Bonded labour found in Apple supply chain

Apple said it uncovered 10 cases of bonded labour during supplier audits in 2016.

In its supplier responsibility progress report, Apple said it conducted 705 site audits last year – its largest number to date – and discovered nine instances of working hours falsification, two harassment violations and one case of an underage worker.

In 2016 a total of $2.6m was paid to more than 1,000 supplier employees to cover cases of bonded labour.

“To date, a total of $28.4m has been repaid to over 34,000 workers,” said Apple.

The company said that virtually all bonded labour violations occur during a supplier’s first assessment. “Repeat cases are very rare – the few such instances have resulted in the end of the business relationship,” said the report.

Apple said more than 98% of suppliers were now complying with its working hours guidelines.

An audit at a distribution centre in the United Arab Emirates uncovered a case of bonded labour involving an employee of a subcontractor.

The subcontractor was improperly withholding employees’ passports and was providing a lower-than-standard meal allowance and unacceptable dorm rules.

“All of these were serious violations and while we attempted to work with the subcontractor to correct these issues, they were ultimately unwilling to comply with our standards,” said Apple.

The subcontractor was removed from the supply chain, with its employees being absorbed into the main supplier’s payroll, where possible.

During audits one underage worker, a 15½-year-old was found working in a manufacturing facility in China, where the minimum legal age for workers is 16.

The supplier was ordered to provide safe passage home for the underage worker, and to continue paying their wages while ensuring they had the opportunity to receive education, as well as keeping a job open for them for when they reach legal working age.

Overall, during audits the number of supplier sites rated as “high performing” increased by 59%, while low-performing sites decreased by 31%.

A number of large suppliers have committed to power all Apple manufacturing with renewable energy by the end of 2018.

Responsible sourcing efforts, which already covered conflict minerals, expanded in 2016 to include cobalt.

“We’re proud to report that 100% of our conflict minerals and cobalt smelter/refiner partners are now participating in independent third party audits to ensure their own business practices are conducted responsibly,” said Apple.

In 2016 more than 2.4m workers at supplier companies were trained on their rights as employees.

The company also said it had tripled the number of supplier sites participating in its energy efficiency programme.

This resulted in the reduction of over 150,000 tonnes of carbon emissions — the equivalent of taking 31,000 cars off the road for a year, according to Apple.

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