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本文為NYTimes.com「In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad」的譯文,作者為Charles Duhigg 與 David Barboza。

在去年五月的一個星期五晚上,一場爆炸襲捲了A5大樓,伴隨著的是火災的警報聲,以及宛如稻草般被扭曲的金屬噪音。

當工人們從餐廳跑到外面後,他們看到了從破碎的玻璃窗飄出的黑煙。這些黑煙是從工人們每天拋光上千個iPad機殼的區域而來。

有兩人立刻因此而死亡,並且有超過12個人以上受傷。當傷者陸續被送往醫院後,有一名傷者特別地受到注意。他的五官經過爆炸已經無法辨認,在經過殘酷的熱氣後,嘴唇與鼻子已經被紅色與黑色的塊狀物給取代。

「請問您是賴曉東(Lai Xiaodong)的父親嗎?」在賴先生的老家響起的電話中,一個人如此地說著。在六個月前,22歲的他搬到中國西南地區的成都,成為地球上規模最大、速度最快並且最先進的生產系統中的一員。這套系統,可以提供Apple以及其他上百家公司夢想中的速度,來生產他們的產品。 電話中的人如此地告訴賴先生的父親:

“He’s in trouble. Get to the hospital as soon as possible.”

「他出了事情,請儘快到醫院來。」

在過去十年,掌握著全球製造業的Apple,已經成為世界上最強大、最富有、最成功的公司之一。Apple以及其他高科技同業,加上數十家其他美國企業,都達成了近代史尚無與倫比的創新步伐。

然而,根據工廠內的員工、勞工代表以及由公司本身公布的文件,組裝著iPhone、iPad以及其他各種裝置的工人們經常是在惡劣的環境中工作。此外還有許多問題,例如繁重的工作量,以及嚴重甚至是致命的安全問題等等。

員工過度地加班工作,在某些情況下達到每週七天,並且居住在擁擠的宿舍中。有人說由於工人站立的時間實在太久,導致雙腿腫脹到幾乎無法行走。而根據公司的相關報導,以及在中國被視為可靠並且監察獨立的代表團體指出,未成年的工人為了Apple組裝產品、供應商不當地處理危險的廢棄物、偽造文書記錄……

根據該代表團體,更令人不安的是,部分供應商完全無視於工人的健康問題。在兩年前,一個中國東部的Apple供應商在下令使用有毒化學物來清理iPhone螢幕後,造成了137名工人受傷。而在去年的七個月內,包含成都有兩次iPad工廠的爆炸事件,並造成四人死亡、77人受傷。而根據一個中國團體,在這些爆炸事件發生之前,他們就已經警告了Apple要注意成都工廠中的危險狀況。

根據前任美國勞工部職業安全與健康委員會主席Nicholas Ashford:

“If Apple was warned、and didn’t act、that’s reprehensible. But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another、and companies take advantage of that.”

「如果Apple已被警告,並且沒有採取行動,就應該要受到譴責。但是在一個道德矛盾的國家中,最後卻是屈服於商業的現實。而企業們利用了這點。」

Apple並不是唯一一個利用這種有問題的供應系統來做生意的電子公司。Dell、Hewlett-Packard、IBM、Lenovo、Motorola、Nokia、Sony、Toshiba以及其他更多企業的產品製造工廠,都有著工作環境不良的紀錄。

更者,現任與前任的Apple管理階層都表示,公司在近年來已經在改善工廠方面取得了顯著的進展。Apple目前也有了供應商行為守則,詳細地列出了勞工問題、安全保障以及其他方面的各種標準。大規模的審核行動也已經開始,根據Apple的說法,所有被發現的問題都會被要求更正。

同時,Apple公布了供應商責任報告。在許多情況下,這是第一次關於違規狀況的報告。在本月,Apple也第一次公布了其供應商的確定名單。

不過,重大的問題仍然存在。根據Apple的報告,自2007年以來,有超過一半以上的Apple供應商違反了至少一項的標準,在某些案例中,同時也已經觸犯到了相關法規。雖然許多違規情形是涉及工作條件而不是安全問題,不過令人不安的狀況仍然持續存在。

根據目前已辭職並向富士康起訴,曾經管理發生爆炸的成都工廠的Li Mingqi先生敘述:

“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost. Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests.”

「Apple從來都不曾關心過除提高品質與降低成本之外的事。工人的福利對於他們的利益並沒有任何幫助。」

部分Apple管理階層表示,在公司內有著無法解決的緊張狀態:管理階層想要改進工廠的條件,但是當這些與主要供應商的關係或是新產品的交貨速度衝突時,改進的速度就會開始減慢。在週二,Apple發表了史上業績最佳的季度,共有463億美金的營業額,以及130億6,000萬美金的利潤。而管理階層表示,如果海外工廠的產量能更多,就能有更高的銷售量出現。

在其他公司的管理階層也表示有相同的內部壓力存在。他們反駁說,這樣的系統也許並不漂亮,不過激進的改革將會減緩創新的速度。消費者們也希望每年都能推出令人驚奇的新型電子產品。

根據一位由於保密協議而拒絕透露姓名的前Apple管理階層敘述:

“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years、and they’re still going on. Why?  Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice. ”

「我們知道某些工廠虐待勞工的情形已經許多年了,而且他們仍然繼續相同的事情。為何會這樣?因為這整個系統為我們而運作。如果Apple告訴他們一定要這樣做,供應商將會在一天內改變所有的事情。」

“If half of iPhones were malfunctioning、do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?”

「如果一半以上的iPhone都無法正常運作,你認為Apple會讓這種狀況持續四年嗎?」

根據Apple所發表的報告,他們要求所有被發現違反勞動標準的狀況都必須要糾正,而拒絕改正的供應商將會被終止合約。然而在私底下,部分管理階層承認,尋找新的供應商是非常耗時而且昂貴的。富士康是全球少數幾個規模夠大,可以生產足量iPhone與iPad的製造商之一。

根據哈佛研究員以及前任國家科學院委員Heather White敘述:

“(Apple)not going to leave Foxconn and they’re not going to leave China、There’s a lot of rationalization. ”

「Apple不會離開富士康,他們也不會離開中國。其中有很多理由。」

Apple為這篇文章提供了參考資料,不過該公司拒絕對此發表評論。這篇報導是基於超過36名現任與前任員工以及承包商,包含6位有關於Apple供應商責任團隊第一手資料的現任、前任管理階層,以及其他科技產業內的人士。

在2010年,Steve Jobs在一個產業會議上談論了關於公司與供應商之間的關係……

“I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry、and maybe in any industry、of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain,”

「我真的認為Apple在我們的產業中,是做的最好的公司之一。也許也是所有產業中,最了解供應鏈中工作狀況的公司。」

“I mean、you go to this place、and、it’s a factory、but、my gosh、I mean、they’ve got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools、and I mean、for a factory、it’s a pretty nice factory.”

