Apple has admitted that child labour is an increasing problem at the factories that make its devices
Apple’s annual report on its supply chain has uncovered an increasing problem of child labour, after finding that 91 children under the age of 16 years old had worked at its suppliers in 2010.
This is nine times as many as the previous year, when eleven underage workers were found in 2009.
And the report also discovered that 137 workers were poisoned by n-hexane, a chemical typically used to clean the screens of iPhones. Apple also said that less than a third of the facilities it audited were complying with its code on working hours.
“Apple does not tolerate any instance of underage labour,” the company said in its report. “Whether we discover active workers or historical cases (workers had either left or had reached legal working age by the time of the audit), we classify these as core violations.”
“In recent years, Chinese factories have increasingly turned to labour agencies and vocational schools to meet their workforce demands. We learned that some of these recruitment sources may provide false IDs that misrepresent young people’s ages, posing challenges for factory management,” Apple said.
“Our audits of 127 facilities revealed ten Chinese factories that had hired workers under the age of 16 years, the minimum age for employment in China.”
In one factory Apple apparently discovered 42 children working on the production line. As a result, Apple terminated its contract with the factory. Apple said it decided that the management “had chosen to overlook the issue and was not committed to addressing the problem.”
Apple said it has “intensified” its search for workers under 16 years old.
In its “worker endangerment” section, Apple’s report that it had found that workers suffered adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane in poorly ventilated areas.
“In 2010, we learned that 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek, one of Apple’s suppliers, had suffered adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane, a chemical in cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes,” said Apple.
“We discovered that the factory had reconfigured operations without also changing their ventilation system. We required Wintek to stop using n-hexane and to provide evidence that they had removed the chemical from their production lines. In addition, Apple required them to fix their ventilation system. Since these changes, no new workers have suffered difficulties from chemical exposure,” the company said.
In total Apple audited 127 factories, more than the 102 in 2009.
And while it found that, overall, things are improving for workers, less than a third of Apple’s suppliers are now meeting its requirements on working hours. For example in 2010, only 32 percent met the standard, compared to 46 percent in 2009.
This will be of concern as it means that two thirds of the factories that make Apple goods, force their staff to work more than 60 hours a week. And it means that the workers are not given one day of rest per seven working days.
“Apple continues to improve our supplier responsibility program to ensure that working conditions in our supply base are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” said Apple.
It is worth noting that Apple seems to be the only major technology company to audit its supply chain and then publish the results.
Indeed, more than 40 percent of the suppliers that Apple visited in 2010 stated that Apple was the first company ever to have audited their facility for social responsibility compliance.
This could be because Apple is now highly sensitive about its manufacturing processes, after the firm faced increased scrutiny following a number of suicides at Taiwanese tech manufacturer Foxconn, which employs approximately 920,000 people in China alone.
Apple and other tech giants all conducted investigations and gave the company a clean bill of health. Indeed, in June last year Apple chief executive Steve Jobs dismissed claims that Foxconn was a sweatshop.
And in its report Apple praised the company’s response. In May 2010 Foxconn agreed to raise the wages of its workers by 20 percent, despite the reports that the Taiwanese company had considered closing its mainland Chinese plants. Foxconn also installed anti jumper nets on its high rise buildings to prevent more suicides.