...or Xbox 360...or PS3...or other electronics Foxconn makes for rest of the world...

    This. The uneducated American public won't give a care about mistreated workers. Just as long as they get their precious iCrap.
  • 4 Hide
    rolli59 , February 23, 2012 2:38 PM
    All though Foxconn gets all the media coverage all the same conditions apply to all the other companies in this industry that produce in that part of the world. It is a cultural thing not a one company specific situation!
  • 3 Hide
    matt_b , February 23, 2012 3:12 PM
    __-_-_-__what other company sells iphones? because what are we talking about here is about apple products. no n-hexane poisoning occurred in other factories.

    You need to look at how large Foxconn is, this company is an electronics titan. They make so much more that the iPhone and more so than you apparently know. The reason for the hexane poisoning has been spelled out, it was not Apple that decided to go the route of profits over safety on this issue - they actually worked to fix it. Apple is merely being used as the example here for contracting a company tied to unethical treatment of people. Why Apple? Convenient timing with the stock market, spotlight coverage, and lots of cash on hand = the perfect scapegoat. Apple/iPhone may be what we're talking about in this article, but corruption lies within way more places than placing all of this burden on the piddly little iPhone. Focus should be placed on the country first, Foxconn, then Apple if anyone is that upset over it. As strange as it may sound, these Foxconn workers do get paid more than most other Chinese employees of similar roles. Perhaps this shows the correct path has broken ground?
  • -1 Hide
    jaber2 , February 23, 2012 3:20 PM
    I said this before, if we don't stop buying Apple they would not change vendors.
  • 0 Hide
    tmshdw , February 23, 2012 4:22 PM
    jaber2I said this before, if we don't stop buying Apple they would not change vendors.


    Thats nice and thanks for letting us know. Keep letting us know all the things you have said.

    Or perhaps come to the epifany that the company that employs the worker and the goverment have the first lines of responsibility. Its up to the Chinese gov to enforce environment safety rules for workers. Its up to foxxcon to implement and be liable.
  • 0 Hide
    tmshdw , February 23, 2012 4:27 PM
    Folks, the problem here is simple:

    THE CHINESE GOV AND CULTURE HAS LITTLE REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE.

    The have virtually no env laws and no enforcement and are full of corruption. Third worild in mentality with the rich gluttons having all the money. Kudos to Apple to start taking a stand. So where are all the other USA companies that manufacture in China? Where are all the Andriod manufacturors?
  • 1 Hide
    bfstev , February 23, 2012 4:48 PM
    This is really a workers rights issue in china/thailand. Apple doesnt really have a say in their internal pollitics and really has no way to even enforce anything they told foxconn to do. Foxconn could simply ignore them and continue on as ussual with no repercusions. Apple isnt gonna go to anyone else simply because they would have to pay significantly more per unit and the second they left, foxconn would most likely keep making the iphone and sell it in china without apple's consent effectively destroying that market for apple. However issues such as these and QA are starting to turn more US corporations to looking locally for munufacturing partners. People just seem to hold apple more responsible due to their 30% profit on everything it sells. The obscene markup should equal more quality and, in some people's minds, improved working conditions at the factories but so far just seems to further increase apple's bank numbers.
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