Apple finds rights violations in supply chain

Underage labour, intimidation, poor working conditions found in company’s supplier factories

Tags: Apple IncorporatedFoxconn Technology Group
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Apple finds  rights violations in supply chain Apple has conducted an in-depth report into its supply chain and has discovered several instances of human rights abuses and violations of workers rights. (Getty Images)
By  Georgina Enzer Published  February 16, 2011

Apple has found instances of underage labour, unsafe working conditions, lack of first aid supplies, excessive recruitment fees and much more during audits of the facilities and management practices of 127 of its worldwide suppliers during 2010.

According to Apple’s Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report, the company has investigated and taken action upon every reported instance of a breach of supplier responsibility. In cases of core violations, which include instances of abuse, underage labour, involuntary labour, falsification of audited materials, worker endangerment, intimidation or retaliation against workers participating in an audit, and significant threats to the environment, the companies involved were required to immediately remedy the problems and were placed on probation or their services were terminated.

In 18 facilities, auditors discovered that foreign workers employed in the factories had been forced to pay excessive recruitment fees to labour agencies, effectively forcing them to become bonded labourers. Apple required suppliers to reimburse any fees that exceeded the company's set limits for recruitment fees and the company says a total of $3.4 million has been repaid to workers since 2008.

Apples team discovered 10 facilities employing 42 underage workers, with one facility employing 49 underage workers, according to the report, Apple required the supplier to support the young workers’ return to school and to improve their management systems to prevent recurrences, but eventually terminated business with the facility. Apple said that company’s management had chosen to overlook the hiring of underage workers and was not interested in addressing the problem.

“During our investigation, we also discovered that the vocational school involved in hiring the underage workers had falsified student IDs and threatened retaliation against students who revealed their ages during our audits. We reported the school to appropriate authorities in the Chinese government,” stated the report.

Apple also terminated business with one facility at which management "presented falsified payroll records and provided misleading interview answers to Apple's audit team”, and with another at which a facility manager “offered cash to Apple's third-party auditors, asking them to reduce the number of audit findings”.

In some cases Apple did not terminate services, but gave the companies a chance to improve their facilities.

Two facilities which falsified their payrolls and provided misleading interview answers to Apple’s audit team were given an independent audit to look for record falsification. One of the companies had no violations, but the other facility was paying below the minimum wage and underpaying overtime. This company was told to pay workers the appropriate amount and to adjust benefits according to Apple’s regulations. The company will face a full audit in 2011.

Apple’s report also dedicated one section to the use of the chemical n-hexane, a chemical in cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes, which can affect worker’s health if used in a poorly ventilated area.

An investigation in 2010 revealed that 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek, one of Apple's suppliers, had suffered health problems following exposure to n-hexane in a poorly ventilated area.

Apple’s report says it told Wintek to stop using the product, fix the factory’s ventilation systems, and “implement improvements to their management systems for Environmental Health and Safety”.

The Foxconn suicides were also featured in the report; Apple says it has conducted in-depth studies of the facility in Shenzhen, China, sending two suicide prevention specialists, with experience in China with Apple COO Tim Cook and other Apple executives to the factory in June 2010.

The company commissioned an independent review by a broader team of suicide prevention experts which surveyed over 1,000 workers about their quality of life, sources of stress, psychological health, and other work-related factors.
In August the team recommended better training of hotline staff and care centre counsellors and better monitoring to ensure effectiveness.

According to the report, Foxconn is now implementing an employee assistance program (EAP) that focuses on maintaining employee mental health and expanding social support networks. They are also beginning to expand operations to other parts of China, allowing workers to be closer to their home provinces.

The report also says that Apple is working with the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GESI) and the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) to ensure that their suppliers are using conflict-free sources of extractives, namely "The mining of columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, wolframite, and gold – which are refined into tantalum (Ta), tin (Sn), tungsten (W), and gold (Au), respectively – [that] is believed to fuel political strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring regions."

For 2011, Apple hopes to “drive conflict-free verification measures to smelters in our supply chain, and require our component suppliers to source tantalum and tin from conflict-free producers,” according to the report.

Apple says other goals for 2011 are to extend the reach and quality of the Apple-mandated social responsibility training and to enable more workers to understand their rights. It is also hoping to equip additional suppliers with classrooms to help workers to continue with their education while remaining employed.

The company will also be collaborating with industry groups and NGOs in China to address issues such as working hours, underage labour, and employee well-being.

2465 days ago
Wolfgang Vondracek

Thank you for providing such a report. It is good to know that many of today's international companies do see and acknowledge their responsibilities and act upon them for the betterment of a global labour force. Having spent over six years in China in the end 80's and early 90's I went through the same challenges on a much smaller scale but understand through that the constant requirement for monitoring because it is so easy to forget the work force and think profit margin.

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