Apple last week aired its annual evaluation of its supplier’s compliance with its supplier standards program. The program is designed to discourage practices like child labor and substandard living and working conditions among the company’s suppliers worldwide. The company employs independent investigative firms like Verité, to investigate it suppliers.
The new report found major violations at many suppliers, including the use of child labor.
The report describes, “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. 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.”
Many suspect that at least one of the plants belonged to Foxconn, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers, who already is in a lot of trouble for the suspicious death of an employee who lost and iPhone prototype and for beating a foreign correspondent who was trying to do a news story on Apple.
Many will be quick to attack Apple for its admission that child labor was found to be used to build the company’s iPods, iPhones, and Macs at three of its 102 plants worldwide. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that most companies who contract suppliers in China or other developing nations merely turn a blind eye to rights violations. Apple is one of the few who actually looks into its working conditions and as a result of its openness is perhaps unduly receiving negative public perception.
Aside from child labor, there were a wealth of other violations. Apple says it “found records that indicated workers had exceeded weekly work-hour limits more than 50 percent of the time. Similarly, at 65 facilities, more than half of the records we reviewed indicated that workers had worked more than six consecutive days at least once per month.”
At least one of the suppliers involved had been found guilty of violations in 2008 as well. Apple reports that it has severed its relationship with the firm. Writes Apple, “When Apple investigated further, we uncovered additional records and conducted worker interviews that revealed excessive working hours and seven days of continuous work. When confronted with this information, the facility provided Apple with accurate timecards. Based on the repeat core violation and inadequate actions, Apple is terminating all business with this facility.”
Another common violation was underpaying workers. Apple reports, “At 48 of the facilities audited, we found that overtime wages had been calculated improperly, resulting in underpayment of overtime wages. At 24 facilities, our auditors found that workers had been paid less than minimum wage for regular working hours.”
The audited plants were in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Philippines and the U.S., though Apple did not reveal exact locations or the name of the suppliers.
The full report, Supplier Responsibility, is available here (PDF).
One can only hope that people view Apple’s honest evaluation of its own supply chain’s shortcomings in a positive light — otherwise other firms will have little incentive to similarly monitor their own supply chains for abuse.
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