Apple’s Next iPhone Sparks Fresh Worker Abuse Allegations

Apple’s next iPhone is expected to be cheaper – and has provoked fresh allegations of worker abuse, after investigators documented poor working conditions at a Chinese factory making the new devices.

The allegations about ethical and legal labour violations arose after an undercover investigation by New York-based China Labor Watch (CLW) at a factory in Wuxi, China, which is owned by the US-based Jabil Circuit, one of the world’s largest electronic manufacturing services providers.

Worker Allegations

In its report, CLW alleges many infringements at the factory, that includes “millions of dollars in unpaid overtime wages; over 100 hours of monthly mandatory overtime, three times in excess of legal limits; more than 11 hours of standing work every day with no rest outside of 30-minute meal breaks; illegally inadequate pre-work training; hiring discrimination; and more.”

It also said that the base wages of the workers at the factory are barely enough to meet subsistence level needs, which forces workers to rely on overtime wages. CLW said that 110 hours of overtime per month is common, which is in excess of Apple’s own code and is even in excess of Chinese statutory regulations on overtime hours.

Specifically, CLW noted problems that included the heavy use of dispatch workers beyond statutory limits, and these workers being charged steep fees to work at the plant. It also noted hiring discrimination, as women had to undergo tests to see whether they are pregnant. Workers also have to stand upright for 11.5 hours per day.

Other issues concern workers having to sign documents when hired to free Jabil from any liability. CLW said that workers are not given time to understand the documents they sign and are not given a copy of the documents.

Poor staff training is also highlighted, which CLW says only lasts two hours and is “perfunctory” at best. Exam answers are given by the trainer to be copied, CLW alleges, and it warned that training safety is lacking considering “a number of positions in the factory that involve regular contact with harmful chemicals, loud noises, or other hazards, leading to workers using protective equipment in incorrect ways.”

Workers are also apparently not given enough breaks, with just two 30-minute breaks, six days a week. Each worker is forced to work 11 hours of unpaid overtime every month. Overtime is usually mandatory, said CLW. It also pointed to crowded dorms have that eight people per room, where night- and day-shift workers are assigned the same rooms, leading to workers’ sleep being interrupted by one another.

Government Responsibility?

“CLW’s newest report is not only evidence that Apple and its suppliers continue to infringe upon the labor rights and human rights of the workers making Apple products, it is also evidence that such supplier factories are not restricted to Asian-owned factories. Jabil Circuit is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida,” said CLW, in reference to Apple’s past labour difficulties at factories owned and operated by Foxconn and more recently Pegatron.

And CLW warned that the treatment of workers at the plant not only violates Chinese labour laws, but also that the American government could be held responsible.

“The US government also shares in the responsibility for labor abuses committed by US companies manufacturing in China,” said CLW. “It is the duty of national governments to regulate the conduct of their companies abroad. This notion is articulated in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which was unanimously endorsed in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, including the US government.”

Jabil Action

In some media reports, Jabil is quoted as saying it had uncovered problems itself last month after an internal audit and was taking immediate steps to investigate the allegations. The allegations are somewhat ironic, considering that in March this year the Jabil boasted on a blog that it  was once again named on Fortunes’s World’s ‘Most Admired Companies’ list.

“Jabil is committed to ensuring every employee is provided a safe working environment where they are treated fairly, with dignity and respect,” Jabil told the Guardian. “We take seriously any allegation that we are not fulfilling that commitment and are taking immediate action to ensure recent allegations are thoroughly investigated and, if found to be credible, corrected.”

Apple meanwhile has reportedly said its experts were “already on site” to look into the claims. The news comes as Apple gears up next week to launch its highly anticipated new iPhone.

Apple of course has faced numerous allegations in the past regarding its supply chain, because of alleged worker abuses at third-party factories in China making its products. But the company has worked hard to ensure that third-parties obey the relevant labour laws and improve worker conditions.

This didn’t stop two former Apple Store employees in July from suing the company in the US, demanding compensation for daily bag searches which took place while they were off-the-clock.

How much do you know about the history of the iPhone? Take our quiz!

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • ... Should we really be shocked? Apple obviously has no method in place to properly grade a third party supplier.

  • This factory manufacturers devices for more than just Apple; but Apple is used to grab headline attention- so unfair.

  • Gee... one can't help but notice the timing of this allegation; just a couple of business days before Apple's anticipated unveiling of new products. Seems that "China Labor Watch" has some bias here and the good little journalist/sheep are dutifully passing the story along.

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