「我的意思是,你到了那地方之後會發現,那是一個工廠,但是我的天啊!那邊有餐廳、電影院、醫院以及游泳池。我認為對工廠來說,這是相當不錯的一個。」

包含在此類工廠工作的工人以及其他人士,承認食堂與醫療設施的存在,不過也表示勞動條件依然非常嚴苛。

根據一名前任Apple管理階層的敘述:

“We’re trying really hard to make things better. But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”

「我們正努力地想把事情做的更好。但是大多數的人在看到自己的iPhone是怎麼來的之後,仍然會感到非常的困擾。」

成都之路

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2010年秋季,就在iPad工廠爆炸前約六個月,賴曉東為了不讓他的大學文憑被折到,仔細地將衣物一起打包到手提箱內。他告訴朋友,他將不會再次出現在每週一次的撲克牌局,同時也向他的老師道別。他將要前往成都這個人口1,200萬,並迅速成為全球最重要的製造業樞紐之一的都市。

雖然他非常地內向,不過讓大家意外的是,賴先生說服了一位美麗的護理學生當他的女朋友。她想要結婚,因此賴先生的目標是賺到足夠的錢來買一間公寓。

成都的工廠為了數百家企業而製造產品,不過賴先生注意的是富士康科技,這間中國最大的出口商,同時也是擁有120萬名員工,中國國內雇員數最多的企業之一。該公司的工廠遍佈全中國,並且組裝了全球40%的消費性電子產品,包含Amazon、Dell、Hewlett-Packard、Nintendo、Nokia 與 Samsung 等公司的產品。

賴先生也知道,富士康在成都的工廠是特別的。在工廠內,工人們生產著Apple最新、並擁有巨大潛力的產品 ── iPad。

當賴先生終於得到在工廠內維修機器的工作後,他第一個注意到的,是幾乎讓人無法直視的燈光。每天24小時不間斷的輪幫,讓工廠永遠明亮。無論何時,總是會有成千上萬的工人站在組裝線上、坐在沒有靠背的椅子、蹲在大型機械旁、或是不停地在貨載架之間奔跑。有些工人的腿腫脹到無法站穩。

根據一名工廠員工Zhao Sheng敘述:

“It’s hard to stand all day.”

要站著一整天真的很難。

而在工廠牆壁上的告示牌,也警告著120,000名員工……

“Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”

「今天工作不努力,明天努力找工作。」

根據Apple的供應商準則,除非在特別情況下,雇員每週工作時數不應超過60小時。但是根據訪談、工人的薪資單以及外部團體的調查,富士康有時超過了這個數字。根據薪資單,賴先生很快地就開始每天12小時,一週六天在工廠中工作。遲到的工人有時會被要求寫悔過書或是抄寫文章。此外根據訪談,還有工人們有被告知要連續工作兩個時段,被稱為「連續輪班」的情形。

賴先生的大專學歷,讓他可以賺到包含加班工資約US$22的日薪,並超過其他許多的員工。根據賴先生的女友羅曉紅(Luo Xiaohong)的敘述,當他一天的工作結束之後,他會回到他那剛好能容下床墊、衣櫃與一張書桌的位是,並且沉迷在名為「Fight the Landlord」的網路遊戲。

這些住處已經比公司其他宿舍要來的好的多。根據員工的說法,大部分70,000名富士康員工住的地方,有時一間三房公寓會擠上20個人。而在去年由薪水所引發的爭議,也在宿舍中掀起了騷動。根據目擊者的敘述,工人們開始從窗戶向外丟擲瓶子、垃圾桶以及燃燒的紙張。最後兩百名警察鎮壓了工人,並逮捕了八名員工。隨後,垃圾桶被移走,而堆積的垃圾以及老鼠成了新出現的問題。賴先生對於能有自己的住處,感到很幸運。

富士康在一份聲明中,爭辯著工人們宣稱的連續輪班、加班時間延長、擁擠的宿舍以及暴動的原因等等。該公司表示,公司營運堅守著客戶訂定的守則、產業標準以及國家法律。

富士康也在書面中表示:

“Conditions at Foxconn are anything but harsh.”

「富士康的工作條件一點也不嚴苛。」

此外,富士康還表示,公司從未因為未成年工人、員工超時工作或是暴露於有毒環境等問題而被客戶或是政府提訴。

“All assembly line employees are given regular breaks, including one-hour lunch breaks,”

「所有的組裝線員工在固定間隔都會給予休息時間,包含一小時間午餐休息時段。」

此外根據富士康,只有5%的組裝線工人必須要站著來完成工作。工作站經過設計來符合人體工學的標準,員工也有機會能輪替工作或是升職。

“Foxconn has a very good safety record,” the company wrote. Foxconn has come a long way in our efforts to lead our industry in China in areas such as workplace conditions and the care and treatment of our employees.”

「富士康有著非常良好的安全記錄。在我們的努力下,富士康已經走了很長的一段路,在工作環境以及對員工的照顧與訓練上,也領導著在中國與我們相同的產業。」

Apple的行為準則

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2005年,部分Apple的決策高層聚集在Cupertino的總部,召開了一場特別會議。其他公司已經建立了行為守則,來約束他們的供應商。Apple也決定,該是時候來效仿了。Apple在該年發佈的準則中,要求

“that working conditions in Apple’s supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity, and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible.”

「在Apple的供應鏈中,工作環境必須是安全的。工人也必須被尊重,生產流程也要符合對環境保護的要求。」

但是在隔年,英國報紙The Mail on Sunday秘密地參觀了一間中國深圳製造iPod的富士康工廠,並且報導了工人長時間工作、用伏地挺身來懲罰工人以及擁擠的宿舍等問題。在Cupertino的管理階層非常震驚。

根據一名前任Apple雇員敘述:

“Apple is filled with really good people who had no idea this was going on, We wanted it changed, immediately.”

「Apple有著許多真正善良的人,但是他們完全不曉得這是怎麼一回事。我們想要改變這情形,而且立刻就要改變。」

作為Apple第一次執行的檢查,他們審核了那間工廠,並且下令改進。管理階層也進行了一系列的動作,包含一個每年發佈的審核報告,此報告於2007年第一次公開。在去年,Apple視察了396個設施,包含公司的直接供應商,以及許多間接的供應商。同時,這也是電子產業中最大的檢查計畫之一。

根據Apple公布的摘要,這些審查已經找到許多違反Apple行為守則的情形。例如,在2007年時,Apple進行的超過36件審查中,有2/3發生員工每週工作超過60小時的狀況。此外,還有六件「重大違規」,其中最嚴重的包含雇用15歲的工人,以及偽造記錄等。

在之後的三年,Apple進行了312件審查,每年大約都有一半或一半以上的證據顯示有大量的員工每週工作超過六天,以及超時加班等情形。部分工人收到少於最低標準的工資,或是由於懲處而扣留薪資。Apple也發現70件重大違規,包含非自願工作、雇用童工、偽造記錄、不當處理有毒廢棄物,以及上百名勞工由於有毒化學物而受傷等等。

去年,Apple進行了229件審查。某些項目以及重大違規的查出率有了小幅的改善。然而,在93個生產設施內,至少有一半以上的工人仍然超過每週60小時的工作限制,每週工作六天以上的比例也與此相近。此外,還包含歧視工人、 安全防範措施不當、沒有確實支付加班工資以及其他違規問題。在此年內,四名員工死亡,77名員工在爆炸中受傷。

根據有關於供應商責任團隊第一手消息的前任Apple管理階層敘述:

“If you see the same pattern of problems, year after year, that means the company’s ignoring the issue rather than solving it, Noncompliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try harder next time. If we meant business, core violations would disappear.”

