Apple Discovers Underage Employee ‘Conspiracy’ In Its Supply Chain

Chinese recruitment company helped forge documents for 74 child workers

Apple has uncovered nasty practices in its supply chain that saw 74 under-age workers employed at Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics factory in China.

The misconduct was revealed in Apple’s seventh annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report (SRPR), published on Friday.

The US company has terminated the contract and reported the supplier to the local authorities, which suspended its license and issued a fine.

Over the past few years, Apple has been repeatedly criticised for poor working conditions at some of the factories in its supply chain.

Think of the children

The SRPR is an annual report in which Apple looks at the results of audits it conducted over the last 12 months. “We do this because we believe in honestly sharing our findings — the good and the bad. We’re fixing problems and tackling issues that our entire industry faces, such as excessive work hours and under-age labour,” says the introduction to the SRPR.

“We’re going deeper into the supply chain than any other company we know of, and we’re reporting at a level of detail that is unparalleled in our industry,” it adds.

In the report, Apple said that last year, it conducted 393 audits, a 72 per cent increase from 2011. These covered 1.5 million workers in 14 countries and found that compliance on issues such as “juvenile worker protection” and “prevention of involuntary labour” stood at an average of 72 percent. This means that almost a third of Apple’s suppliers are still violating at least some of its company policies.

According to the report, in early 2012, Apple discovered that a recruiting firm called Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources arranged forged documents to be made for Chinese families that wanted their kids to manufacture circuit boards.

As a result, 74 children under the age of 16 were sent to work at Pingzhou Electronics. “The children were returned to their families, and PZ was required to pay expenses to facilitate their successful return,” Apple said in the report.

“In addition, the company that subcontracted its work to PZ was prompted by our findings to audit its other subcontractors for underage labour violations – proving that one discovery can have far-reaching impact.”

The report also mentions that Apple now tracks working hours for over a million employees, in order to ensure that factories comply with its ’60-hour week’ overtime policies. In 2012, the company trained 1.3 million staff, and increased investment into the Supplier Employee Education and Development programme, which offers free degree-level studies to promising candidates.

Early last year, Apple became the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association (FLA). In March, the organisation released the results of the investigation that found “serious and pressing noncompliances with FLA’s Workplace Code of Conduct, as well as Chinese Labour law” at Apple’s Foxconn factories. The US company has been trying to make amends ever since.

However, in June, the New York-based rights group China Labour Watch published a 133-page report, claiming that working conditions at many of Apple’s suppliers are “significantly more dire” than those at Foxconn.

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