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Apple supplier under scrutiny following worker deaths

Are factory conditions at Pegatron responsible for five worker deaths? The company says no, but watchdog group China Labor Watch is concerned.

Pegatron's iPhone factory
Pegatron's iPhone factory
Jay Greene/CNET

The death of a 15-year-old factory employee has intensified fears about poor working conditions at Apple supplier Pegatron.

Shi Zhaokun had worked at a Pegatron factory that makes Apple's iPhone 5C. On October 9, Shi died of pneumonia shortly after being admitted to a hospital. His ID said he was 20, but in actuality he was only 15, according to The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for Pegatron told the Times that Shi's death was not related to the workplace environment. The boy's uncle said he was in good health and had just passed a physical on September 4, just prior to his employment, reported the Times.

Shi's death is not an isolated case. At least five Pegatron workers have died under similar conditions in recent months, according to watchdog group China Labor Watch, triggering concerns over factory conditions.

"Considering the sudden deaths of five people and the similar reason of the deaths, we believe there should be some relations between the tragedy and the working conditions in the factory," Li Qiang, executive director of CLW, told the Times.

Specifically, work logs kept by Shi's family showed that during his month at Pegatron the boy worked 280 hours, six days a week, and sometimes as many as 12 hours a day, way beyond the allowed 60 hours per week, reported the Times. But Pegatron has insisted that Shi did not go beyond the legal number of hours, saying that logs may not show the total number of breaks.

Pegatron said that it is investigating the deaths, though it maintains that an investigation of the factory turned up nothing toxic or otherwise hazardous. But the supplier has already been on CLW's radar. In July, the watchdog group accused Pegatron of safety violations, poor living conditions, and other labor abuses.