「當年復一年看到相同的問題模式,這代表公司選擇忽視問題而不是試著去解決。違規是可以容忍的,只要供應商保證下次會更努力地解決問題。如果我們指的是業務,重大違規就會消失。」

Apple表示當審查發現違規行為時,公司會要求供應商在90天之內解決問題,並提出改善方案來防止狀況再次發生。而根據公司網站的敘述:

“If a supplier is unwilling to change, we terminate our relationship.”

「如果供應商不願意改善,我們將終止與該供應商的合作關係。」

此種威脅的嚴重性,目前並不清楚。Apple已經發現了數以百計的違規,不過根據前任Apple管理階層敘述,自從2007年以來,只有少於15家供應商由於違規行為被終止合約。

根據前任富士康經理李先生敘述:

“Once the deal is set and Foxconn becomes an authorized Apple supplier, Apple will no longer give any attention to worker conditions or anything that is irrelevant to its products,”

「一旦合約簽訂,富士康成為了Apple認可的供應商後,Apple就不會再關心工人的狀況,或是任何與自身產品無關的事項。」

李先生花了七年的時間在深圳與成都為富士康工作,並在四月由於反對重新回到成都而被迫退出公司。

根據他的說法,富士康無視他的建議,並且說:

“both Foxconn and Apple take the welfare of our employees very seriously.”

「富士康與Apple都非常重視我們員工的福利。」

Apple所做的努力,已經促使了一些改變。根據Apple在2011年的供應商責任報告中敘述,再次被審查的設施已經顯現出「持續的改善以及更好的工作條件」。此外,每年所審查的設施數量也持續地增加。部分管理階層表示,審查數量的增加也讓每年的改善變得不是很明顯。

Apple同時也訓練了超過100萬名工人,讓他們了解自己的權利,以及如何預防受傷與疾病等等。在數年前,審查員堅持要與低階工廠員工面談後,他們發現有些員工被迫支付大筆的「招工費」,此情形被Apple歸類於非自願勞動。直到去年為止,公司已經迫使供應商償還超過670萬美金的此類費用。

根據由Apple贊助來防止童工事件的組織Impactt所屬的Dionne Harrison敘述:

“Apple is a leader in preventing under-age labor. They’re doing as much as they possibly can.””

「Apple是制止童工情形的領導者。他們盡其所能地防止這種事發生。」

不過其他的顧問,對此並不同意。

根據BSR(Business for Social Responsibility,企業社會責任)的顧問表示;

“We’ve spent years telling Apple there are serious problems and recommending changes. They don’t want to pre-empt problems, they just want to avoid embarrassments.”

「我們已經花了數年的時間來告訴Apple問題的嚴重性,並且建議其改變。他們不希望問題事先曝光,他們只想要避免尷尬的情形發生。」

BSR目前已經被Apple兩次婉拒提供勞工問題方面的建議。

我們本來可以挽救生命

Foxconn suicide nets

在2006年,BSR與World Bank的一個部門,以及其他團體一同發起了一項計畫,來改善中國以及其他地區手機與其他裝置生產工廠的工作條件。這個團體與企業們共同承諾,來檢驗各種想法。富士康也同意參加此計畫。

在四個月後, BSR與其他團體與富士康談判來執行一個前期試驗計畫,設立了一個「熱線」讓工人能夠反應惡劣的環境、尋求心理輔導以及討論工作環境問題。根據詳知此細節的BSR顧問,Apple並沒有參與,不過該公司曾向大眾介紹此計畫。

隨著談判的進行,富士康不斷地改變要求。首先,富士康要求從設置新的熱線電話,改為評估現有的熱線。之後,富士康堅持排除心理健康輔導的項目。富士康還要求與會者簽署保密協議,不得透露他們所觀察到的情況,並且數次被要求再次重新簽訂保密條約。最後,雙方達成了協議,整個計畫被排定於2008年一月正式開始。

而根據BSR顧問與2008年由BSR發出的報告指出,在計畫正式開始的前一天,富士康要求更多的變更,直到大家終於瞭解,整個前期試驗計畫實際上並不會被執行。而在BSR 2008年的報告內,上面也沒有提到富士康的名字。

隔年,在發生iPhone原型機遺失事件後,一位富士康員工從公寓大樓上墜樓。在之後的兩年內,至少有18名其他富士康工人試圖自殺或是從大樓上墜落。隨後富士康設立了專門的心理健康熱線,並開始提供免費的心理輔導。

根據一位由於保密協定而要求匿名的BSR顧問表示:

“We could have saved lives, and we asked Apple to pressure Foxconn, but they wouldn’t do it. Companies like HP and Intel and Nike push their suppliers. But Apple wants to keep an arm’s length, and Foxconn is their most important manufacturer, so they refuse to push.”

「我們原本可以拯救許多生命,我們也請Apple向富士康施壓,但是他們並不會這樣做。諸如HP、Intel、Nike等公司會不斷地向供應商施壓,不過Apple想要與供應商保持距離,富士康是他們最重要的製造商,於是Apple拒絕向他們施壓。」

BSR在書面聲明中表示,BSR顧問的觀點並不代表這些公司。

根據BSR總裁Aron Cramer的敘述:

“My BSR colleagues and I view Apple as a company that is making a highly serious effort to ensure that labor conditions in its supply chain meet the expectations of applicable laws, the company’s standards and the expectations of consumers.”

「我與BSR的同事們,將Apple視為一間極力確保其供應鏈內的勞動標準能符合法規、公司標準以及消費者期望的公司。」

Aron Cramer補述,要求Apple向富士康施壓將會與前期試驗計畫的目的不一致。此外還有其他各種原因,導致前期試驗計畫並沒有實行。

富士康在一份聲明中表示,該公司已經迅速並全面地採取行動,以解決自殺問題。同時也宣稱「根據記錄表示,這些措施已經取得了成功」。

高要求的客戶

1 Infinite Loop e1315338110179

每個月,全球各地的企業管理人員長途跋涉到Cupertino,或是邀請Apple管理階層來參觀他們的海外工廠,全部都旨在追求同一個目標 ── 成為Apple的供應商。

當Apple對於某個特定產品或服務感興趣的消息傳出後,經常會出現許多小型聚會。充滿著許多威士忌以及卡拉OK的歌聲。

然後,Apple開始提出了要求。

Apple通常會要求供應商明確地指出每個部分的花費、需要多少工人、以及薪資規模等等。管理階層想要知道金融方面的每個細節。隨後,Apple會計算每個部分將給付的金額。大多數的供應商只會被許可最低限度的利潤。

根據這些供應商中的人士表示,由於此原因,供應商往往偷工減料。使用更低價的替代品取代昂貴的化學物、迫使員工更快速地完成工作,或是延長員工的工作時間等等。

根據某家與iPad供應鏈相關的企業高層表示:

“The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper, And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.”

