The iPhone 5C and Apple's enduring problem with cheap labor

The Week
Apple CEO Tim Cook visits an iPhone production line at China's Foxconn in 2012.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook visits an iPhone production line at China's Foxconn in 2012.

The tech giant has done little to improve its less-than-stellar reputation in China

The cheap, plastic iPhone is all but an inevitability at this point — but the confirmation did not come through the usual back channels of supply-chain leaks. Instead, it comes from an undercover report issued Monday by China Labor Watch, a non-profit dedicated to worker safety, which claims that Apple supplier Pegatron has been working on an iPhone with a "plastic back cover" that "will soon be released on the market by Apple."

The report was preceded by leaked photos over the weekend of what look to be plastic boxes bearing the new device's name: The iPhone 5C.

What could Pegatron — a smaller and scrappier manufacturing plant than the infamous Foxconn — have offered Apple for the rights to produce such a phone? As China Labor Watch's report alleges in its executive summary:

Extensive labor violations and suppressed wages that cheat workers of a living wage, a healthy working environment, and a voice. As Apple launches its cheaper iPhones, it continues to profit while cheapening the value of the workers in its supply chain. [VentureBeat]

China Labor Watch tallied 86 labor violations at the Pegatron plant, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations (read the allegations in their entirety here). And for those keeping score: Yes, that's worse than Foxconn.

In a statement, Pegatron chief executive Jason Cheng told the Wall Street Journal, "We will investigate [the allegations] fully and take immediate actions to correct any violations to Chinese labor laws and our own code of conduct." In a separate statement, Apple said that it will also "investigate these new claims thoroughly" and "ensure that corrective actions are taken where needed and report any violations of our code of conduct."

It's a familiar refrain. The revelations, if true, are just the latest blight on Apple's less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to labor practices.

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