In 2009 and 2010, reports came out about electronics workers being poisoned by N-hexane in China. This was at United Win, the Suzhou based subsidiary of the Taiwanese company Wintek. United Win produces for Apple. In February 2011, Hong Kong-based labour group SACOM has interviewed affected workers and found some workers are experiencing recurring symptoms of poisoning. Workers have expressed concerns and demands about this to the United Win management, but these went unanswered so far. SACOM is now calling upon Apple to address these and other labour issues with its supplier.

Statement by Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM)

Apple ignores requests by poisoned workers
Apple should take up responsibility and provide compensation
3 March 2011

In 2009 a number of workers from United Win (China), a Suzhuo based electronic manufacturer and a subsidiary of Wintek Corporation, the Taiwanese company which is a supplier for Apple, were poisoned while using the chemical “Hexane” to wipe Apple Iphones. In the “Apple Supplier Responsibility Progress Report” released on 15 February 2011, Apple admitted that United Win (China) was its supplier, and had subsequently sent Apple staff to speak to United Win workers on 22 February 2011. On the same day, United Win workers issued a letter to Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs to ask for Apple’s account, but have not yet received a reply.

On 28 February 2011 we went to Suzhuo to meet with the poisoned workers of United Win. The workers say that among the workers that were admitted to hospital after the 2009 poisoning incident, 22 of them have returned to work at United Win, and some of the have experienced recurring symptoms of poisoning. 24 year old Wan Qiu Ying was the earliest to experience recurring symptoms and is one of the most serious cases – she feels acute pain on her left hand and left leg. Another worker, Guo Rui Qiang, has for the past two months experienced symptoms of sweaty palms, weak legs, and constant fatigue. The workers have, in relation to this poisoning incident, asked Apple to take up monitoring responsibilities of the working conditions. Further, on 24 February 2011, the workers made three requests to United Win: (1) issue a public apology (2) offer hospital check-ups (3) offer follow-up treatment. United Win has not given a satisfactory reply to the workers as of yet.

The workers also reveal that although on shop floor a fan system has been installed, the two chemicals, “isopropanol” and “acetone” that have replaced the original “hexane” still contain irritating elements and are still poisonous – these two chemicals likely cause headaches, dizziness, and in the long run may cause cancer or severe allergic reactions. The protective measures offered by United Win to the workers are insufficient – each day a worker only receives a thin paper face mask, which cannot filter the gaseous fumes emitted by the chemicals. 

We have also discovered that United Win has a serious problem of dispatch workers. According to the workers, among the 16,000 to 18,000 workers at United Win, almost half are outsourced by labour agents. The dispatch workers do not have a labour contract, and do not receive an allowance for their job positions. Three labour companies located close to United Win also report that United Win no longer directly contracts new workers. New workers also have to pay a fee of CNY50-70 as an agency fee to the labour agencies. This type of agency arrangement between workers, United Win, and labour agents hurts the rights of workers. Workers who were poisoned back in 2009 also worry that once their relationship with these labour agencies end, they will no longer receive compensation or treatment fees.
 
As the workers are now experiencing recurring symptoms, we now demand:

  • United Win to immediately offer check-ups and follow-up treatments to the workers in hospitals that recognized and trusted by the workers. Meanwhile, United Win should pay workers basic salaries, and sufficient allowance for hospitalization and food. For the workers who have resumed work in United Win, Apple and United Win must ensure decent wage and sufficient rest time;
  • Apple to monitor and pay for the rectification of United Win. Apple should not cut the order in United Win and should provide workers with suitable and effective protective measures and equipments;
  • Apple to monitor United Win to stop using dispatch workers, and facilitate United Win to convert the dispatch workers into regular workers by signing contract with United Win according to the China Labour Law and China Labour Contract Law;
  • Apple have to raise its unit price, so that United Win could pay the workers with decent living wage. For now, workers are forced to work overtime 18 hours every week, which is violating the requirement of the China Labour Law that overtime work should be limited to 36 hours a month.


Contact person: Cheng Yi Yi, project officer, SACOM

Phone no.: (852) 2392 5463 or (852) 6012 0312    

Email: yycheng@sacom.hk