The BBC has published a report and video (below) showing what it describes as "Apple's broken promises" to improve and protect working conditions in its Chinese factories. The media organization sent undercover reporters in to work at a Pegatron factory making Apple iPhones, where they filmed company-orchestrated cheating on tests, hours that far exceed Apple's requirements, and intimidation tactics used to control workers.
The BBC's video:
Apple has long been the subject of scrutiny concerning working conditions in its supply chain, a product of the company's incredible success and extraordinary profits. That other tech companies use the same factories and supply chain is usually ignored by those critics, but the BBC acknowledged Apple's claims that it does more than any other company to protect working conditions and promote sustainability within that chain.
In response to the BBC's report, Apple said in a statement:
We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions. We work with suppliers to address shortfalls, and we see continuous and significant improvement, but we know our work is never done.
To that effect, Apple does do more than its competitors. The employees on the third party assembly lines earn more than the prevailing wage, Apple has eliminated the use of many toxic chemicals, and the company has a strict Supplier Code of Conduct (PDF) that companies like Foxconn and Pegatron must follow.
That Code of Conduct mandates things such as worker age (children are regularly exploited in Chinese factories), hours, ergonomics, chemicals used, pay, safety conditions, training, use of dangerous equipment, and every other facet of the manufacturing process.
Next: Abuses and Broken Promises
Page 2 - Abuses and Broken Promises
But the reality shown by this video is that abuses continue. There are a lot of players in the Chinese industrial complex who can profit by cheating every step of the way, and many of them are creeps, crooks, and cretins. Apple may do more than every other company to prevent abuses, but abuses are still happening.
Pegatron itself—a huge company with hundreds of thousands of employees making products for many, and more, client companies like Apple—is implicated in the video. Apple requires employees to take a safety test before they work, but the video shows Pegatron leading employees through that test by announcing the answers.
Employees are also told not to check boxes that give them a choice over whether or not to work nights or work standing up. It's blatant circumvention of the system put in place to control working conditions.
The video also shows management confiscating worker IDs. This has been a common practice in China, but it is expressly prohibited by Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct. It matters because IDs are required in China—by keeping an employee's ID, that employee is effectively prevented from leaving the factory complex.
That makes it far easier for these bottom feeders to make employees work for, say, 18 days straight without a day off, which is claimed in the video. It also makes it easier to require employees to work more than 60 hours a week, which is not only illegal even in China, but expressly against Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct.
The BBC also alleged that Apple is sourcing tin from mining operations in Indonesia that use children in dangerous conditions. Apple isn't directly sourcing those operations, of course, but tin from such mines gets mixed in with tin from thousands of small operations.
With a lack of regulation and enforcement in Indonesia, the only way for Apple to keep this dirty tin out of its supply chain is to refuse all tin from the country. There are calls for Apple to do just that.
I usually get miffed at reports such as these because they unfairly single Apple out and never mention Apple's efforts to improve conditions. This report, however, shows that there are problems despite Apple's efforts.
It labels those problems as "Apple's broken promises," an editorial spin that is harsh, but that harshness may well be deserved. If suppliers are bypassing Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct willy-nilly, Apple has a problem on its corporate hands.
Modern manufacturing is a complex issue, and there are no easy answers. I have no doubt that Apple CEO Tim Cook cares passionately about these worker safety and environmental sustainability, but even if Apple is doing more than everyone else on these issues, there is still more work to do. A lot more work.