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Apple is too slow to punish its suppliers for labor violations

Apple is too slow to punish its suppliers for labor violations
A blockbuster report published by The Information states that Apple has been looking the other way while some of its suppliers have been hiring underage employees. Apple discovered back in 2014 that a Chinese company called Suyin Electronics that produced most of the ports used on its MacBooks, had hired two 15-year olds who were working on the assembly line. Apple punished the company by not giving it any new business until the firm improved its screening process for hiring new employees so that no one underage (under 16 years of age) would be hired.

Apple's reputation when it comes to policing its suppliers' workforces is not good

Despite assurances from Suyin, an audit conducted by Apple resulted in the supplier getting dropped by the brass in Cupertino. That's because the audit discovered three more underage workers on Suyin's staff including a 14-year old. However, it took Apple three years before it fully dropped the firm as a supplier and it continued to churn out HDMI and USB ports for older MacBooks to fulfill older contracts that were still in force. Suyin said that it hadn't intentionally hired underage employees and pointed out that in later years it passed audits conducted by Apple.

Apple's supplier responsibility team is in charge of matters like this and ten former members of the team told The Information that what happened with Suyin was repeated with other suppliers as well. But today's report claims that Apple has often been slow to stop doing business with suppliers whose workplace policies disregarded rules designed to keep its workers safe. One reason given for Apple's delay in taking action was that doing so could have reduced Apple's profits. Apple is known for being unwilling to impose tough penalties on its suppliers. As a result, according to Assistant Professor Sun Hye Lee with the U.K.'s Loughborough University, "It’s giving the message to other suppliers that Apple won’t leave us forever, so we just have to hold the line for a while and then we can go back to what we were doing before."

While Suyin no longer supplies Apple, the latter is still facing issues. Last month, a riot at Wistron's facilities in India led Apple to place the contract manufacturer on probation. One of three Taiwan based companies that assemble the iPhone (Foxconn and Pegatron are the other two), a Saturday evening night shift at its factory in Narasapura turned into chaos when workers turned violent. They damaged production equipment, vehicles and offices while complaining that they weren't getting paid the correct amount promised by Wistron. The latter allegedly promised to pay engineering graduates the equivalent of $285 USD per month. However, the actual amount these workers were receiving amounted to the equivalent of $217 USD monthly.

These issues are current. Earlier this week, the Washington Post published a story about iPhone glass supplier Lens Technology using forced labor from China’s Muslim Xinjiang region. The Post has also reported that Apple was looking to weaken legislation written to prevent American firms from using this labor. Li Qiang, the founder of China Labor Watch, an activist group based in New York, doesn't have good things to say about Apple. Li says that Apple never goes beyond the minimum requirements when it comes to policing its suppliers for abuse of employees. Li says, "Apple is a company that is beholden to shareholders and in pursuit of profit. Every penny to them is important."

The Apple Supplier Responsibility website says, "People come first. In everything we do." As the tech giant says, "At Apple, people are at the heart of everything we do and everything we make. That means considering not only those who will use a product, but also those who help build it. So we hold ourselves and our suppliers to the highest standards to protect the people in our supply chain, and the planet we all call home. Our Supplier Code of Conduct is designed to uphold that commitment. From the sourcing of materials to the recycling of our products, we work with suppliers to ensure that our requirements are being met...Living up to our highest ideals takes the same hard work and innovative spirit we devote to our products. Labor, human rights, and environmental protections are the foundation of our Supplier Code of Conduct. And we go further to empower the people in our supply chain and to leave the world better than we found it — all while working with partners to get us there faster."

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