Chinese activist and exiled dissident Chen Guangchen has waded into the controversy surrounding working conditions at the Chinese suppliers of big name tech brands by calling on Apple and others to stand up against his country’s infamous one child policy.
Self-taught lawyer Chen became something of a local hero and thorn in the side of the Communist Party after defending residents in Shandong from various abuses in the infamous one child policy such as forced abortions.
Now he is campaigning from his new home in New York to force big name tech firms with plants in China to use their influence and brand awareness to take up the cause, according to Bloomberg.
Chen and others are apparently seeking an audience with Apple boss Tim Cook and have already sent a letter outlining the things they thing Cupertino could do to support their cause.
These include preventing government family-planning officials from entering factories, and refusing to report women who are pregnant without birth permits.
“Apple in China should take a very active role,” Chen told the newswire. “There’s a huge social responsibility for these international corporations like Apple.”
Apple is apparently being singled out by Chen because of its size and profile in China, with the hope that it can encourage other firms through its own leadership against coercive family planning.
It must be noted that Apple’s Supplier Responsibility report for 2012 highlights that after auditing, some 24 facilities were found to have conducted pregnancy tests and 56 didn't have “policies and procedures that prohibit discriminatory practices based on pregnancy”.
Apple said it responded with the following:
We classified these practices as discrimination – even if permissible under local laws. At our direction, the suppliers have stopped discriminatory screenings for medical conditions or pregnancy. We also required them to establish clear policies and procedures to prevent recurrence.
There is no evidence from Chen to tie Apple plants to coercive birth control measures, Bloomberg said.
Apple has already forced key supplier Foxconn to improve labour conditions in its plants after an agreement struck with the Fair Labor Association earlier this year, and although there have been complaints by some rights groups, it would seem to be trying to take a stand on such matters.
As such, if Chen’s campaign raises the lid on yet another wave of human rights abuses at such plants then Apple and other big name technology brands with suppliers in China will likely be faced with the difficult challenge of responding to customer pressure without angering the Communist Party.
Local Apple representatives in China could not immediately be reached for further comment.
However, a spokesman for the Hong Kong-based rights group China Labour Bulletin said there may be other priorities for suppliers at present.
"On the issue of reproductive health, I would say it is more important at present that all employers pay for the maternity insurance they are legally obliged provide female workers with as well as the benefits stipulated in the Special Provisions on the Protection of Female Employees, which went into effect on 28 April 2012," he added. ®