「唯一能在Apple的工作中獲利的方法,就是找出如何能更快或是用更低的成本完成工作。在這之後,他們在下一年會回到這裡,並再強迫壓低10%的價格。」

2010年一月,在Apple生產合作夥伴Wintek的中國工廠員工們,在各種問題下發動了罷工。其中包含工人被暴露在有毒物質的傳聞。根據新聞機構的調查顯示,超過上百名員工已由於正己烷而受傷。該物質為具有毒性的化學物,並可引起神經麻痺、受損等症狀。

根據員工的說法,由於正己烷的蒸發速度比酒精要快上近三倍的原因,公司下令使用正己烷來清潔iPhone的螢幕。更快的蒸發速度代表工人每分鐘可以清理更多的iPhone螢幕。

在一年後,Apple對於Wintek員工受傷事件做出了回應。在供應商責任報告中,Apple表示「已要求Wintek停止使用正己烷」,並且「Apple已經確認所有受影響的工人已經成功地受到治療,並會繼續監控他們的醫療狀況直到完全回復為止」。同時,Apple也表示已要求Wintek改良工廠的通風系統。

在同月,一位紐約時報的記者對數十名受傷的Wintek工人做了訪談,這些工人們表示們從未些到Apple或是其中介機構的聯繫,而Wintek則迫使他們辭職,並且採取現金結算以免除公司的責任。在此訪談之後,Wintek承諾將給予受傷工人更多的賠償,Apple也派出代表與其中的部分工人展開談話。

半年後,根據貿易刊物的報導,Apple大幅壓低了向Wintek採購的價格。

根據有關於供應商責任團隊第一手消息的前任Apple管理階層敘述:

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well, If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

「你可以訂定任何想要的規則,但是如果不給予供應商足夠的利潤來善待工人的話,這一切都沒有任何意義可言。削減他們的獲利率,就等於是迫使他們削減對於安全的防範。」

許多主要的科技公司曾經與陷入麻煩狀況的工廠合作。然而獨立調查與供應商們的所敘述的狀況則並不相同。許多供應商的管理階層在接受媒體訪談時表示,Hewlett-Packard以及其他公司允許他們獲得多一些的利潤與補貼,用以改善工人們的勞動條件。

負責Hewlett-Packard供應鏈社會與環境責任計畫的管理層Zoe McMahon表示:

“Our suppliers are very open with us, They let us know when they are struggling to meet our expectations, and that influences our decisions.”

「我們的供應商對我們非常地開放。他們讓我們知道他們是如何地努力來滿足我們的期望,而這些也會影響我們的決策。」

爆炸

An explosion last May at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu China

在iPad工廠發生爆炸的當天下午,賴曉東一如往常地打電話給他的女朋友。原本他們兩人已經計畫在傍晚見面,不過賴先生的經理轉告賴先生的女朋友說他要加班。

他在富士康內被迅速升職,並且在幾個月之前被指派負責一組負責維護拋光iPad機殼用機械的團隊。拋光區內的噪音非常大,並且瀰漫著鋁金屬粉塵。工人們戴著口罩與耳塞,不過無論他們洗了多少次澡,還是可以在髮間與眼角內看出鋁粉的痕跡。

在爆炸發生的兩星期前,在香港的一個擁護團體發表了一份關於成都工廠的危險警告,其中包含了鋁粉塵的問題。此團體Sacom(Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior,大學師生監察無良企業行動)已經錄下了工人覆滿鋁粉塵的影片。

根據該報告:

“Occupational health and safety issues in Chengdu are alarming.”

「在成都的職業健康與安全問題令人震驚。」

“Workers also highlight the problem of poor ventilation and inadequate personal protective equipment.”

「工人們同時也突顯出通風不良,以及個人防護裝備不足的問題。」

這份報告同時也送給了蘋果,不過根據Sacom的Debby Chan Sze Wan表示:

“There was no response, A few months later I went to Cupertino, and went into the Apple lobby, but no one would meet with me. I’ve never heard from anyone from Apple at all.”

「他們沒有任何回應。在幾個月之後我前往Cupertino,並且進到了Apple總部的大廳,不過沒有人願意與我見面,我也沒有從任何Apple的人聽到任何關於此事的消息。」

在爆炸發生的當天早上,賴先生騎著他的自行車上班。當時iPad才在數週前剛上市,工人們被告知每天有成千的機殼需要拋光。根據員工的說法,工廠的狀況非常狂亂。成排的拋光機器由戴著面罩的工人們操作著,大型的通風管在每個工作站的上方,但是通風設備無法跟上馬不停蹄的拋光機器。鋁粉塵無所不在。

粉塵是一個已知的安全問題。在2003年,Indiana州的一座輪框工廠因粉塵而爆炸,並且導致一名工人死亡。2008年,在Georgia州的糖廠內同也樣因為粉塵而發生爆炸,並造成14人死亡。

在賴先生第二個輪班的兩小時後,整棟建築物開始搖晃,就如同地震一般。根據工廠工人的敘述,此時開始了一連串的爆炸。

然後,慘叫聲開始了。

當賴先生的同事們跑到外頭時,根據當時由手機拍下的影片,現場同時瀰漫著黑煙以及毛毛雨。最後的統計,有四人死亡,18人受傷。

在醫院,賴先生的女友則看到他幾乎全部燒傷的皮膚。根據她的敘述:

“I recognized him from his legs, otherwise I wouldn’t know who that person was,”

「我是從他的腿認出他的,要不然我根本不知道他是誰。」

最後,他的家屬到了醫院。超過90%的皮膚被灼傷。根據他弟弟的敘述:

“My mom ran away from the room at the first sight of him. I cried. Nobody could stand it,”

「我的母親在看到他的第一眼後,就馬上跑出了房間。我哭了,沒有人能夠忍受這樣的狀況。」

當他的母親回到房間後,由於擔心會導致疼痛,她試著避免碰到她的兒子。

“If I had known, I would have grabbed his arm, I would have touched him.”

「如果我早知道會這樣,我會抓著他的手臂,我一定會觸碰他。」

“He was very tough, He held on for two days.”

