Apple audit exposes supplier malpractice

16 February 2011
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16 February 2011 | Angeline Albert 

Child labour, excessive working hours, falsified records and bribery are among the major violations uncovered at some of Apple’s supplier sites.     

Its audit last year of 127 supplier sites revealed 37 major workplace violations, according to the firm’s 2011Supplier Responsibility Report, published this week.      

Where a major violation is uncovered for the first time, Apple works with the supplier to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Where a repeat of a major violation is discovered, the supplier is struck off.

Among the issues highlighted in the report:

• A total of 91 children (under China’s minimum working age of 16) were found working at 10 Chinese factories.
• Working hours exceeding Apple’s limits were operating in 68 per cent of sites audited. Apple sets a maximum of 60 work hours per week.
• Four sites had falsified records relating to workers’ wages.
• At one site, a facility manager offered cash to Apple’s auditors, in exchange for reducing the number of audit findings.
• A total of 64 facilities had committed violations relating to engineering controls - this included not having safety devices on machinery.
• Some 47 facilities were without first-aid supplies; 78 had no properly maintained fire equipment; and 80 facilities failed to store or handle hazardous chemicals properly.

In 2010, 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek fell ill from exposure to n-hexane, a chemical used in cleaning agents. Apple said poor ventilation had exacerbated the problem. It told Wintek to stop using n-hexane, fix the ventilation system and improve environmental health and safety processes. In a separate incident, one of Apple’s logo suppliers and its subcontractor were found to be using the same chemical.

Apple said in the report: “Our repeat audits showed continued performance improvements and better working conditions. First-time audits revealed patterns of compliance and noncompliance similar to first-time audits in previous years. Apple’s procurement decisions take into account a facility’s social responsibility performance, along with factors such as quality, cost, and timely delivery. When social responsibility performance consistently fails to meet our expectations, we terminate business.”

Following the 2009 audits, Apple terminated business with three supplier sites.    

The report also highlighted its efforts to address the suicides of 10 workers at its supplier Foxconn’s factory in Shenzhen, China. Two suicide prevention experts accompanied COO Tim Cook on a visit to the factory last June. A team of suicide prevention experts evaluated more than 1,000 workers. Its findings, released in August, commended Foxconn for taking quick action, including hiring psychological counsellors and establishing a 24-hour care centre. The company also attached “large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides”.

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