Apple accused of "worsening" conditions for Chinese workers

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Apple is on the receiving end of another damning supply chain report from China Labour Watch (CLW), with claims the firm's major supplier Pegatron has committed 86 labour violations.

Three factories in China that employ a total of 70,000 workers are accused of violating multiple laws. Allegations include employing underage workers, poor working and living conditions, women's rights violations and excessive working hours.

Apple is worsening conditions for workers, not improving them.

Of these 86 alleged violations, 36 are of a legal nature and 50 are ethical, the CLW claimed.

The CLW says it sent undercover investigators to the factories which assemble the iPhone, Mac and iPad parts between March and July 2013. The watchdog also claims to have carried out 200-odd interviews with workers outside the factories.

Li Qiang, CLW executive director, deemed the labour conditions at Pegatron worse than the notorious Foxconn factories.

"Apple has not lived up to its own standards. This will lead to Apple's suppliers abusing labour in order to strengthen their position for receiving orders. In this way, Apple is worsening conditions for workers, not improving them," Qiang said.

The CLW reports that the average working hours in the three Pegatron factories are 66 hours, 67 hours and 69 hours, respectively. This exceeds the 49-hour limit laid down by Chinese law.

In a lengthy statement, Apple expressed shock at the report's claims and said it will investigate them immediately, sending in auditors to inspect the facilities this week. Previous audits have involved timecard and documentation review to "guard against falsification."

"We have closely tracked working hours at all of these facilities. Our most recent survey in June found that Pegatron employees making Apple products worked 46 hours per week on average. Excessive overtime is not in anyone's best interest, and we work closely with our suppliers to prevent it," Apple said.

"We have been in close contact with China Labor Watch for several months, investigating issues they've raised and sharing our findings. When they first told us that workers' ID cards were being withheld, an auditor from our Supplier Responsibility program was on-site the next day to investigate. We confirmed that labor brokers for Pegatron were holding a small number of IDs as they helped set up bank accounts for those employees. We demanded Pegatron put a stop to this practice and a new system was in place within a week."

Apple has carried out 15 comprehensive audits since 2007, covering more than 130,000 workers, it claimed in the statement.

"We will investigate these new claims thoroughly, ensure that corrective actions are taken where needed and report any violations of our code of conduct," Apple added. "We will not tolerate deviations from our code."

Pegatron also plans to probe the matter, according to a statement from its CEO Jason Cheng published by BloomBerg.

"We strive to make each day at Pegatron better than the last for our employees. They are the heart of our business," he said.

"That's why we take these allegations very seriously. We will investigate them fully and take immediate actions to correct any violations to Chinese labor laws and our own code of conduct."

Khidr Suleman is the Technical Editor at IT Pro, a role he has fulfilled since March 2012. He is responsible for the reviews section on the site  - so get in touch if you have a product you think might be of interest to the business world. He also covers the hardware and operating systems beats. Prior to joining IT Pro, Khidr worked as a reporter at Incisive Media. He studied law at the University of Reading and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism and Online Writing at PMA Training.