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Critic: With iPhone 5 Launch, Tim Cook Blows Major PR Opportunity

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The head of a corporate watchdog accountability group says Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has missed the moment to make its products more attractive to American buyers.

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What are your specific goals with the ethical iPhone project?
One of the very specific goals is that we want Apple and Foxconn to be abiding by China's labor laws, which they're not. In the spring, a Fair Labor Relations report confirmed that there's massive forced overtime at Foxconn, that goes well beyond Chinese labor law. Apple said, Well, we'll fix it by 14 months from now. It's astonishing that you can go around saying, "Yes, we know we're breaking the law, and we're just going to do it for another year. We're just going to keep doing it for the next 14 months."

There's a couple of reasons why there are routine violations of these labor laws. One of the bigs ones is that workers can't make a living wage without working overtime. That's why wages have to come up. If workers are working 40 hours per week plus 25 hours of overtime, which is the legal overtime limit, they're still not making enough to support themselves.

Our problem with excessive overtime is not just about, "Well, it's nice for people to have leisure time." When you work a 12-hour shift in a factory, the physical harm it does to your body -- when you're doing these repetitive motions and potentially breathing in toxic fumes -- is enormous. There's an impact on the body.

The other reason there's so much overtime, especially in the lead up to a product launch like iPhone 5, is that Apple demands massive flexibility and massive productivity during those time periods. There's a famous story that led off the New York Times investigative report on this: Steve Jobs decided [six] weeks before the first iPhone was being launched that he wanted a glass screen instead of a plastic screen. They had to retool the entire assembly line to change all the phones for that launch.

Apple either needs to be willing to pay to have factories with extra capacity or they're just going to have to wait 10 weeks instead of five weeks for those kinds of things. The cost of doing that -- to forcing that kind of massive capacity surge -- is an enormous human cost.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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