Apple exposes rotten practices of its partner suppliers

Underage workers, unsafe working conditions, failed employment information and a lack of first aid supplies are just a few of the rotten things Apple has found in a report on its worldwide suppliers.

And it’s cracking down on those facilities and its suppliers that are breaching its conditions.

In its Supplier Responsibility: 2011 Progress Report, in which it audited the facilities and management practices of 127 of its worldwide suppliers, it found 91 cases of underage labour, including 31 workers who had been hired prior to reaching the legal age, but were no longer underage or no longer employed at the time of the audit. Of these 98 percent had been recruited through schools or labour agencies.

One facility, although not named, bore the brunt of Apple’s corporate wrath with the company claiming in its report: “We determined management had chosen to overlook the issue and was not committed to addressing the problem.

“Apple has terminated business with the facility.”

It also went after facilities which fell foul of its standards. One was given the boot after Apple claimed it had “presented falsified payroll records and provided misleading interview answers to Apple’s audit team,” and another got its name on the black list after a facility manager reportedly “offered cash to Apple’s third-party auditors, asking them to reduce the number of audit findings.”

However, it seemed the troubled Foxconn plant came away with flying colours, despite reports of staff neglect, suicides and riots.

It began this part of its report stating: “Like many of our customers and others around the world, we were disturbed and deeply saddened to learn that factory workers were taking their own
lives at the Shenzhen facility of Foxconn.”

It then went on to explain how in June last year  Tim Cook and some of his Apple friends took a little road trip to meet with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou – someone who isn’t exactly shy about pushing hard work and little benefits.

The cosy tete a tete led to Apple scrambling a team of  suicide-prevention experts to “conduct a deeper investigation into the suicides, evaluate Foxconn’s response, and recommend strategies for supporting workers’ mental health in the future.”

It also interviewed 1,000 Foxconn workers, met with managers and looked at the working conditions.

After all its work Apple “commended” Foxconn for hiring psychological counsellors to prevent suicides,  establishing a 24/7 care center, and “even attaching large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides.”

It even went as far as claiming that Foxconn’s actions, “definitely saved lives”.

Apple added: “In addition, [Foxconn] have begun the process of expanding operations to other parts of China, enabling workers to be closer to their home provinces.

“Apple will continue to work with Foxconn through the implementation of these programs, and we plan to take key learnings from this engagement to other facilities in our supply base.”

And it seems other factories got away lightly, getting a second chance rather than the axe.

One factory which was found to have concealed a production area from Apple’s audit team, preventing assessment of associated environmental health and safety risks, was given a slap on the wrist and required to fix all violations in this area. It was also forced to certify that all facilities used to manufacture Apple products were in future disclosed.

Another factory, in which a facility manager assembled workers and told them to provide false wage payment information to Apple auditors, was also let off the hook on the proviso that it produced the actual records and to better train its management staff in time for another audit this year.

And Apple wasn’t going too hard on those factories which were found using n-hexane, a dangerous chemical, which if used in a closed work space can cause health problems. Although it dedicated a section to this subject, the company, which found that 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek, one of its suppliers, had suffered adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane, merely ordered that the factory stop using the chemical. It also advised that the ventilation was sorted out.

“Since these changes no new workers have suffered difficulties from chemical exposure,” Apple said in its report.