16 February 2011: The Apple Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report admits that, in 2010, 91 cases of child labour were recorded during its own audits at factories in China assembling the popular gadgets marketed by the US consumer electronic giant. It mentions “our audits of 127 facilities revealed 10 Chinese factories that had hired workers under the age of 16 years, the minimum age of employment in China”. This is a particularly important statement since nearly all Apple products are labelled “Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China”.
Apple said that the number of minors working for its Chinese contractors spiked from the 11 children discovered in 2009 to the 2010 level of 91 young workers, prompting the termination of its contract with one company where 42 child labourers were found working and management was found to be unconcerned and unresponsive to the violation. Falsified age verification and ID checks are common practices in employment of underage children. This has been the experience of the Global March Against Child Labour in its activities across the world in understanding the vulnerabilities to child and forced labour in supply chains.
The same report disclosed that 72 per cent of factories audited had practices in compliance with labour and human rights, while only 65 per cent had management systems in place for implementation of policies. The poorest record is for working hour violations for which 76 facilities had records indicating that workers had worked more than the weekly working hours limit more than 50 per cent of the time.
The US company has also acknowledged for the first time that 137 workers were poisoned at a Chinese factory making its products and said less than a third of the facilities it audited were complying with its code on working hours. The 137 assemblers were poisoned by “n-hexane” at a Suzhou plant last year, an incident confirmed by the new report though Apple still declined to give details. The report also touched on suicides that occurred on Foxconn, one of the company’s major suppliers. Apple expressed its deep regrets on the numerous deaths and dispatched its chief operating officer Tim Cook to check on the site.
While Global March welcomes the semblance of transparency revealed in the report, it emphasises the importance of not only focusing on internal auditing systems, but linking into established state labour inspection systems and related government policies and programmes, such as education and social protection to ensure sustainability and impact. Global March also calls for full disclosure of the identity of errant suppliers. This is particularly important for other consumer electronic companies sourcing from China and ensuring complete traceability and accountability of the supply chain. In addition, it calls on Apple to ensure systems are in place for corrective support measures for suppliers and that workers are not disadvantaged by the criminal acts of management.
Global March also holds that robust documentation, workers’ awareness and education, the application of core labour standards, particularly respect for democratic trade union rights, communication of social and labour policies across the supply chain, including to contractors and sub-contractors, cross-verification of information from multiple sources, strong corrective and remediation plans and understanding that ethical sourcing is key to business sustainability are critical points in responsible and accountable supply chains.
To download the Apple Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report, click here