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Apple's Tim Cook visits China, meets officials

Groups petition Apple CEO over labour practices again

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Apple boss Tim Cook has made his first visit to China as CEO, something his illustrious predecessor never managed to do, but faced renewed calls from NGOs and unions to improve pay and working conditions at the tech giants’ suppliers.

Cook apparently dropped into the Beijing Joy City Apple Store to much excitement and spontaneous papping by the locals – photos of which are all over Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo.

It’s still unclear exactly why he was in the country, but it probably wasn’t just an attempt to differentiate his leadership from Steve Jobs, who never personally made it to the biggest mobile phone market in the world.

Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that Cook met with “Chinese officials”, although in classic Apple style did not elaborate any further.

The smart money is on Cook getting round the table with execs from China’s state-run mobile operators.

Now, this could have involved discussions with Apple’s current partners in the country – China Unicom and China Telecom – about upcoming devices, or indeed with market leader China Mobile, which has yet to sign an official deal with the fruity phone maker despite having over 15 million iPhone users hooked up to its 2G network.

Cook may also have been in town to get an update on the continuing trademark dispute case with Proview, where both sides have gone suspiciously quiet in the past few weeks.

What he was probably not in China to do, however, is meet suppliers including Foxconn and Wintek in order to force an improvement in the pay and working conditions of factory staff.

Just as he was spotted in the Beijing store, another open letter signed by around 50 NGOs and unions urged Cook to end “labour abuses” in Apple’s supply chain.

The letter explains that violations uncovered over the past two years by Hong Kong based not-profit group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), have still not been addressed.

The group claimed last month that Foxconn uses forced student labour and hid underage workers during high profile inspections by the Fair Labor Association.

“These violations are systemic problems, not isolated or unrelated incidents,” the letter noted. “We are frustrated with Apple’s continued failure to implement institutional reforms to protect the rights of workers in its supply chain.”

The letter also repeats accusations of excessive and forced overtime, exposure to hazardous materials which led to deadly explosions at factories in 2011, harsh management tactics which has led to many suicides and company-controlled unions.

The groups are demanding the following:

1. Provide a living wage for all workers so they do not have to work excessive overtime hours in order to support themselves and their families; 2. End the use of involuntary labour that occurs through the student worker intern program; 3. Conduct labour rights training for workers, including training on occupational health and safety; 4. Facilitate the formation of a genuine trade union through democratic election; 5. Compensate victims of non-compliance with the Apple code of conduct.

Apple is currently awaiting for the FLA report on its supplier factories to come out and CEO Cook spoke out against underage labour and excessive overtime last month, saying the firm has already begun to “manage working hours on a very micro basis”.

The latest info for February shows 89 per cent compliance with Apple’s pledge that “except in emergency or unusual situations, a work week shall be restricted to 60 hours, including overtime”.

When contacted by The Register, Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu handed us the firm’s stock statement saying it cares “about every worker in our worldwide supply chain”.

We insist that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made. Our suppliers must live up to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple.®

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