With Apple currently allowing the Fair Labor Association to inspect the working conditions of its supply chains abroad, a new report from NPR profiled 25 of the 59 workers injured in an explosion at the Pegatron iPad factory in Shanghai, China last December (audio here – MP3). The explosion was attributed to a build-up of aluminum particles. According to Pegatron, it started in the machinery meant to collect the dust. Today’s report from NPR gives us a look into the conditions of the Shanghai plant before, during, and after the explosion from the eyes of workers.
A similar explosion months before in May at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu was the focus of The New York Times’ recent story sparking controversy over Apple’s suppliers. Zhang Qing explained to NPR that Apple inspected the Shanghai factory just hours before the explosion:
Zhang Qing, who worked in the Shanghai factory, said employees were never told about the explosion in Chengdu or that dust was actually combustible… Zhang and his fellow workers in Shanghai earn a base wage of about $200 a month and up to $450 with overtime. The day of the Shanghai blast, managers told them to clean up dust because Apple inspectors were visiting.
Another worker named Liu Hengchao described seeing the inspectors:
“They wore white gloves to check if there was dust. There certainly has to be dust.”… Liu says management told workers not to talk to the Apple inspectors, who spent 10 minutes in the area and then left. Liu says if he’d been allowed to speak, he would have told them this: “They could improve the environment somewhat, because the environment is too terrible.”
He Wenwen, who worked at Pegatron polishing the aluminum casings for iPad 2, described the explosion from within the factory:
“I saw a fireball coming towards me… I lost consciousness for a few seconds… Later, when I opened my eyes, I saw dense smoke and fire everywhere. I felt scared, really scared. I could hear people crying and screaming.”
The report said —as of last week— none of the 25 workers interviewed heard directly from Apple. However, following being contacted by NPR, Apple apparently started reaching out to the workers to check on their well-being and to confirm they received approximately $800 in compensation.