Apple: 'Average' iPad toiler does a mere 46-hour week
Cupertino vows fresh probe into latest claims of labour rights' abuses
Apple is under fire again after a new China Labor Watch report accused its factories of committing nearly 90 workers' rights violations.
This time iPhone and iPad fabs operated by Taiwanese manufacturing giant Pegatron are facing the allegations, rather than Foxconn. Apple today confirmed to The Reg that it will immediately investigate the report's findings.
Human rights group China Labor Watch sent undercover investigators into three Pegatron facilities – Pegatron Shanghai, its subsidiary Riteng also based in the city, and Suzhou-based subsidiary AVY – and conducted 200 interviews with employees outside the plants.
Its new report Apple’s Unkept Promises [PDF] alleges 86 labour rights violations including hiring discrimination, underage labour, insufficient wages, poor working and living conditions and environmental pollution.
It claims Pegatron breaks Apple’s Supplier Responsibility code of conduct, highlighting 17 “promises” it believes are not being kept.
For example, Apple insists 92 per cent of its supply chain complies with a 60-hour maximum working week rule. However China Labor Watch alleged the average in the three plants it investigated was at least 66 hours - and further claimed pregnant women were forced to work the same hours despite Chinese law limiting them to eight hours each day.
In response, Apple told El Reg in a statement (published in full here):
We have closely tracked working hours at all of these facilities. Our most recent survey in June found that Pegatron employees making Apple products worked 46 hours per week on average. Excessive overtime is not in anyone's best interest.
The China Labor Watch dossier also claims that despite Apple’s promise to have stamped out discriminatory hirings in its supply chain, Pegatron factories still have on display a list of criteria that includes a refusal to employ anyone under 4ft 11in, those older than 35, people with tattoos, or those of Hui, Tibetan or Uyghur heritage.
Staff turnover is pretty high, we're told: 30 in every 110 new recruits at AVY leave in a two-week period. The investigators' report further claimed:
Apple has zero tolerance for lapses in the quality of its products. If a quality issue arises, Apple will do everything it can to have it corrected immediately. But a lower level of urgency apparently applies in responding to labour rights abuses. Despite its professed high standards for the treatment of Apple workers, serious labour violations have persisted year after year. Apple must prioritise its efforts into halting the abuse of the workers making Apple products.
Up until now most of the heat on Apple's supply chain has centred on the working conditions at its Foxconn plants. That extensive bad publicity eventually led to a landmark deal between the fruity tech titan, the Taiwanese super-manufacturer and the global non-profit Fair Labor Association (FLA) to improve standards in a specific group of factories.
Although abuses are still being reported, progress appears to have been made at Foxconn: rights groups admit the electronics giant offers Chinese workers some of the best pay and conditions among technology manufacturers.
However, Pegatron has won large chunks of Apple’s business: Pegatron Shanghai is the second largest supply factory in China for Cupertino, and reportedly bagged the contract to build the new low-cost iPhone.
This isn't the first time Apple's Pegatron plants have come in for criticism either. An explosion at Riteng in December 2011 injured 61 workers and put 23 of them in hospital.
"The latest [China Labor Watch] report contains claims that are new to us and we will investigate them immediately. Our audit teams will return to Pegatron, RiTeng and AVY for special inspections this week," the Apple spokesman added to The Reg.
Meanwhile, Pegatron told Reuters it would "investigate the matter and would take immediate action to correct any violations of Chinese labour laws and its own code of conduct". The manufacturer's CEO Jason Cheng said: "We take these allegations very seriously." ®
Apple asked us to publish this statement in full: Here it is
Apple is committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout our supply chain. We lead the industry with far-reaching and specialized audits, the most transparent reporting and educational programs that enrich the lives of workers who make our products. Apple is the first and only technology company to be admitted to the Fair Labor Association, and we are dedicated to protecting every worker in our supply chain.
As a part of our extensive Supplier Responsibility program, Apple has conducted 15 comprehensive audits at Pegatron facilities since 2007, covering more than 130,000 workers making Apple products including annual audits of Pegatron's final assembly locations and surprise audits at both RiTeng and AVY within the past 18 months.
Additionally, we have closely tracked working hours at all of these facilities. Our most recent survey in June found that Pegatron employees making Apple products worked 46 hours per week on average. Excessive overtime is not in anyone's best interest, and we work closely with our suppliers to prevent it. Apple surveys working hours for more than 1 million employees across our supply chain each month and we report the findings on our website.
We have been in close contact with China Labor Watch for several months, investigating issues they've raised and sharing our findings. When they first told us that workers' ID cards were being withheld, an auditor from our Supplier Responsibility program was on-site the next day to investigate. We confirmed that labor brokers for Pegatron were holding a small number of IDs as they helped set up bank accounts for those employees. We demanded Pegatron put a stop to this practice and a new system was in place within a week.
Their latest report contains claims that are new to us and we will investigate them immediately. Our audit teams will return to Pegatron, RiTeng and AVY for special inspections this week. If our audits find that workers have been underpaid or denied compensation for any time they've worked, we will require that Pegatron reimburse them in full.
Our audits involve a thorough review of timecards and other documents to guard against falsification. We will investigate these new claims thoroughly, ensure that corrective actions are taken where needed and report any violations of our code of conduct. We will not tolerate deviations from our code.
Apple believes in transparency and accountability, both for our suppliers and ourselves. We realize being a leader in workers rights and being transparent with our findings opens us to criticism, but we believe strongly that we can make a big difference in the lives of millions of people by doing so and this provides us the courage and resilience to continue the journey. We are proud of the work we do with our suppliers to uncover problems and improve conditions for workers. By vigorously enforcing our supplier code of conduct, we ensure that our suppliers follow the same principles and values we hold true.