How long does it take for endemic and institutional problems to be solved? Judging from numerous reports on labour rights violations at Apple’s various China suppliers, it takes years for minute improvements to be made. But, as today’s new investigation from China Labor Watch (CLW) shows, these reports are as grim as ever.
The new CLW report looks at three Pegatron factories (Pegatron Shanghai, Riteng in Shanghai, and AVY in Suzhou) that are key Apple suppliers. It found ongoing labour abuses – such as excessive work hours above China’s legal limit; pregnant women forced to quit for their own well-being; underage labor from local vocational colleges – and other wrongdoings like environmental pollution.
Of course, other companies should shoulder the blame as well. While Pegatron Shanghai is the second largest Apple manufacturer in China, some of those Pegatron facilities are also producing for Nokia, Panasonic, HP, Dell, Asus, Acer, and Sony.
Rather than summarizing the whole report, which was put together after undercover on-site observation and using information gained from 200 worker interviews from March to July 2013, let’s look at the section called ‘Apple’s 17 promises versus 17 realities’.
1. Apple: We limit work weeks to 60 hours
But CLW notes:
At the three Pegatron factories that CLW investigated, weekly working hours for the majority of production workers were about 66, 67, and 69 hours, respectively. When orders were being rushed, these hours were even longer and workers seldom received a day off. China’s legal limit is 49 hours per week.
2. Apple: All overtime must be voluntary
But, in reality, “if a worker chooses one time not to accept scheduled overtime, the factory will not provide her an opportunity to do any overtime work for the entire month as punishment,” according to the report. Many workers rely on having some overtime to boost the meagre wages.
“Hourly wages for workers producing Apple products (between $1.30 and $1.50) are not high enough to meet basic needs. For example, in Shanghai, China’s most expensive city, where the average wage is $764, workers at Pegatron only earn $268 before overtime.”
3. Apple: We don’t tolerate underage labour
In reality, rampant corruption, especially between Chinese factory bosses and vocational schools, sees student “interns” required to work at the factories.
4. Excessive use of third-party labour agents
“In each of the three Pegatron Group subsidiaries factories, there was a heavy reliance on third-party labour agents — i.e., dispatch labour companies — to hire workers.” Some facilities recruit 50 percent of workers in this way. But an upcoming Chinese law will limit that to 10 percent at each facility. But that presumes the law will be enforced.
5. Apple: We require all of our suppliers to compensate workers for any illegal deductions and wage deficiencies
“Each of the three factories we investigated had unpaid overtime violations in which they did not compensate workers for daily 15- to 30-minute meetings, adding up to 7 to 14 hours of unpaid overtime per worker per month.”
6. Suppliers still doing discriminatory screening for medical conditions or pregnancy
The Pegatron factories had a list of discriminatory hiring practices, including refusing to hire people shorter than 4 foot 11 inches tall, pregnant women, those older than 35, people with tattoos, or people of the Hui, Tibetan, or Uighur ethnic groups. Not that it justifies this, but many companies in China – including foreign companies operating in the country – practice discriminatory screening as well.
7. Apple: Excessive recruitment fees and bonded labour are strictly prohibited
But these are still widespread at the investigated facilities.
8. Apple: We require suppliers to implement Apple-designed training programs to educate workers about their rights
Sadly, this well-intentioned training is done badly by factory management.
9. Ineffective or threatening management
“Pegatron supervisors harassed and abused workers by swearing at them and threatening collective punishment. If workers at AVY did not finish 600 iPad back covers during a single shift, they would be made to stay late without wages and accept scolding in front of others.”
10. Apple: Our suppliers must follow strict standards when hiring students
Sadly, many high-school age students are required to work at the factories despite the production work being unrelated to their studies. This is something we’ve also written about at Foxconn, which is another major supplier to Apple and other big-name western tech brands.
11. Apple: Workers have a right to be in an environment where they can voice their concerns freely
You’ve guessed it: this is not happening in practice.
12. Protective gear and safety kit
Even basic equipment like masks are not being used in many cases.
13. Apple: We are committed to worker well-being
However, the report notes: “Pregnant women making Apple products at these factories cannot take maternity leave if they became pregnant out-of-wedlock or if they are having a second child outside of China’s family planning policies. This inability to take leave forces mothers to make a choice between their baby and their job.”
In addition, over-crowding at dorms leaves workers waiting hours to take a shower. Eight to 12 workers are crammed into one room.
14. Apple: It is critical that both suppliers and Apple employees are prepared to identify hazards
But things like first-aid kits and fire escapes and drills are found to be lacking.
15. Apple: We do not tolerate environmental violations of any kind
The report’s investigators discovered industrial wastewater being directly poured into the sewage system that then led to local waterways.
16. Apple: An Apple auditor leads every onsite audit
“Audits often overlook labor violations because factories make preparations ahead of time. Pegatron, for example, forces workers to sign falsified attendance records which detail overtime hours at sometimes half the number of actual overtime hours worked.”
17. Apple: We forbid disciplinary pay deductions in any country
However, things like failing to eat at predetermined times, and absence from unpaid meetings, can all lead to fines.