The Apple iPhone, used by millions in the U.S., has come under scrutiny in China because many Chinese workers who work on its production say they have become ill from the chemicals used in the manufacturing process. The issue brings to light some of the problems workers face in China's rapidly industrializing society that provides the electronic gadgets used by much of the Western world.
Wintek, a company that manufactures screens for the iPhone, GPS systems and other electronics, allegedly uses a substance called n-hexane, a toxic chemical made from crude oil, to clean screens before they are packaged and sold. Workers whose job it was to clean those screens for hours a day say they have suffered neurological damage from the harsh chemicals.
Ma Jun, an activist who fights for workers' rights in China's increasingly industrial society, says Apple in particular didn't respond to workers' complaints about health problems. For its part, Apple released a statement saying it had worked with Wintek to resolve ventilation problems, continues to monitor workers' health and provides for their care.
However, Jun says Apple should be also be responsible for any health effects the workers suffer after they leave the factory, since they could be dealing with symptoms for the rest of their lives.
"I used my left hand to hold the iPhone screen when it came down the work line. And with my right hand, I used a cotton cloth dipped in hexane to wipe the screen.” - Factory worker
"At the very beginning, I didn't know I was sick. I just felt weak and tired. Then, slowly, I found it difficult to walk or go up the steps of the bus. Then, one day, I fell over and decided I needed to check what was wrong with me." - Factory worker
"Wintek represents the fact that China is now the workshop of the world. We're manufacturing for the entire Western world. And while we are exporting all these cheap products overseas, millions of workers are exposed to some of the unhealthy working conditions." - Ma Jun, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
1. Where do you think the electronics you use every day are made?
2. What is manufacturing? How does the assembly line process work?
3. What is "cheap labor?" How does it reduce the cost of things you buy?
1. If workers in a U.S. factory had gotten sick like the workers in this report, do you think the outcome would have been different? Why or why not?
2. Why do companies like Apple manufacture their goods outside of the U.S. in countries like China? How is the work environment in the U.S. different for the environment in China?
3. Compare the workers' situation in China today to the conditions of factory workers in the U.S. at the turn of the century. According to what you saw in the video, how are they similar? How are they different?
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