Apple Factories Found to be Using Child Labor as Well as Poisoning Workers

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Last month we told you about how Wintek, a main supplier for Apple and Nokia, among others, was poisoning its workers with n-hexane – a toxic chemical used in the screen manufacturing process that is actually banned (meaning that Wintek was using it in violation of the ban – they have since claimed to have ceased all use of n-hexane). Now in an annual report from Apple entitled “Supplier Responsibility: 2010 Progress Report”, Apple admits that not only have workers been poisoned by banned substances in the plants they use, but they have been using child labor, as well.

Apple says that it discovered that as many as three plants that it uses had hired children who were just 15 years old (the legal age of employment is 16); in all there were 11 fifteen-year olds working in the three plants, in violation of both the local employment laws, and Apple’s own policies.

According to the Apple report, “Apple discovered three facilities that had previously hired 15-year-old workers in countries where the minimum age for employment is 16. Across the three facilities, our auditors found records of 11 workers who had been hired prior to reaching the legal age, although the workers were no longer underage or no longer in active employment at the time of our audit. In each of the three facilities, we required a review of all employment records for the year prior to our audit, as well as a complete analysis of the hiring process to clarify how underage people had been able to gain employment. Apple required each facility to develop and institute appropriate management systems – such as more thorough ID checks and verification procedures – to prevent future employment of underage workers.”

To be clear, Apple not only did not condone the situation, but actively sought to discover it, and deal with it. Says Apple, “One facility attempted to conceal evidence of historical cases of underage labor. Two other facilities presented falsified records that concealed evidence of violations of Apple’s Code regarding working hours and days of rest. In all three cases, Apple auditors uncovered the falsified records by cross-referencing audit data.”

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The reference to the number of working hours and days of rest is interesting. Apple requires that workers employed in plants that it uses can work no more than 60 hours per week and that there be at least one day off in seven. (The report specifically states that “Apple’s Code sets a maximum of 60 work hours per week and requires at least one day of rest per seven days of work, while allowing exceptions in unusual or emergency circumstances.”)

Clearly, Apple is a product of its own location-based culture – as nowhere else in the U.S. do we know of a place that routinely expects 60 hours and 6 days a week from its employees other than in the insane start-up culture of Silicon Valley.

Other interesting points in the report include that, overall, the practices at the plants that Apple uses around the world are in compliance with Apple’s own standards only 63% of the time for antidiscrimination practices, only 74% of the time for juvenile worker protections, just 61% for occupational injury prevention, and a beastly 46% for the working hours issue.

Or put another way, 37% of the practices violate Apple’s antidiscrimination policies, 26% do not afford juvenile workers enough protection (and we can only guess what “juvenile workers” actually means in this context), and, given Apple’s own statements and policies on the subject, 54% of the factories’ practices must involve having workers work more than 60 hours a week and/or have no day off in a week.

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Says Apple, of that last situation, “When we investigated, we uncovered records and conducted worker interviews that revealed excessive working hours and seven days of continuous work,” adding that they have terminated their contract with the suppliers.

Interestingly, however, Apple’s “no more than 60 hours a week” rule itself actually violates the labor laws in at least some of the countries in which it has supplier factories. For example, China’s law requires that workers cannot be required to work more than 49 hours a week.

Inexplicably, despite all of the above, Apple’s report gives the factories a 100% in “business integrity” compliance. It’s unclear that that’s about, but somehow falsifying records, not protecting juveniles, and poisoning workers with banned chemicals doesn’t add up to “business integrity” in our book.

Still, the picture is not all bad – after all, the 11 child workers in 2009 is less than half the 25 child workers they found in 2008.

You can read the full report here (this will download a PDF of the report).

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One thought on “Apple Factories Found to be Using Child Labor as Well as Poisoning Workers

  1. What shall we do now that we know of Wintek, Apple and Nokia having abused of children working to produce their stuff?
    Of course I want them to stop this.
    Also ’cause I dont want to return to a pc running on Microsoft Windows and similar operating systems which would make me suffer and remind me of computer stoneage.

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