他非常地堅強。最後,他堅持了兩天。

當賴先生去世後,富士康的員工驅車前往賴先生的家鄉,並且送回了一盒骨灰。公司在稍後開出了一張約15萬美金的支票。

富士康在一份聲明中表示,當爆炸發生時,成都工廠完全遵守著相關的法律與規定,並且「在保證已故員工家屬已得到所需的支持後,我們保證所有受傷的員工都有最高水準的醫療照顧」。富士康同時也補充說明,在爆炸發生後,富士康立刻停止了所有拋光車間的工作、改善了通風與防塵設備,並且運用各種技術來提高工人的安全性。

在最近的供應商責任報告中,Apple表示在爆炸發生後,公司聯繫了「在製造過程安全方面最重要的專家們」,組成了一個團隊來進行調查並提出建議,來防止未來的意外發生。

然而,在去年十二月,大約是賴先生因爆炸而死亡的七個月後,另一個iPad工廠發生了爆炸事件。這次,爆炸發生在上海,原因同樣為鋁粉塵。根據訪談以及Apple最近發佈的供應商責任報告,在上海的爆炸事件共有59名工人受傷,23名員工因此而住院。

根據目前在MIT的職業安全專家Nicholas Ashford表示:

“It is gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected. If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.”

在爆炸發生後沒有意識到每個工廠都應該被檢驗,這是嚴重的失職。如果粉塵的處理非常地困難,那我還能夠理解。但是你知道粉塵的控制有多簡單嗎?其實就是所謂的通風。我們可是在一個多世紀以前就已經解決這個問題了。

在最近的供應商責任報告中,Apple也表示雖然爆炸都涉及到可燃的鋁粉塵,不過爆炸發生的原因是不盡相同的。不過Apple拒絕提供細節。該報告也補充說,Apple目前已經對所有拋光鋁製產品的供應商進行了審查,強大的預防措施也已經到位。所有的供應商已被要求執行預防措施,只有一家至今仍處於關閉狀態的供應商除外。

對於賴先生的家人來說,問題依然存在。

賴先生的母親一面站在由她建在家附近的祠堂內,一邊說著:

“We’re really not sure why he died, We don’t understand what happened.”

我真的不曉得他為何而死。我們不明白究竟發生了什麼事。

敲響Apple的樂透彩券

Wwdc top secret apple steve jobs

每年,只要關於Apple新產品的謠言開始出現,各種貿易出版物與網站便開始猜測哪些供應商可能會贏得Apple的彩券。得到Apple的合約,就等於公司的生產品質得到了認可,並讓公司價值提高數百萬美金,但是極少有公司會公開談論關於Apple的合約。Apple一般會要求供應商簽訂合約,保證他們不會透露任何資訊,包含與Apple的合作關係。

此種透明度的缺乏,讓Apple的計畫可以處於保密狀態。但是根據代表團體以及前任Apple管理階層的敘述,這同時也成為改善工作條件的障礙。

在本月,經過代表團體以及新聞機構等數次的要求,Apple發佈了156個供應商名單。在報告中的清單,Apple表示其中包含由Apple支付協助產品製造的供應商中,97%的合作對象。

不過,Apple並沒有透露數百家其他並未與Apple有直接合約,而是向其他供應商供貨的企業。Apple的供應商名單同樣也沒有透露工廠的位置,而許多工廠地點都非常難以被發現。獨立的監察機構則表示,當他們試圖檢查Apple的供應商時,供應商被Apple告知不允許他們進入。

根據曾在Apple供應商責任團隊的前任管理階層敘述:

“We’ve had this conversation hundreds of times, There is a genuine, companywide commitment to the code of conduct. But taking it to the next level and creating real change conflicts with secrecy and business goals, and so there’s only so far we can go.”

我們已經有過上百次這樣的對話。對於行為準則,我們整個公司都已經對此有所承諾。但是要將此承諾更進一步,做出實際的改變時,將會與保密政策以及商業目標發生衝突。因此,我們也只能做到目前的程度。

根據前任Apple雇員的說法,他們一般來說是被禁止與最外圍的群體接觸的。

根據前任高層的說法:

“There’s a real culture of secrecy here that influences everything,”

「在這裡有著真正的保密文化,並能影響所有的事。」

部分其他的科技公司,則有著不同的作法。

根據Intel的企業公民行動董事Gary Niekerk敘述:

“We talk to a lot of outsiders, The world’s complex, and unless we’re dialoguing with outside groups, we miss a lot.”

「我們與外界有許多的溝通。世界是非常複雜的,如果我們不與外界的團體溝通,我們將錯失許多東西。」

由於Apple目前的地位以及在全球製造業中的領導力,如果能從根本上改變公司的作法,將可以大幅改革商業模式。

根據Enough Project的Sasha Lezhnev表示:

“Every company wants to be Apple, If they committed to building a conflict-free iPhone, it would transform technology.”

「每個企業都想要成為Apple,如果他們能致力於打造一個無衝突的iPhone,這將能夠改變整個技術。」

但是在最後,根據Apple前任管理階層的敘述,還是有幾個來自外界的壓力能夠真正地做出改變。Apple是目前最受到尊敬的品牌之一,根據New York Times在11月的一項全國性調查中,56%的受訪者表示他們無法想到任何關於Apple的負面消息,有14%的受訪者表示該公司最糟糕的部份是產品過於昂貴,只有2%的受訪者提及關於海外勞工的事項。

哈佛的White女士表示,直到消費者開始像是對Nike、Gap一樣地要求Apple的海外工廠必須有更好的勞動條件,或是在監管機構做出動作之前,只有極小的動力能夠促使其改變。而部分Apple的內部人士也認同這點。

“You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,”

「你可以在舒適並對工人友善的工廠中生產產品,同時每年重新發明產品,讓產品更好、更快、更便宜。這需要一座以美國標準來說,要求非常嚴苛的工廠。」

根據現任的Apple管理階層敘述……

apple cupertino let s talk about iphone

“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

而在此時,比起中國的勞動條件來說,消費者們更關心著新款的iPhone。

via Apple’s iPad and the Human Costs for Workers in China – NYTimes.com

The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.

When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.

Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.

“Are you Lai Xiaodong's father?” a caller asked when the phone rang at Mr. Lai's childhood home. Six months earlier, the 22-year-old had moved to Chengdu, in southwest China, to become one of the millions of human cogs powering the largest, fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing system on earth. That system has made it possible for Apple and hundreds of other companies to build devices almost as quickly as they can be dreamed up.

“He's in trouble,” the caller told Mr. Lai's father. “Get to the hospital as soon as possible.”

In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple's products, and the company's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers' disregard for workers' health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhonescreens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

“If Apple was warned, and didn't act, that's reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department. “But what's morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”

Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.

Current and former Apple executives, moreover, say the company has made significant strides in improving factories in recent years. Apple has a supplier code of conduct that details standards on labor issues, safety protections and other topics. The company has mounted a vigorous auditing campaign, and when abuses are discovered, Apple says, corrections are demanded.

And Apple's annual supplier responsibility reports, in many cases, are the first to report abuses. This month, for the first time, the company released a list identifying many of its suppliers.

But significant problems remain. More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have violated at least one aspect of the code of conduct every year since 2007, according to Apple's reports, and in some instances have violated the law. While many violations involve working conditions, rather than safety hazards, troubling patterns persist.

