Apple's Chinese suppliers still exploiting workers, says report

A report from a Hong-Kong watchdog group accuses suppliers of "military-style management of workers," despite Apple's code of conduct.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
The Wintek factory in China.
The Wintek factory in China. SACOM

Apple has so far failed in its responsibility to monitor its Chinese suppliers for worker violations, claims a labor watchdog group.

In a report released yesterday, Student & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) accused three of Apple's Chinese suppliers of inhumane worker conditions. The three suppliers -- Foxlink, Pegatron, and Wintek -- fail to provide for basic human needs and continue to use student workers, according to SACOM.

Over the past few years, Apple has increased its audits of Chinese factories and taken action against those that violate its supplier code of conduct. Regardless, SACOM's report asserts that some conditions have worsened due in part to heavier demand for Apple products:

In its code of conduct, Apple claims that it requires its suppliers to uphold its workers' basic human rights as understood by the international community, and to treat them with dignity and respect. In contrast, our investigations demonstrate that Apple supplier factories are intensifying a military-style management of workers. Apples' products sales are high, with new models and devices every year...Therefore, to make sure workers meet the daily production targets, Apple suppliers resort to inhumane labor practices, even to the extent of denying workers' basic human needs, such as allowing bathroom breaks, sufficient rest, and access to proper nutrition.

The suppliers have also increased their use of so-called student interns, according to the report. Working with vocational training companies, the factories bring in students to supplement their workforce, which SACOM says deprives them of their "right to a quality education."

Forced overtime continues to be imposed on factory workers, who sometimes put in as many as 14 hours a day with only one or two days off for three months at a stretch. Those hours violate both Chinese labor law and Apple's own standards. And some of those overtime hours are unpaid, the report claims, as employees are forced to continue working until they meet certain production quotas.

Factory conditions are also hazardous, according to SACOM. Excessive noise, dust, and potentially dangerous chemicals are used on the factory floors, but workers are not told of the possible risks.

Finally, workers are often verbally abused by supervisors and warned to keep quiet or face salary cuts, the report says.

"These various punitive measures have led to increasing antagonism toward shop floor supervisors," according to SACOM. "We found scarce evidence of management's attempts to improve this situation; on the contrary, the influx of new workers and rapid turnover of the work force have exacerbated management-worker relations."

In response to the ongoing labor violations, SACOM and the Confederation of Trade Unions led a protest outside Apple's Hong Kong Causeway Bay store on Monday. The groups chanted that "Apple made so much money last year, but workers still work in misery," according to the South China Morning Post.

Apple and other companies may have increased their monitoring of factories in the face of labor violations. Yet each new audit conducted by various groups seems to uncover persistent problems.

A spokeswoman for Apple in China told the Post that "we insist that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made."

CNET also contacted Apple for comment on the report and will update the story if the company responds.

(Via 9to5Mac)