Apple steps up labor audits, finds underage workers

Fri Jan 25, 2013 3:43am EST
 
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By Poornima Gupta and Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc stepped up audits of working conditions at major suppliers last year, discovering multiple cases of underage workers, discrimination and wage problems.

The iPhone and iPad maker, which relies heavily on Asian-based partners like Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group to assemble the vast majority of its iPhones and iPads, said on Thursday it conducted 393 audits, up 72 percent from 2011, reviewing sites where over 1.5 million workers make its gadgets.

Apple in recent years has faced accusations of building its profits on the backs of poorly treated and severely underpaid workers in China.

That criticism came to the fore around 2010, after reports of suicides at Foxconn drew attention to the long hours that migrant laborers frequently endure, often for a pittance in wages and in severely cramped living conditions.

Foxconn is the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry and employs 1.2 million workers across China.

Under Chief Executive Tim Cook, who took over from Steve Jobs in 2011, Apple has taken new steps to improve its record and boost transparency, including the extensive audits of its sprawling supply chain. Last year, it agreed to separate audits by the independent Fair Labor Association.

In an interview on Thursday, Apple senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams said the company has increased its efforts to solve two of the most challenging issues - ensuring there are no under aged workers in its supply chain and limiting working hours to 60 hours a week.

While child labor reflected a small percentage of the workforce, Apple is now investigating its smaller suppliers - which typically supply parts to larger suppliers and hence face less oversight on such issues - to bring them into compliance, sometimes even firing them.   Continued...

 
The Apple logo is pictured on the front of the company's flagship retail store near signs for the central subway project in San Francisco, California January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith