Apple said on Monday that it would investigate charges of labor violations by activist group China Labor Watch (CLW). The CLW released a report on Monday accusing Pegatron, one of Apple's major manufacturers, of forcing workers to work more overtime than allowed under Chinese law, sign forms falsifying their overtime hours, and of hiring underage workers.
Workers Making Apple Kit
"Apple has not lived up to its own standards,” CLW Executive Director Li Qiang said in the statement to Bloomberg. “This will lead to Apple’s suppliers abusing labor in order to strengthen their position for receiving orders. In this way, Apple is worsening conditions for workers, not improving them."
CLW, which is based in New York City, said that it based on its report on interviews with 200 workers outside of Pegatron factories. Those interviews found overtime requirements of 66-69 hours per week. Chinese law limits workers to 49 hours, a limitation many workers chafe at, but such is the conundrum that is outsourcing to emerging markets.
Apple itself has a supplier Code of Conduct that requires its manufacturers to limit overtime in accordance to Chinese law. Apple also issues a regular Supplier Sustainability Report where it reports progress on compliance and sometimes names names.
The report also accused Pegatron of hiring underage workers, including students working as so-called "interns" from local vocational schools, another practice prohibited in Apple's Code of Conduct.
Issues such as these have dogged Apple for the last two years. While the company is very proactive in monitoring and auditing its manufacturers, Apple faces extra and intense scrutiny from activists looking to make a point about working conditions in China.
Most Western electronics firms use these same manufacturers and do far less to enforce standards, but Apple's high profile as the world's second most valuable company (Exxon Mobil has reclaimed the #1 spot) brings with it little credit for what it does well and extra blame when things go wrong.
And things often go wrong in China. Foxxcon and Pegatron both hire hundreds of thousands of workers, and they're competing to make Apple's products as cheaply as possible. That process brings with it many opportunities to cheat, to violate Apple's Code of Conduct, and to run roughshod over workers.
While Apple has long had this Code of Conduct and the company has also long performed frequent audits of its suppliers, the reality is that Apple has stepped up its efforts in this area since accusations of unsafe and deplorable conditions began garnering headlines in the last few years.
Those results no doubt play a role in the continued scrutiny leveled on Apple.
The AFP reported that Apple has been working with the CLW for months, but that it hadn't seen the allegations in the group's new report before now. Apple also promised to investigate, saying:
"We are proud of the work we do with our suppliers to uncover problems and improve conditions for workers, Apple is committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout our supply chain."