“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost,” said Li Mingqi, who until April worked in management at Foxconn Technology, one of Apple's most important manufacturing partners. Mr. Li, who is suing Foxconn over his dismissal, helped manage the Chengdu factory where the explosion occurred.

“Workers' welfare has nothing to do with their interests,” he said.

Some former Apple executives say there is an unresolved tension within the company: executives want to improve conditions within factories, but that dedication falters when it conflicts with crucial supplier relationships or the fast delivery of new products. Tuesday,Apple reported one of the most lucrative quarters of any corporation in history, with $13.06 billion in profits on $46.3 billion in sales. Its sales would have been even higher, executives said, if overseas factories had been able to produce more.

Executives at other corporations report similar internal pressures. This system may not be pretty, they argue, but a radical overhaul would slow innovation. Customers want amazing new electronics delivered every year.

“We've known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they're still going on,” said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice.”

“If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?” the executive asked.

Apple, in its published reports, has said it requires every discovered labor violation to be remedied, and suppliers that refuse are terminated. Privately, however, some former executives concede that finding new suppliers is time-consuming and costly. Foxconn is one of the few manufacturers in the world with the scale to build sufficient numbers of iPhones and iPads. So Apple is “not going to leave Foxconn and they're not going to leave China,” said Heather White, a research fellow at Harvard and a former member of the Monitoring International Labor Standards committee at the National Academy of Sciences. “There's a lot of rationalization.”

Apple was provided with extensive summaries of this article, but the company declined to comment. The reporting is based on interviews with more than three dozen current or former employees and contractors, including a half-dozen current or former executives with firsthand knowledge of Apple's supplier responsibility group, as well as others within the technology industry.

In 2010, Steven P. Jobs discussed the company's relationships with suppliers at an industry conference.

“I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry, and maybe in any industry, of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain,” said Mr. Jobs, who was Apple's chief executive at the time and who died last October.

“I mean, you go to this place, and, it's a factory, but, my gosh, I mean, they've got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools, and I mean, for a factory, it's a pretty nice factory.”

Others, including workers inside such plants, acknowledge the cafeterias and medical facilities, but insist conditions are punishing.

“We're trying really hard to make things better,” said one former Apple executive. “But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”

The Road to Chengdu

In the fall of 2010, about six months before the explosion in the iPad factory, Lai Xiaodong carefully wrapped his clothes around his college diploma, so it wouldn't crease in his suitcase. He told friends he would no longer be around for their weekly poker games, and said goodbye to his teachers. He was leaving for Chengdu, a city of 12 million that was rapidly becoming one of the world's most important manufacturing hubs.

Though painfully shy, Mr. Lai had surprised everyone by persuading a beautiful nursing student to become his girlfriend. She wanted to marry, she said, and so his goal was to earn enough money to buy an apartment.

Factories in Chengdu manufacture products for hundreds of companies. But Mr. Lai was focused on Foxconn Technology, China's largest exporter and one of the nation's biggest employers, with 1.2 million workers. The company has plants throughout China, and assembles an estimated 40 percent of the world's consumer electronics, including for customers like Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Nokia and Samsung.

Foxconn's factory in Chengdu, Mr. Lai knew, was special. Inside, workers were building Apple's latest, potentially greatest product: the iPad.

When Mr. Lai finally landed a job repairing machines at the plant, one of the first things he noticed were the almost blinding lights. Shifts ran 24 hours a day, and the factory was always bright. At any moment, there were thousands of workers standing on assembly lines or sitting in backless chairs, crouching next to large machinery, or jogging between loading bays. Some workers' legs swelled so much they waddled. “It's hard to stand all day,” said Zhao Sheng, a plant worker.

Banners on the walls warned the 120,000 employees: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.” Apple's supplier code of conduct dictates that, except in unusual circumstances, employees are not supposed to work more than 60 hours a week. But at Foxconn, some worked more, according to interviews, workers' pay stubs and surveys by outside groups. Mr. Lai was soon spending 12 hours a day, six days a week inside the factory, according to his paychecks. Employees who arrived late were sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotations. There were “continuous shifts,” when workers were told to work two stretches in a row, according to interviews.

Mr. Lai's college degree enabled him to earn a salary of around $22 a day, including overtime — more than many others. When his days ended, he would retreat to a small bedroom just big enough for a mattress, wardrobe and a desk where he obsessively played an online game called Fight the Landlord, said his girlfriend, Luo Xiaohong.

Those accommodations were better than many of the company's dorms, where 70,000 Foxconn workers lived, at times stuffed 20 people to a three-room apartment, employees said. Last year, a dispute over paychecks set off a riot in one of the dormitories, and workers started throwing bottles, trash cans and flaming paper from their windows, according to witnesses. Two hundred police officers wrestled with workers, arresting eight. Afterward, trash cans were removed, and piles of rubbish — and rodents — became a problem. Mr. Lai felt lucky to have a place of his own.

Foxconn, in a statement, disputed workers' accounts of continuous shifts, extended overtime, crowded living accommodations and the causes of the riot. The company said that its operations adhered to customers' codes of conduct, industry standards and national laws. “Conditions at Foxconn are anything but harsh,” the company wrote. Foxconn also said that it had never been cited by a customer or government for under-age or overworked employees or toxic exposures.

“All assembly line employees are given regular breaks, including one-hour lunch breaks,” the company wrote, and only 5 percent of assembly line workers are required to stand to carry out their tasks. Work stations have been designed to ergonomic standards, and employees have opportunities for job rotation and promotion, the statement said.

“Foxconn has a very good safety record,” the company wrote. “Foxconn has come a long way in our efforts to lead our industry in China in areas such as workplace conditions and the care and treatment of our employees.”

Apple's Code of Conduct

In 2005, some of Apple's top executives gathered inside their Cupertino, Calif., headquarters for a special meeting. Other companies had created codes of conduct to police their suppliers. It was time, Apple decided, to follow suit. The code Apple published that year demands “that working conditions in Apple's supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity, and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible.”

But the next year, a British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, secretly visited a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, where iPods were manufactured, and reported on workers' long hours, push-ups meted out as punishment and crowded dorms. Executives in Cupertino were shocked. “Apple is filled with really good people who had no idea this was going on,” a former employee said. “We wanted it changed, immediately.”

Apple audited that factory, the company's first such inspection, and ordered improvements. Executives also undertook a series of initiatives that included an annual audit report, first published in 2007. By last year, Apple had inspected 396 facilities — including the company's direct suppliers, as well as many of those suppliers' suppliers — one of the largest such programs within the electronics industry.

Those audits have found consistent violations of Apple's code of conduct, according to summaries published by the company. In 2007, for instance, Apple conducted over three dozen audits, two-thirds of which indicated that employees regularly worked more than 60 hours a week. In addition, there were six “core violations,” the most serious kind, including hiring 15-year-olds as well as falsifying records.

