Apple suppliers in hot water over ‘serious’ labour rights violations

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Chinese Labour Watch (CLW), a New York-based watchdog has accused an Apple supplier of committing “serious” violations against its workers.

The CLW says its investigations “revealed at least 86 labor rights violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations” in the factories of Pegatron Group, a major supplier to the Cupertino-based giant.

The watchdog alleges that the Pegatron factories are “violating a great number of international and Chinese laws and standards as well as the standards of Apple’s own social responsibility code of conduct”.

Interestingly Apple says that it has been working with the CLW in a bid to curb its labour rights issues, but that the issues raised are new to it. It adds however that it will look into them.

The alleged violations fall into 15 categories, including: dispatch labor abuse, hiring discrimination, women’s rights violations, underage labor, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labor health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution.

These violations, says the CLW, mean that Apple has failed to live up to its promise that its suppliers would achieve 99% compliance with Apple’s 60-hour workweek rule. The watchdog says that investigations into three Petragon factories showed that the average working weeks are approximately 66 hours, 67 hours, and 69 hours, respectively.

CLW alleges that conditions at the factories are so poor that most workers refuse to continue working for long.

Since 2011, Apple has been embroiled in a variety of labour scandals and has tried to repair its tarnished image in the ensuing time. In February 2012, the company admitted to having a human rights issue and then asked the Fair Labour Association to “conduct special voluntary audits of Apple’s final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China.”

This latest report from the CLW will however do it no favours in its bid to keep its image clean.

Apple’s statement in full:

Apple is committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout our supply chain. We lead the industry with far-reaching and specialized audits, the most transparent reporting and educational programs that enrich the lives of workers who make our products. Apple is the first and only technology company to be admitted to the Fair Labor Association, and we are dedicated to protecting every worker in our supply chain.

As a part of our extensive Supplier Responsibility program, Apple has conducted 15 comprehensive audits at Pegatron facilities since 2007, covering more than 130,000 workers making Apple products including annual audits of Pegatron’s final assembly locations and surprise audits at both RiTeng and AVY within the past 18 months.

Additionally, we have closely tracked working hours at all of these facilities. Our most recent survey in June found that Pegatron employees making Apple products worked 46 hours per week on average. Excessive overtime is not in anyone’s best interest, and we work closely with our suppliers to prevent it. Apple surveys working hours for more than 1 million employees across our supply chain each month and we report the findings on our website.

We have been in close contact with China Labor Watch for several months, investigating issues they’ve raised and sharing our findings. When they first told us that workers’ ID cards were being withheld, an auditor from our Supplier Responsibility program was on site the next day to investigate. We confirmed that labor brokers for Pegatron were holding a small number of IDs as they helped set up bank accounts for those employees. We demanded Pegatron put a stop to this practice and a new system was in place within a week.

Their latest report contains claims that are new to us and we will investigate them immediately. Our audit teams will return to Pegatron, RiTeng and AVY for special inspections this week. If our audits find that workers have been underpaid or denied compensation for any time they’ve worked, we will require that Pegatron reimburse them in full.

Our audits involve a thorough review of timecards and other documents to guard against falsification. We will investigate these new claims thoroughly, ensure that corrective actions are taken where needed and report any violations of our code of conduct. We will not tolerate deviations from our code.

Apple believes in transparency and accountability, both for our suppliers and ourselves. We realize being a leader in workers rights and being transparent with our findings opens us to criticism, but we believe strongly that we can make a big difference in the lives of millions of people by doing so and this provides us the courage and resilience to continue the journey. We are proud of the work we do with our suppliers to uncover problems and improve conditions for workers. By vigorously enforcing our supplier code of conduct, we ensure that our suppliers follow the same principles and values we hold true.

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