Apple has published its latest annual report into the employment practices of its suppliers, uncovering a significant number of child laborers. The report has prompted debate about whether Apple has a particular problem, or is just more honest in acknowledging the issue.
The most eye-catching statistic in the report, which covers 2010, was a dramatic increase in the number of workers below the relevant minimum employment age; all cases were in China, where that age is 16. While last year’s report uncovered 11 underage workers, this year the figure was 91 across 10 facilities.
One facility alone was responsible for 42 cases; Apple cut all ties with that supplier and reported it to Chinese officials after finding evidence of forged working papers. With the other facilities, Apple has ordered tighter polices and training schemes for management. The workers involved have been removed from their posts, but Apple has forced the suppliers to not only continue paying their wages, but also additional costs and living expenses so that the children can return to school until the age of 16, or for six months, whichever is longer.
Aside from the underage labor, Apple also found a range of “core violations”, which prompt a process by which the suppliers must show a serious commitment to putting right the problems or lose Apple’s custom. These included workers paying an excessive fee to recruitment agencies (Apple’s rule does allow for a fee of up to one month’s net wages); falsified records; attempted bribery of an auditor; and workers operating at height without adequate safety facilities.
The report also acknowledged that 137 employees of Chinese supplier Wintex were made ill after exposure to n-hexane without adequate ventilation. Apple says it has forced the company to both fix the ventilation system and cease using the chemical. It adds that it has verified all the workers have been successfully treated, and will continue monitoring their health until they are fully recuperated.
Apple also addressed a series of suicides at a factory run by Focxonn. It says the supplier cooperated with an independent investigation and that the resulting action, including setting up a 24 hour care center “had definitely saved lives.”