Apple: Nobody is doing more to improve working conditions

Tim Cook meets critics head-on, points to China and Brazil as key growth areas

Apple CEO Tim Cook claims that no tech company is doing more to ensure the welfare of its supply chain workers.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference, Cook restated the company's commitment to creating a "fair and safe work environment" in the factories operated by manufacturing partners like Foxconn.

"Where they can earn competitive wages and they can voice their concerns freely. Apple's suppliers must live up to this to do business with Apple," he said.

Cook detailed Apple's education initiatives, which aims to teach workers about their rights. More than 60,000 employees from Apple's supply chain have attended these free classes - a feat that Cook described as "pretty amazing."

"If you take all these employees and move them to one location, it would be larger than Arizona State -- which is the largest college in the United States. This is a powerful stepping stone for workers looking to enhance their careers and their lives."

"No one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple. We are constantly auditing facilities going deep into the supply chain, looking for problems, finding problems and fixing problems."

I am so incredibly proud of the work that our teams are doing in this area. They are truly a model for the industry

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

"We report everything because we believe transparency is so very important in this area. I am so incredibly proud of the work that our teams are doing in this area. They focus on the most difficult problems and they stay with them until they fix them. They are truly a model for the industry."

Cook said that hiring underage labour will result in immediate dismissal, and that Apple is increasing its efforts to address the "consistent violations" of its policy against working weeks of more than 60 hours. "We have begun to manage working hour at a very micro basis," he said.

The Fair Labour Association is currently auditing Apple's "final assembly vendors," which Cook described as, "the biggest audit in manufacturing in history."

While poor working conditions at manufacturers like Foxconn have been widely reported, a New York Times investigation published last month accused Apple of looking the other way while problems persisted.

Elsewhere in his presentation, Cook pointed towards China and Brazil as the next major growth areas for Apple products, particularly the iPhone. Apple sold 37 million iPhones during the last quarter, but Cook baulked at the suggestion that opportunities for growth are running out.

"There's 3 out of 4 people buying something else; 9 out of 10 phone buyers are buying something else," he said.

"The smartphone market is projected to be 1 billion units in 2015, 3 years from now. 25 per cent of that is projected to come from China and Brazil... Obviously those are very critical markets, but there are others as well."

Cook also addressed the belief that the tablet market will soon overtake the PC. Apple believed that to be true from the first day it shipped the iPad, and Cook claimed, "I feel that stronger today than I did then."

"As I look out and I see all of these incredible usages for it, I see the incredible rate and pace of innovation, and the developers -- If we had a meeting at this hotel, and we invited everyone doing cool stuff on PC, we wouldn't have anyone here," he said.

"If you invited everyone working on iOS or on that other operating system, you wouldn't be able to fit everyone. That's where the innovation is."

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Latest comments (15)

Edward Buffery Head of LQA (UK), Testronic6 years ago
"that other operating system". I feel the hate flowing strong in this one ^_^
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
With regards to the tablet market overtaking the traditional computer market, can you activate an iPad without a PC/mac yet? Not sure tablets can replace PCs if you need a PC to use the thing that's replacing it.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
Andrew, yes, you can. Since iOS 5, you've not needed to use a PC/Mac.
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Show all comments (15)
Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 6 years ago
They are doing more than everyone else, but he didn't state that they are doing enough :) And obviously, they are not doing enough.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters6 years ago
Exactly, Mihai. And when they're raking in record breaking profits, far in excess of everyone else, they better damn well had be doing more than everyone else.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises6 years ago
If Apple started hiring children, THEN could I afford a 17" MacBook without having to take out a second mortgage on my home?
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Toby Starbuck Copywriter, Playfish6 years ago
I'm with Mihai. If Apple is doing more than any other tech co., that's a pretty damning indictment of the industry as a whole and does nothing to excuse Apple's failures.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
Considering they supposedly have more spare cash than the US government and price their products at the 'premium' end of the market, I'm shocked and stunned at just how bad working conditions have been, and we're not talking recently, but for YEARS. It would be refreshing to just see action and not further marketing...
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Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis6 years ago
I know Apple want people to buy Mac's but have they opened up their iOS SDK to Windows yet?
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd6 years ago
Sorry but Apple is absolutely full of it. Their working conditions are far and away the worst of the major tech companies. The other companies may not be instituting an "investigation" on those working conditions but they didn't create ones as bad as Apple in the first place. Don't get me wrong Microsoft, Samsung, etc. all have horrible conditions, but Apple's are truly attrocious. This is because Apple pays these factories ridiculously small profit margins, even compared to those other companies. They force people like Foxconn to bid FAR below living wages because they want to pocket more money, and then further compound the issue by requiring an insanely high rate of production. Apple created this environment, and until they're willing to do the only thing that matters (pay these people more money), everything they say and do about this issue is nothing more than posturing to save face.
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Tin Katavic Studying MSc-Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee6 years ago
It kinda seems to me that everyone loves to attack Apple. Perhaps its that their bussiness is booming in the last few years? I am sorry if that statement made me sound as an Apple fan-boiii but I honestly doubt that Apple is worse then other companies.

And I have to disagree with Nicholas Pantazis - saying Apple is to blame because they dont give high enough profit margins and thus forcing Foxconn and others to bid below living wages ... thats not fair. You yourself say that Foxconn wants to pocket more money so even if the profit margin was higher they would just pocket more money.

Simple truth is that the only one who could stop such exploitation would be the goverment of the country where its happening.
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 6 years ago
Of course, an easy way to sidestep the vast majority of these issues would be to move production to a country with a better record of employee rights, workers' unions and standard of living, but then their profits would take a huge blow so that's obviously not going to happen. It's easier just to feign concern for a few months until the media moves their attention elsewhere.
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Brian Smith Artist 6 years ago
The pressure should be on the Chinese government to improve their countries working laws rather on some tech organisation that is taking advantage of the situation. That's the only real fix to this. Us, as consumers not wanting to pay more for our toys, or Apple as a company wanting to make more cash are side effects of the global economics involved. All that's happening here in this story is Brand protection.
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Dan Porter Game Designer, Gameloft Montreal6 years ago
"Nobody is doing more to improve working conditions."

That's easy to say when nobody is doing anything. There's only one reason why companies put factories in countries like China, and its because the labor is so cheap that it makes up for the cost of shipping everything half way around the world before it reaches the consumer in the Western market. It bothers me to hear companies engage in outsourcing manufacturing jobs to countries with poor labor standards and at the same time claim that they advocate fair worker treatment.

If Apple wanted to treat workers fair, it would move manufacturing to the US, Canada, Japan, UK, etc. where workers have to be paid more than 10 cents a day.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Porter on 16th February 2012 3:05pm

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Terence Gage Freelance writer 6 years ago
Out of interest, are there any ethical big electronics manufacturers? I wouldn't mind paying a bit extra for my next TV or phone - say 10 or 15 percent - if I knew that extra money went toward better employee working practices.

@ Dan - "There's only one reason why companies put factories in countries like China, and its because the labor is so cheap that it makes up for the cost of shipping everything half way around the world before it reaches the consumer in the Western market."

A friend of mine works for a major UK retailer (Boots the Chemist) and he said he can ship a container from China for about Ł10k ($15724 Canadian, according to which would hold up to a million DVD-size cases, so I don't think the shipping or transport of the games is particularly expensive in the overall scheme of things.
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