Apple Report Reveals Child Labor Increase

Tania Branigan in Beijing

Apple’s annual report says 91 children worked at its suppliers in 2010, and 137 workers were poisoned by n-hexane

Apple said it had strengthened its checks on age because of concerns about falsification.

Apple found more than 91 children working at its suppliers last year, nine times as many as the previous year, according to its annual report on its manufacturers.

The US company has also acknowledged for the first time that 137 workers were poisoned at a Chinese firm making its products and said less than a third of the facilities it audited were complying with its code on working hours.

Apple usually refuses to comment on which firms make its goods, but came under increased scrutiny last year following multiple suicides at electronics giant Foxconn, one of its main suppliers.

Last month, anti-pollution activists accused the firm of being more secretive about its supply chain in China than almost all of its rivals.

The report says Apple found 91 children working at 10 facilities. The previous year it found 11 at three workplaces.

It ordered most to pay the children’s education costs but fired one contractor which was using 42 minors and had “chosen to overlook the issue”, the company said. It also reported the vocational school that had arranged the employment to the authorities for falsifying student IDs and threatening retaliation against pupils who revealed their ages.

Apple said it had strengthened its checks on age because of concerns about the falsification of ages by such schools and labour agencies. It also audited 127 facilities last year, mostly for the first time, compared with 102 in 2009.

The report shows a marked decrease in compliance on working hour requirements of a maximum 60-hour week with one day off. In 2009, only 46% met the standard; last year that fell to 32%.

Only 57% were compliant with its code on preventing working injuries and 70% or fewer met standards on air emissions, managing hazardous substances, and environmental permits and reporting.

But there were some signs of improvement in other areas. Compliance on wages and benefits improved from 65% in 2009 to 70%.

The report also says that 137 workers at a Suzhou supplier were poisoned by n-hexane, a hydrocarbon, last year. Previous reports had indicated 62 employees were affected and Apple had declined to answer repeated queries about the incident.

A spokesperson said it had “provided more transparency” regarding the company and Foxconn given recent concerns.

The report said Apple was “disturbed and deeply saddened” by the Foxconn deaths. Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, and other executives went to Shenzhen to see the facilities and the firm commissioned an independent review of conditions.

“I think it is positive that after such a long delay Apple has finally acknowledged the [n-hexane] problem,” said Ma Jun of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, one of the organisations that criticised the US firm last month.

But he added: “This report shows that Apple is still not ready to accept public scrutiny … We have listed the names of some Apple suppliers but there is no mention of them [here].”

Debby Chan, of Hong Kong’s Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour campaign, said there was no way for others to monitor the behaviour of suppliers because Apple would not identify them or even say how many it had.

“I regard this report as a means of image-building rather than ensuring compliance with labour rights,” she added.

Apple said that immigrant workers in countries such as Malaysia had been reimbursed $3.4m (£2.1m) in “exorbitant” recruitment fees since 2008 thanks to its checks. It has also increased efforts to crack down on the use of potential conflict minerals and expanded social responsibility training.

It is unusual in publishing its audit report and said 40% of the facilities audited last year said Apple was the first company to check them for social responsibility compliance.

The report also said that 99% of facilities met its freedom of association requirements.

But independent unions are not allowed on the Chinese mainland and Geoff Crothall, of Hong Kong’s China Labour Bulletin, said: “It is Henry Ford-style freedom of association: You can have any union as long as it is [in] the Associated Federation of Trade Unions.”

Last month, Apple reported record profits of $6bn for the fourth quarter of 2010.


Apple’s child labour issues worsen

Apple, the technology giant, has admitted that child labour is a growing problem at the factories which manufacture its computers, iPods and mobile phones.

In one factory it had found 42 children working on the production line and has now terminated its contract.

[The Telegraph]

Apple said that 91 children under the age of 16 were discovered to be working last year in ten Chinese factories owned by its suppliers.

By comparison, in 2009, Apple said eleven underage workers had been discovered.

“In recent years, Chinese factories have increasingly turned to labour agencies and vocational schools to meet their workforce demands,” said Apple’s report.

“We learned that some of these recruitment sources may provide false IDs that misrepresent young people’s ages, posing challenges for factory management,” it added.

In response, Apple said it had “intensified” its search for workers under 16, the minimum legal working age in China. In one factory it had found 42 children working on the production line and has now terminated its contract. Apple said it decided that the management “had chosen to overlook the issue and was not committed to addressing the problem.”


Loopholes ‘put UK children at risk’

 [from the Belfast Telegraph]

The legacy of years of indifference to child sex tourism is putting British children at risk, according to a report.

Ecpat UK, which campaigns to stop child abuse, also warned that paedophiles convicted of offences against children abroad are escaping UK sanctions because of loopholes in the British legal system.

Home Secretary Theresa May should act to close a loophole which enables sex offenders to travel abroad for up to three days without informing the authorities, Ecpat UK said.

Director Christine Beddoe said the charity was “deeply concerned” that “the legacy of years of indifference to child sex tourism is placing British children at risk”.

“Data about British sex offenders abroad is patchy, rarely shared between authorities and it is uncertain how much ever gets on to the UK criminal records data base,” she said.

“The Government simply don’t know how many British sex offenders have been prosecuted abroad and then slip back into the UK undetected.

“Despite their ongoing risk to children and the fact that many of these individuals are known to authorities both in the UK and in the country in which the abuse took place, these individuals often fall off the radar.”

Its report – Off The Radar: Protecting Children From British Sex Offenders Who Travel – also called for a cross-Government strategy to deal effectively with the investigation and prosecution of child sexual offences committed abroad.

It went on: “We are concerned about the vulnerability of children in international schools and orphanages because of the lack of information-sharing between jurisdictions, and the fact that international organisations are unable to access the criminal records-checking procedures that would be expected as standard procedure by UK institutions.”

Ecpat UK stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

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Reid Maki/CLC Coordinator