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Apple's iPad and the Human Costs for Workers in China

27.01.2012 23:57 EST
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-राकेश खुडिया

The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as ifthey 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 particularstood 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 whenthe phone rang at Mr. Lai's childhood home. Six months earlier, the 22-year-old hadmoved 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 asthey 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 hasbecome 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 unmatchedin 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 asvaried as onerous work environments and serious - sometimes deadly - safety problems.
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and livein crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that theirlegs 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, withinChina, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

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