A strike of 2000 workers has unveiled massive poisoning cases at United Win, a subsidiary of Wintek Corporation and an Apple Computers contractor in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. While cancellation of an annual bonus was a primary reason for the strike, workers have explained that they also protested over the poisonings. In the aftermath of the strike, workers were able to receive the annual bonus, but the health concern remains.
Since the middle of 2009, rumours had circulated around the factory that workers were being poisoned at United Win. Just one day after the strike, which erupted on January 15, 2010, the Suzhou Municipal Administration of Work Safety confirmed in a press conference that 47 workers from United Win had symptoms of hexane poisoning. The authorities also stated that all the workers concerned were hospitalized.
From various media reports, the hexane-poisoned workers were all from Apple’s production line. N-hexane was used to clean the touch screen of i-Phones. The Apple Supplier Code of Conduct specifies that “suppliers must identify, evaluate, and control worker exposure to hazardous chemical, biological, and physical agents.” Apparently, Apple has responsibility for the poisoning case as it failed to implement its code of conduct. It is disappointing that Apple has given no response to the public on this issue.
In order to have a better understanding of the situation, SACOM conducted an investigation at United Win in March. Around 20 workers were interviewed, including some who are receiving treatment in hospital. The following are the key findings:
Health and safety: Workers suspected that Wintek intended to cover up the poisoning cases initially. Only after workers went to hospitals for health examinations, Wintek arranged workers to have medical check-ups at the Hospital for Occupational Diseases for Prevention and Treatment. Meanwhile, there is discrepancy in number of victims between Wintek and the workers. Among the victims, not all of them were hospitalized, but rest at home or back to their positions according to the severity of their nerve damage.
Deception: Workers tell Wintek opened the emergency doors in departments to dilute the density of chemicals before inspection by local authorities took place.
Working hours: Workers are denied right to rest. The normal working hours in the factory is up to 70 hours per week. There is no holiday during the week. This is in violation of local laws and the codes of conduct of Apple and the Electronic Industrial Citizenship Coalition. Moreover, overtime is mandatory.
Student workers: Student interns are de facto workers in the factory. Their working hours are the same as ordinary workers. However, they can only get RMB 500 per month and the remaining part of the salary goes to the schools.
Code of conduct: None of the interviewee has heard about code of conduct of any brands, including Apple and Nokia.
Communication channel: Workers express that they will be scolded if they lodge a complaint. They cannot find any effective channel to resolve their grievances.