30/01/2012 06:47 GMT | Updated 30/01/2012 06:57 GMT

UK Unions: Apple Neglect Workers' Rights To Assemble

UK unions say Apple is ignoring they key issue of workers' right to assemble, as the company defends itself against allegations of cruel working conditions at Foxconn, its supplier in China.

"What Apple's response to their suppliers' workers' conditions shows how far behind Apple are," said Sam Gurney of the Trades Union Congress in London.

"First they resisted auditing, now they audit, but that only shows up part of the problem, in part because the system for getting round audits is now so sophisticated."

"For all their monitoring, they are missing the point that workers in their suppliers' companies are not allowed to assemble, to join together to raise their concerns to their managers, and develop collective bargaining," he said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company against allegations of cruel conditions made in a New York Times report, by issuing a group-wide email, saying: "What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word." The email was first reported by

In the extensive report released by The New York Times last week, a former Foxconn manager, Li Minggi, said: “Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost.”

The TUC said that Apple's immense size meant they could force suppliers to improve working conditions: "Workers in Chinese factories are no different from other workers, it is the scale and dehumanising nature of the work regimes that is so appalling.

The only way to get actual improvements is to address this and use their massive leverage to get their suppliers to actually engage with the work force in basic collective bargaining."

Gurney said some firms in China are genuinely improving workers's conditions. "What sensible firms in China are recognising is that with labour shortages, increasing wages and the need to maintain stability actually listening to workers and responding to their more than reasonable demands is the way forward."

Tim Cook, Apple CEO responded to the New York Times article in an email to all Apple employees saying: "What we will not do - and never have done - is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word."

The defensive email went on to say: "As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are. For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am. For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts."

The LA Times reports that a boycott against Apple products could be on the cards.