Over the next three years, Apple conducted 312 audits, and every year, about half or more showed evidence of large numbers of employees laboring more than six days a week as well as working extended overtime. Some workers received less than minimum wage or had pay withheld as punishment. Apple found 70 core violations over that period, including cases of involuntary labor, under-age workers, record falsifications, improper disposal of hazardous waste and over a hundred workers injured by toxic chemical exposures.

Last year, the company conducted 229 audits. There were slight improvements in some categories and the detected rate of core violations declined. However, within 93 facilities, at least half of workers exceeded the 60-hours-a-week work limit. At a similar number, employees worked more than six days a week. There were incidents of discrimination, improper safety precautions, failure to pay required overtime rates and other violations. That year, four employees were killed and 77 injured in workplace explosions.

“If you see the same pattern of problems, year after year, that means the company's ignoring the issue rather than solving it,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “Noncompliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try harder next time. If we meant business, core violations would disappear.”

Apple says that when an audit reveals a violation, the company requires suppliers to address the problem within 90 days and make changes to prevent a recurrence. “If a supplier is unwilling to change, we terminate our relationship,” the company says on its Web site.

The seriousness of that threat, however, is unclear. Apple has found violations in hundreds of audits, but fewer than 15 suppliers have been terminated for transgressions since 2007, according to former Apple executives.

“Once the deal is set and Foxconn becomes an authorized Apple supplier, Apple will no longer give any attention to worker conditions or anything that is irrelevant to its products,” said Mr. Li, the former Foxconn manager. Mr. Li spent seven years with Foxconn in Shenzhen and Chengdu and was forced out in April after he objected to a relocation to Chengdu, he said. Foxconn disputed his comments, and said “both Foxconn and Apple take the welfare of our employees very seriously.”

Apple's efforts have spurred some changes. Facilities that were reaudited “showed continued performance improvements and better working conditions,” the company wrote in its 2011 supplier responsibility progress report. In addition, the number of audited facilities has grown every year, and some executives say those expanding efforts obscure year-to-year improvements.

Apple also has trained over a million workers about their rights and methods for injury and disease prevention. A few years ago, after auditors insisted on interviewing low-level factory employees, they discovered that some had been forced to pay onerous “recruitment fees” — which Apple classifies as involuntary labor. As of last year, the company had forced suppliers to reimburse more than $6.7 million in such charges.

“Apple is a leader in preventing under-age labor,” said Dionne Harrison of Impactt, a firm paid by Apple to help prevent and respond to child labor among its suppliers. “They're doing as much as they possibly can.”

Other consultants disagree.

“We've spent years telling Apple there are serious problems and recommending changes,” said a consultant at BSR — also known as Business for Social Responsibility — which has been twice retained by Apple to provide advice on labor issues. “They don't want to pre-empt problems, they just want to avoid embarrassments.”

‘We Could Have Saved Lives'

In 2006, BSR, along with a division of the World Bank and other groups, initiated a project to improve working conditions in factories building cellphones and other devices in China and elsewhere. The groups and companies pledged to test various ideas. Foxconn agreed to participate.

For four months, BSR and another group negotiated with Foxconn regarding a pilot program to create worker “hotlines,” so that employees could report abusive conditions, seek mental counseling and discuss workplace problems. Apple was not a participant in the project, but was briefed on it, according to the BSR consultant, who had detailed knowledge.

As negotiations proceeded, Foxconn's requirements for participation kept changing. First Foxconn asked to shift from installing new hotlines to evaluating existing hotlines. Then Foxconn insisted that mental health counseling be excluded. Foxconn asked participants to sign agreements saying they would not disclose what they observed, and then rewrote those agreements multiple times. Finally, an agreement was struck, and the project was scheduled to begin in January 2008. A day before the start, Foxconn demanded more changes, until it was clear the project would not proceed, according to the consultant and a 2008 summary by BSR that did not name Foxconn.

The next year, a Foxconn employee fell or jumped from an apartment building after losing an iPhone prototype. Over the next two years, at least 18 other Foxconn workers attempted suicide or fell from buildings in manners that suggested suicide attempts. In 2010, two years after the pilot program fell apart and after multiple suicide attempts, Foxconn created a dedicated mental health hotline and began offering free psychological counseling.

“We could have saved lives, and we asked Apple to pressure Foxconn, but they wouldn't do it,” said the BSR consultant, who asked not to be identified because of confidentiality agreements. “Companies like H.P. and Intel and Nike push their suppliers. But Apple wants to keep an arm's length, and Foxconn is their most important manufacturer, so they refuse to push.”

BSR, in a written statement, said the views of that consultant were not those of the company.

“My BSR colleagues and I view Apple as a company that is making a highly serious effort to ensure that labor conditions in its supply chain meet the expectations of applicable laws, the company's standards and the expectations of consumers,” wrote Aron Cramer, BSR's president. Mr. Cramer added that asking Apple to pressure Foxconn would have been inconsistent with the purpose of the pilot program, and there were multiple reasons the pilot program did not proceed.

Foxconn, in a statement, said it acted quickly and comprehensively to address suicides, and “the record has shown that those measures have been successful.”

A Demanding Client

Every month, officials at companies from around the world trek to Cupertino or invite Apple executives to visit their foreign factories, all in pursuit of a goal: becoming a supplier.

When news arrives that Apple is interested in a particular product or service, small celebrations often erupt. Whiskey is drunk. Karaoke is sung.

Then, Apple's requests start.

Apple typically asks suppliers to specify how much every part costs, how many workers are needed and the size of their salaries. Executives want to know every financial detail. Afterward, Apple calculates how much it will pay for a part. Most suppliers are allowed only the slimmest of profits.

So suppliers often try to cut corners, replace expensive chemicals with less costly alternatives, or push their employees to work faster and longer, according to people at those companies.

“The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,” said an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. “And then they'll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut.”

In January 2010, workers at a Chinese factory owned by Wintek, an Apple manufacturing partner, went on strike over a variety of issues, including widespread rumors that workers were being exposed to toxins. Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.

Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.

Apple commented on the Wintek injuries a year later. In its supplier responsibility report, Apple said it had “required Wintek to stop using n-hexane” and that “Apple has verified that all affected workers have been treated successfully, and we continue to monitor their medical reports until full recuperation.” Apple also said it required Wintek to fix the ventilation system.

That same month, a New York Times reporter interviewed a dozen injured Wintek workerswho said they had never been contacted by Apple or its intermediaries, and that Wintek had pressured them to resign and take cash settlements that would absolve the company of liability. After those interviews, Wintek pledged to provide more compensation to the injured workers and Apple sent a representative to speak with some of them.

Six months later, trade publications reported that Apple significantly cut prices paid to Wintek.

“You can set all the rules you want, but they're meaningless if you don't give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “If you squeeze margins, you're forcing them to cut safety.”

Wintek is still one of Apple's most important suppliers. Wintek, in a statement, declined to comment except to say that after the episode, the company took “ample measures” to address the situation and “is committed to ensuring employee welfare and creating a safe and healthy work environment.”

