Following reports about human rights and labor violations in its supplier factories, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association in an effort to demonstrate its commitment to the well being of the workers in its supply factories. Apple also has a strict code of conduct, which suppliers must adhere to in order to work with Apple.
This code is monitored by Apple, and the company also maintains a yearly progress report. The 2013 report showed that Apple had increased audits by 72 percent throughout 2012, with a total of 393 audits conducted. Despite this effort by Apple, Hong-Kong based labor watchdog group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, or SACOM says that the Cupertino-based company still isn’t doing enough to monitor the labor practices of its suppliers.
SACOM interviewed 130 workers at three different Apple factories, and has declared that Apple suppliers “resort to inhumane labor practices, even to the extent of denying workers’ basic human needs, such as allowing bathroom breaks, sufficient rest, and access to proper nutrition.”
The report goes on to condemn Apple for these practices, emphasizing the use of student workers from vocational schools across China. Suppliers call them “student internships,” but SACOM calls them “sweatshops that exploit their workers.”
Workers that SACOM interviewed come from key Apple suppliers Foxlink, Pegatron, and Wintek. These three factories are all located in different areas of China, and are used to produce components for Apple products.
In addition to criticizing the use of student employees, SACOM also says that workers have excessively long work hours during peak production times in a military-style environment (of up to 100 hours), and are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals without proper warnings
They employ measures that deter workers from using toilets and cut meal times to coerce workers to meet high production quotas. Workers also suffer verbal abuse from frontline supervisors and are humiliated in front of other workers. Moreover, to discipline workers, there is a wide range of arbitrary punitive fines imposed on them. Workers are intimidated and told to keep silent, with threats that their wages will be cut. These various punitive measures have led to increasing antagonism toward shop floor supervisors. We found scarce evidence of management’s attempts to improve this situation; on the contrary, the influx of new workers and rapid turnover of the work force have exacerbated management-worker relations.
In Apple’s 2013 Supplier Responsibility Report, the company said that it had expanded its worker empowerment program, which provides education on local labor laws and the supplier code of conduct, to more than 1.3 million employees during the course of 2012, a significantly larger number of workers than Apple trained with the program in past years.
Early in 2012, Tim Cook went to China to personally tour supplier factories, demonstrating the company’s commitment to improving upon worker conditions.
“No one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple, Cook said. ”We think the use of underage labor is abhorrent. If we find a supplier that intentionally hires underage labor, it’s a firing offense.”
Apple has not commented on SACOM’s accusations.