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Employees at Apple Supplier Factory at Risk, Report Says

A factory in Suqian, China, was found to have a number of serious health, safety, environmental, and human rights violations, according to a report from the nonprofit organizations China Labor Watch (CLW) and Green America. Catcher manufactures metal iPad covers and parts for fifth generation iPhones. It has contracts with Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony, HTC, Motorola, and others.

The factory, which employs about 20,000 people, was found to have 20 “legal and ethical” violations, including significant amounts of aluminum-magnesium alloy shreddings on the floor, dust particles in the air, improper ventilation, and inadequate protective equipment for handling flammable and combustible materials. Skin is exposed directly to toxins, the report said. There are no ventilator masks, and industrial waste is poured into groundwater and nearby rivers.

Employees haven't participated in fire drills in a year, investigators said, and the factory locked its safety exits.

“The health and safety violations found in this factory two years in a row are startling,” Elizabeth O'Connell, campaigns director at Green America, said in a press release. “The lack of fire drill training and locked safety exits are inexcusable in a work environment that requires the handling of flammable materials. Additionally, the lack of safety training in this facility and improper handling of hazardous materials contributes to the risk of life-threatening emergencies.”

The report also told of excessive hours for employees of all ages, including students 16-18 years old. Investigators estimate that workers are forced into six hours of unpaid overtime per month and are owed $290,000 in unpaid wages. Workers who complain face retaliation.

“Workers must take mandatory overtime, laboring on their feet for more than 10 hours a day, six days a week, and they are not even paid for all of that overtime work,” CLW program coordinator Kevin Slaten said in the release. “This is exploitation by the factory and Apple for the sake of profit maximization.”

During the investigation, 500-600 workers from Catcher Sujian were transferred to a sister location in Taizhou to work on the iPhone 6, the report said.

CLW investigated the Catcher factory in April 2013 and found many of the same violations. Officials said that, despite Apple's promises, the company hasn't made progress in improving work conditions. Catcher is not one of 18 final assembly plants in China where Apple has committed to banning the use of benzene and n-hexane in manufacturing.

Tim Bajarin, president of the technology consulting firm Creative Strategies, said Apple has been “pretty consistent” in dealing with factory workers' issues. He cited its 450 audits of factory floors in the last three years, along with an 18-month educational program for safety managers at each factory that contracts with Apple.

“My understanding is that, in this case with things like the fire hazards, Apple dealt with it almost immediately. But it doesn't mean it didn't happen again. When [Apple] heard this report, they immediately dispatched a team to Catcher,” Bajarin told us. “Apple has to be concerned about every aspect of the supply chain, so Apple has to at least monitor” conditions.

For the full story, see EBN sister site EE Times .

11 comments on “Employees at Apple Supplier Factory at Risk, Report Says

  1. SP
    September 9, 2014

    Well I would say the employment conditions at factory level in China and many companies in India are not at par with US. It has got much to do with local culture and what is accepted at the social level.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 9, 2014

    I read about locked fire exits and think of something I learned about in history class in school: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in  York City on March 25, 1911 remains a touchpoint in terms of industrial disasters. During the fire, 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men  died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. The workers, mostly recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three were locked into the factory.

    We need to continue to be vigilant with issues of human safety wherever they occur in the world.

  3. Susan Fourtané
    September 10, 2014

    SP, 

    “Well I would say the employment conditions at factory level in China and many companies in India are not at par with US. It has got much to do with local culture and what is accepted at the social level.”

    Exactly. That's how it is.

    It doesn't matter if the manufacturers send inspections, for the time of the inspections the Chinese factories can show themselves as one thing and go back to what it's culturally normal and accepted by the society and government right after that. 

    What is very suspicious to me is that this kind of “news” come right before the Apple announcement, and honestly, it bothers me because it's obvious what intention is behind. 

    Another thing is that not only Apple, but Samsung and all the other manufacturers are customers of this factory. Then, why only Apple comes into the picture? I don't support this kind of message in any way. 

    -Susan

  4. Susan Fourtané
    September 10, 2014

    Hailey, 

    That sounds horrible. Interesting, though, that there were some sixteen and seventeen year-olds in the factory, as some employees in the Chinese factory are said to be students between 16 and 18. 

    Maybe the Chinese factory owners and the Chinese government should read about that fire in the New York factory.  

    -Susan 

  5. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 10, 2014

    The timing and focus of the announcement is troubling… Clearly meant to cause trouble. At the same time, working conditions and worker rights is worth looking at.

  6. SunitaT
    September 17, 2014

    I don't think categorizing standards down to a social level would be a good idea. Conditions of labour in asia is poor because there are constant shortages of funds and an unstable market too. That being said, the employers are careless and they want full output without much input.

  7. SunitaT
    September 17, 2014

    With Apple using its labourers like slaves, this revelation may hard Apple intensely or may make it even more popular, depending on what effect it causes upon the market.  For now Apple is enjoying popularity with the release of the smart watch (which wasn't named the iWatch for some reason) and iPhone 6. I doubt if there'd be any ground breaking results that would work against Apple's wishes when this news is released worldwide.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 25, 2014

    @tiriapur, i would say that too much to do and too little time to do it is something that plagues workers in every industry. I wish there were an easy answer.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 25, 2014

    @Tiarpur, and once the Apple Watch and iPhone 6 stuff dies down, they will introduce the next generation of iPads and it will start over again.

  10. Eldredge
    September 25, 2014

    @tirlapur – While these workers are employed by a suncontractor to Apple, they are not direct employees. That can probably be a double-edged sword. Apple doesn't have direct responsibility for the situation, but admittedly, they should be able to exert dome influence on their subcontractor to correct the failings.

  11. Ashu001
    October 6, 2014

    Eldredge,

    Do you think anyone(is forcing Apple) is stopping them from Bringing all that Production back in-house?

    If I remember Correctly Motorola did do that (back to America) and Samsung actually does do a lot of its manufacturing in-house(Both in Korea and China).

    What's stopping Apple from Doing the same?

    As it is,Wages (for Blue collar Labor in China) are on par with what it would cost to hire Similar Labor in America today(after taking into account Shipping and Transportation costs as well).

    So why not bring a portion of that Huge Production back in-house?

    Also,Foxconn (Apple's main contractor)is increasingly pushing for more and more automation in China today.

    Why can't Apple do that Automation here in America Today?

    Hope you understand what I am driving at today.

     

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