Many major technology companies have worked with factories where conditions are troubling. However, independent monitors and suppliers say some act differently. Executives at multiple suppliers, in interviews, said that Hewlett-Packard and others allowed them slightly more profits and other allowances if they were used to improve worker conditions.

“Our suppliers are very open with us,” said Zoe McMahon, an executive in Hewlett-Packard's supply chain social and environmental responsibility program. “They let us know when they are struggling to meet our expectations, and that influences our decisions.”

The Explosion

On the afternoon of the blast at the iPad plant, Lai Xiaodong telephoned his girlfriend, as he did every day. They had hoped to see each other that evening, but Mr. Lai's manager said he had to work overtime, he told her.

He had been promoted quickly at Foxconn, and after just a few months was in charge of a team that maintained the machines that polished iPad cases. The sanding area was loud and hazy with aluminum dust. Workers wore masks and earplugs, but no matter how many times they showered, they were recognizable by the slight aluminum sparkle in their hair and at the corners of their eyes.

Just two weeks before the explosion, an advocacy group in Hong Kong published a report warning of unsafe conditions at the Chengdu plant, including problems with aluminum dust. The group, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, or Sacom, had videotaped workers covered with tiny aluminum particles. “Occupational health and safety issues in Chengdu are alarming,” the report read. “Workers also highlight the problem of poor ventilation and inadequate personal protective equipment.”

A copy of that report was sent to Apple. “There was no response,” said Debby Chan Sze Wan of the group. “A few months later I went to Cupertino, and went into the Apple lobby, but no one would meet with me. I've never heard from anyone from Apple at all.”

The morning of the explosion, Mr. Lai rode his bicycle to work. The iPad had gone on sale just weeks earlier, and workers were told thousands of cases needed to be polished each day. The factory was frantic, employees said. Rows of machines buffed cases as masked employees pushed buttons. Large air ducts hovered over each station, but they could not keep up with the three lines of machines polishing nonstop. Aluminum dust was everywhere.

Dust is a known safety hazard. In 2003, an aluminum dust explosion in Indiana destroyed a wheel factory and killed a worker. In 2008, agricultural dust inside a sugar factory in Georgia caused an explosion that killed 14.

Two hours into Mr. Lai's second shift, the building started to shake, as if an earthquake was under way. There was a series of blasts, plant workers said.

Then the screams began.

When Mr. Lai's colleagues ran outside, dark smoke was mixing with a light rain, according to cellphone videos. The toll would eventually count four dead, 18 injured.

At the hospital, Mr. Lai's girlfriend saw that his skin was almost completely burned away. “I recognized him from his legs, otherwise I wouldn't know who that person was,” she said.

Eventually, his family arrived. Over 90 percent of his body had been seared. “My mom ran away from the room at the first sight of him. I cried. Nobody could stand it,” his brother said. When his mother eventually returned, she tried to avoid touching her son, for fear that it would cause pain.

“If I had known,” she said, “I would have grabbed his arm, I would have touched him.”

“He was very tough,” she said. “He held on for two days.”

After Mr. Lai died, Foxconn workers drove to Mr. Lai's hometown and delivered a box of ashes. The company later wired a check for about $150,000.

Foxconn, in a statement, said that at the time of the explosion the Chengdu plant was in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations, and “after ensuring that the families of the deceased employees were given the support they required, we ensured that all of the injured employees were given the highest quality medical care.” After the explosion, the company added, Foxconn immediately halted work in all polishing workshops, and later improved ventilation and dust disposal, and adopted technologies to enhance worker safety.

In its most recent supplier responsibility report, Apple wrote that after the explosion, the company contacted “the foremost experts in process safety” and assembled a team to investigate and make recommendations to prevent future accidents.

In December, however, seven months after the blast that killed Mr. Lai, another iPad factory exploded, this one in Shanghai. Once again, aluminum dust was the cause, according to interviews and Apple's most recent supplier responsibility report. That blast injured 59 workers, with 23 hospitalized.

“It is gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected,” said Nicholas Ashford, the occupational safety expert, who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It's called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.”

In its most recent supplier responsibility report, Apple wrote that while the explosions both involved combustible aluminum dust, the causes were different. The company declined, however, to provide details. The report added that Apple had now audited all suppliers polishing aluminum products and had put stronger precautions in place. All suppliers have initiated required countermeasures, except one, which remains shut down, the report said.

For Mr. Lai's family, questions remain. “We're really not sure why he died,” said Mr. Lai's mother, standing beside a shrine she built near their home. “We don't understand what happened.”

Hitting the Apple Lottery

Every year, as rumors about Apple's forthcoming products start to emerge, trade publications and Web sites begin speculating about which suppliers are likely to win the Apple lottery. Getting a contract from Apple can lift a company's value by millions because of the implied endorsement of manufacturing quality. But few companies openly brag about the work: Apple generally requires suppliers to sign contracts promising they will not divulge anything, including the partnership.

That lack of transparency gives Apple an edge at keeping its plans secret. But it also has been a barrier to improving working conditions, according to advocates and former Apple executives.

This month, after numerous requests by advocacy and news organizations, including The New York Times, Apple released the names of 156 of its suppliers. In the report accompanying that list, Apple said they “account for more than 97 percent of what we pay to suppliers to manufacture our products.”

However, the company has not revealed the names of hundreds of other companies that do not directly contract with Apple, but supply the suppliers. The company's supplier list does not disclose where factories are, and many are hard to find. And independent monitoring organizations say when they have tried to inspect Apple's suppliers, they have been barred from entry — on Apple's orders, they have been told.

“We've had this conversation hundreds of times,” said a former executive in Apple's supplier responsibility group. “There is a genuine, companywide commitment to the code of conduct. But taking it to the next level and creating real change conflicts with secrecy and business goals, and so there's only so far we can go.” Former Apple employees say they were generally prohibited from engaging with most outside groups.

“There's a real culture of secrecy here that influences everything,” the former executive said.

Some other technology companies operate differently.

“We talk to a lot of outsiders,” said Gary Niekerk, director of corporate citizenship at Intel. “The world's complex, and unless we're dialoguing with outside groups, we miss a lot.”

Given Apple's prominence and leadership in global manufacturing, if the company were to radically change its ways, it could overhaul how business is done. “Every company wants to be Apple,” said Sasha Lezhnev at the Enough Project, a group focused on corporate accountability. “If they committed to building a conflict-free iPhone, it would transform technology.”

But ultimately, say former Apple executives, there are few real outside pressures for change. Apple is one of the most admired brands. In a national survey conducted by The New York Times in November, 56 percent of respondents said they couldn't think of anything negative about Apple. Fourteen percent said the worst thing about the company was that its products were too expensive. Just 2 percent mentioned overseas labor practices.

People like Ms. White of Harvard say that until consumers demand better conditions in overseas factories — as they did for companies like Nike and Gap, which today have overhauled conditions among suppliers — or regulators act, there is little impetus for radical change. Some Apple insiders agree.

“You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,” said a current Apple executive.

“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

 

Gu Huini contributed research.