After an annual internal audit carried out as part of its Supplier Responsibility Report, Apple has discovered that one of its Chinese suppliers employed 74 workers under 16 years old – quite an increase from the six active cases reported in the previous year. The child labor cases were concentrated in one circuit board supplier, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co. (also known as”PZ”), and Apple has fired the company.
PZ was actually “willfully conspiring” with the families of minors to forge age-verification documents and also with one of the area’s largest labor agencies, Shemzen Quanshun Human Resources. According to Ars Technica, the agency has been reported to the provincial governments of Shenzhen and Heban, had its business license suspended and been levied a fine. The children have all been returned to their families, with PZ required to “pay expenses to facilitate their successful return,” says Apple’s report.
In 2010, Apple had reported 91 total cases of underage labor on its suppliers. In 2011, there were only six active and 13 historical cases of underage labor, so the total of 74 is all the more notable.
Apple has also been under fire for months over reports of suicides, worker protests and unsafe labor conditions at factories run by Foxconn, which produces the iPad, iPhone and other Apple products. Just last September, Foxconn closed one of its plants in northern China after unrest involving some 2,000 workers.
Apple CEO Tim Cook used to be in charge of building Apple’s supply chain, the Guardian notes. Cook has said he considers underage labor “abhorrent” (honestly, could he say it was anything else?) and “extremely rare in our supply chain.” Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior Vice President for operations, has pledged to eliminate the practice.
Nearly 400 suppliers were scrutinized in the audit that led to Apple’s supplier report and 70,000 workers in its four final assembly facilities surveyed. Children were found to be employed at eleven of the factories. A number of other offenses were detailed: eight factories were employing bonded workers, foreign laborers who have paid fees to recruitment agencies and are made to work at factories to pay off their debts. 90 facilities deducted wages to punish workers; 34 required pregnancy testing; 25 mandated medical testing for diseases including hepatitis B.
In addition, waste oil was intentionally dumped “into the restroom receptacle” at one plant.
The report emphasizes that Apple is working to root out cases of underage labor, addressing the numerous safety risks to workers highlighted in media reports and seeking conflict-free minerals for its products. 92 percent of supplier’s facilities were found to be in compliance with a maximum 60-hour work week. Notably, a Silicon Valley facility was named as a site where Apple’s Macintosh computers are assembled — could Apple, wary of so much bad publicity, be starting to look for manufacturing venues where it can keep a far closer eye on the conditions in which its products are assembled?
2013 has not been the kindest to Apple, with media reports of teenagers no longer deeming company’s products trendy (I guess that’s not so surprising given how ubiquitous Apple’s devices have become) and it losing its place as the world’s most valuable company to Exxon.
I’m not happy to hear that child labor could have made the very device I’m writing this post on. Apple’s report motivates me to keep demanding that it and other tech companies be transparent about their labor practices; about whose hands are putting together the products we use in our daily lives.
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