Former iPhone Factory Workers Call for Reform in Open Letter

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

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  • icepick314
    good luck convincing Americans from NOT buying iPhone...or Xbox 360...or PS3...or other electronics Foxconn makes for rest of the world...
    13
  • Anonymous
    Actually the Chinese Government's problem. But apparently they get a pass in favor of attacking the "greedy" companies.
    13
  • drchemist
    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.
    12
  • Other Comments
  • john_e
    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.
    3
  • Houndsteeth
    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?
    11
  • phishy714
    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.
    -5