Letter: Apple cannot turn blind eye to abuse at its China factories

Apple has a responsibility to ensure its contract manufacturers treat their workers with dignity. That duty is back in the spotlight following reports of violence at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant (“Apple factory workers clash with police over outbreak measures”, Report, November 24).

Despite the effort to diversify their supply chains, China remains the most important and economically viable location for Apple and other global brands. Moving a sophisticated and well-coordinated supply chain takes years and, so far, other low-cost countries do not appear able to take over the production of such high-end products.

China and the multinationals that rely on its manufacturing strength appear to understand this too, giving foreign businesses little leverage in pressing Beijing to abandon its strict policy stance in the lead up to the festive period. However, as China seems to be experimenting with various restriction-easing policies in different cities, global businesses ought to treat the current turbulence as a short-term disruption instead of a permanent shock.

That doesn’t give Apple and its peers licence to simply wait out the current unrest on the ground. These highly populated industrial parks are not designed for weeklong Covid lockdowns. Little wonder then that tensions are boiling over.

Coordination with contract manufacturers, like Foxconn, must be improved to ensure compensation and living standards for workers. Apple should also secure medical resources from local governments. It is not uncommon that multinationals receive more flexible treatment at the local level. During China’s electricity shortage in 2021, many local businesses managed to secure electricity supply by leveraging their relationships with large foreign companies. Apple is certainly in the position to do so right now.

S Alex Yang
Associate Professor, London Business School
London NW1, UK

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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