Labor Conditions of Apple’s itouch Supplier All Over CCTV. Brand Destruction in Process?

Monday, February 22, 2010 2:18

Over the last couple of years, one of the firms that has popped up on the radar of firms whose labor conditions I felt were at some point going to come back to haunt them… and I think we have come a bit closer with the above CCTV report, an 11 and a half minute investigative report (in Chinese) where former employees of the Suzhou based Wintek facility speak about the physical ailments they experienced while working at the facility.

It is a report that covers all the bases. Interviews of former employees who detail the illnesses they feel come from working at the plant, people in the hospital who are still recovering, labor bureau officials, the cursory tours, some scientific facts on the chemicals used in the process of cleaning/ finishing the screens, and even a Wintek Manager interview.

It is a report, that while “unverified”, is unlike before when Apple (and its suppliers) had labor issues as it is a report that cannot be contained by suing a reporter or leveraging the brand to keep the story from entering the mainstream, and it is the “report” that I had in many ways been waiting for. That, as the reports of Apple’s supply chain issues were becoming more frequent in the international press, it was the potential spillover into the Chinese press that I was looking out for and in my opinion significantly heightens the risk to Apple locally.

Link to video (Chinese) here

Update: Shanghai Daily is reporting that Wintek admits to having 49 employeees exposed, and “taken care of”, a few months back.  That, the exposures were a failure of managers understanding the chemicals, and how to properly manage them.. and that following the 49 employees being sicked, they took immediate action. Interestingly enough, the hospital says that more than 100 employees have been received thus far, and that they are still coming in.

hmm.. I am guessing there isn’t an Apple employee with direct knowledge of the situation, but given Apple’s plans to open up a Apple store in Shanghai this summer, I would suggest they get books on the ground fast to work out what is going on.  Last thing they would want would be 2500 Wintek employees to go on another walk, but this time move the meeting point to Nanjing road.

Update 2: Turns out that Wintek is also a supplier to Nokia, and Nokia has sent out a very strongly worded message to put a lot of distance between them and the current issues at Wintek. Here are two passages that I believe are the most damning for Wintek – and ultimately Apple (emphasis mine)

#1 – Wintek is a Nokia supplier, and provides components for its mobile phones, but N-Hexane is and has NOT been used on Nokia’s production lines at this supplier. Nokia strictly forbids all use of chemicals which are illegal.

#2 – We became aware of the allegations regarding the use of n-hexane in July 2009 and started our investigation immediately. Although it was confirmed that the n-hexane was not used on our production lines at the supplier, as part of our assessment we agreed on a development plan for health and safety management at Wintek’s Suzhou factory and a series of corrective measures have been taken since then.

So, if I read this right, not only is n-hexane illegal, but this has been going on for nearly a year.

That is would have been more than enough time for Apple to have made the necessary adjustments had they put in the effort when the first Wintek strike occurred, or even the second one.  OR.. even when they did their supplier evaluations in as part of the 2009 supplier responsibility report.

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