Over the past year, discussion of the conditions faced by workers in Apple’s supply chain has focused almost exclusively on what changes have, or have not, occurred at certain factories of its largest supplier, Foxconn. In light of the deplorable working and living conditions faced by Foxconn employees, many of which persist despite some reports to the contrary, that discussion is warranted. But it only covers part of the story: less than one-fifth of the workers in Apple’s supply chain are employed at the three Foxconn factories receiving the most public scrutiny. An illuminating new report and a video by China Labor Watch (CLW) underscore that labor rights violations would likely be found to be even worse if one were able to get an in-depth view of Apple’s entire supply chain.
The CLW study examined three Pegatron factories with more than 70,000 workers combined. Pegatron is Apple’s second largest supplier, and CLW gathered information by placing undercover investigators at the factories. The study describes 86 labor rights violations, including relying on scurrilous dispatch labor companies that exploit placed workers, widespread hiring discrimination, the significant misuse of underage workers and pregnant women, low wages, forced and uncompensated overtime, and harsh working and living conditions. It discusses 17 specific commitments in Apple’s supplier code of conduct that Pegatron violates.
Take the area of hours spent working. Apple’s website features apparently substantial progress made in this area, claiming that just one percent of workers in its supply chain now work more than Apple’s usual maximum standard of 60 hours a week. And indeed, available evidence suggests there has been real progress at reducing excessive work hours at some of Apple’s supplier factories, though that progress has to be assessed in the context of China’s legal work week limit of 49 hours. Moreover, the CLW report suggests that excessive overtime remains far more common than Apple has claimed. In the three factories it examines in this report the average number of hours worked each week ranged from 66 hours to 69 hours. (CLW also references a forthcoming report documenting average work weeks exceeding 60 hours in four other factories.) A partial explanation for the discrepancy between Apple’s claim and CLW’s finding is that the workers in one factory were forced by Pegatron to sign time sheets indicating they worked less overtime than they actually did.
The CLW study is a powerful reminder of the significant abuses that continue to this day in Apple’s supply chain. Apple put out a statement claiming that it is taking the study’s findings seriously. What would be really encouraging would be for Apple to report soon on how each of CLW’s troubling findings has been remedied, and that CLW or other independent monitors would be allowed to verify such claims.