Apple released their annual supplier responsibility report last week. But the extent to which the company has enforced its supplier responsibility standards in 2017 remains dubious. Every year, the report cherry picks information that puts Apple in a good light, while intentionally overlooking its violations of Chinese labor laws and abuses of Chinese workers’ rights and interests.
In 2017, Apple did make improvements in some areas. For example, Apple has already requested its suppliers in Shanghai to contribute to workers’ social insurance based on their monthly income as stipulated by law. However, Apple suppliers located in other provinces are still only contributing to workers’ social insurance based on the local minimum wage, which is much lower than their actual monthly income.
In 2016, our investigations found that Apple suppliers Pegatron and Green Point required workers to participate in unpaid morning meetings and forced workers to stay late after work as well as to work during meal breaks without additional payment. China Labor Watch had been requesting Apple to address these issues since 2012. In 2017, no such problems were found at these two factories. However, because of the high turnover rate at Apple suppliers, most workers employed at the two factories during previous years would have left by now, without ever receiving in full the compensation they deserved.
However, serious rights violations persist among Apple’s suppliers.
From August to October in 2017, Zhengzhou Foxconn hired over ten thousand student workers in the rush to produce iPhone X devices. Those student workers were subject to the same degree of labor intensity as adult workers and had to work night shifts. Only after the Financial Times published their report of this situation in November did conditions finally improve.
In mid October, at Wuxi’s Green Point, another major supplier for Apple, over ten thousand workers were unable to receive bonuses promised by labor dispatch companies. As a result, hundreds of workers blocked the factory’s main entrance. It was only when China Labor Watch and the Associated Press reported on this matter that workers were able to obtain their due bonuses.
In May, over 90 workers were hospitalized because of a poisoning incident (link in Chinese) at a workshop of Catcher Technologies in Suqian, Jiangsu. The local Administration of Work Safety requested the affected workshop to cease production. Disregarding the notice, Catcher continued production the very same night, leading to the hospitalization of an additional 30 workers. Apple claims to be unaware of the incident and that they had not found any indications of Catcher violating Apple’s production standards.
During the summer of 2016, a New York University student worked for six weeks at Shanghai Pegatron. He said that these jobs will never return to the U.S. because the working conditions were extremely poor – it was difficult to ask for leave and he was forced to work overtime. Some workers were made to stand as a form of punishment.
The above-mentioned four factories – Foxconn, Green Point, Catcher and Pegatron – employ around 500,000 workers to manufacture Apple products. They are the company’s primary suppliers in China.
In particular, a recent report by China Labor Watch has revealed a host of rights violations at Suqian Catcher, which documented in detail how the factory fell short of Apple’s supplier responsibility standards. CLW has maintained regular communication with Apple regarding issues at Catcher:
- November 20, 2017 — China Labor Watch wrote to Apple and informed them of serious health risks present at the Catcher factory, with severe dust contamination in workshops resulting in physical discomfort for many workers.
- December 19, 2017 — Apple, in a phone conference, stated that they have conducted repeated inspections into Catcher and had not found any issues. When China Labor Watch asked whether Apple had any information about the May 25 poisoning incident, the company denied, stating they would open an investigation looking into it and share the results with China Labor Watch.
- January 12, 2018 — China Labor Watch wrote a letter to Apple inquiring about the investigation results. Apple did not reply.
- January 16, 2018 — Bloomberg News reported on Catcher’s working conditions. Apple told Bloomberg that it had not found Catcher to be in violation of any of their regulations. On the same day, The Guardian covered the China Labor Watch investigation into Catcher. Apple told The Guardian, “Dozens of Apple employees are permanently on site, monitoring operations, and we’ve conducted 10 in-depth audits over the past five years, including three last year – and the last audit scored 96 out of 100…When we heard these latest claims we immediately sent a team of experts to the facilities. They thoroughly investigated and interviewed over 150 workers but found no evidence that Catcher was violating our standards.”
- February 14, 2018 — China Labor Watch wrote a letter to Apple’s CEO, requesting Apple to investigate whether or not Catcher’s decision to continue production despite the local authority’s order to suspend operations, is in line with Apple’s supplier responsibility standards. Because Catcher had failed to cease manufacturing, an additional 30 workers were poisoned and hospitalized.
Below is the email written by Executive Director of China Labor Watch, Li Qiang, to Apple’s CEO. The email also included a photo of the order to cease operations issued by the local Administration of Work Safety, as well as video reports by China’s official media on the poisoning event. China Labor Watch has added English subtitles to the videos.
In one of the videos, a poisoned worker who spent the night at the hospital said, “When I walk, my legs feel like they’re floating.”
The Director of the local Administration of Work Safety, Zhang Zhen said, “After arriving at the hospital, I learned that there was an increase in the number of hospitalized workers and I was very angry. […] The order I issued requested them to suspend operations in the A6 workshop. They should have completely stopped production.”
Workers of the affected workshop told China Labor Watch that they were manufacturing Apple products when the incident took place. But Apple has yet to respond.
As of the first quarter of 2018, Apple’s cash reserves have totaled 280 billion USD. Part of this money is precisely derived from its suppliers’ violations of Chinese laws and infringement upon the rights of Chinese workers.
Under China’s autocratic system, workers have no power to unionize and protect their own interests. And Apple takes advantage of this political environment in order to earn exorbitant amounts of profits.
Apple is selective about which Chinese laws to follow: on the one hand, they removed various VPN applications from their App Store and relocated their Chinese iCloud data to a local firm with government links in order to comply with Chinese regulations. But on the other hand, they remain unresponsive to many of their suppliers’ blatant violations of Chinese labor laws.
From: Qiang Li <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 2018-02-14 16:34 GMT-05:00
Subject: Evidence of poisoning incident that hospitalized over 90 workers at Apple Supplier Catcher
Cc: Supplier Responsibility <email@example.com>, Qiang Li <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Mr. Tim Cook,
Your company has publicly responded to the media that your supplier Catcher Technology is compliant with Apple’s standards. You also claimed that there are on-site Apple representatives to oversee the factory’s working conditions, and that your audits have not found any violations of Apple’s supplier responsibility standards to be present at Catcher.
However, investigations by China Labor Watch and Bloomberg have discovered that the working conditions at Catcher pose a serious danger to workers’ health and safety. In addition to reports by China Labor Watch and Bloomberg, official media outlets in China have also reported on the incident where more than 90 Catcher workers became poisoned. In your response to China Labor Watch, your company claimed that it was not aware of this event.
I have attached the following evidence of this poisoning incident:
The notice issued by the local Administration of Work Safety ordering Catcher to cease manufacturing in the A6 workshop.
Video 1: In an interview with the media, the local Administration said that Catcher continued operations despite of the notice, resulting in the hospitalization of an additional 30 workers
Video 2: Interviews with hospitalized workers
Apple has promised to investigate every allegation it receives. We now ask that Apple investigate whether or not Catcher was still acting in compliance with Apple’s social responsibility standards when more workers fell poisoned as a result of the factory continuing to operate in spite of the direct order by the work safety department to cease manufacturing.
Founder & Executive Director
China Labor Watch
147 W 35 Street #406
New York NY 10001
Read the response by China Labor Watch here.