Apple Discovers Underage Workers After Stepping Up Labor Audits

Apple finds child laborers in its Asian workforce.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple Inc. stepped up audits of working conditions at major suppliers last year, discovering multiple cases of underage workers, discrimination and wage problems. The iPhone and iPad maker, which relies heavily on Asian-based partners like Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group to assemble the vast majority of its iPhones and iPads, said on Thursday that it conducted 393 audits, up 72 percent from 2011, reviewing sites where over 1.5 million workers make its gadgets.

Apple in recent years has faced accusations of building its profits on the backs of poorly treated and severely underpaid workers in China. That criticism came to the fore around 2010, after reports of suicides at Foxconn drew attention to the long hours that migrant laborers frequently endure, often for a pittance in wages and in severely cramped living conditions.

Foxconn is the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry and employs 1.2 million workers across China.

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Under Chief Executive Tim Cook, who took over from Steve Jobs in 2011, Apple has taken new steps to improve its record and boost transparency, including the extensive audits of its sprawling supply chain. Last year, it agreed to separate audits by the independent Fair Labor Association.

In an interview on Thursday, Apple senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams said the company has increased its efforts to solve two of the most challenging issues -- ensuring there are no child workers in its supply chain and limiting working hours to 60 hours a week.

While child labor reflected a small percentage of the workforce, Apple is now investigating its smaller suppliers -- which typically supply parts to larger suppliers and hence face less oversight on such issues -- to bring them into compliance, sometimes even firing them.

More: Apple To Bring Jobs Back To The U.S. - And Treat Workers Better

"We go deep in the supply chain to find it," Williams said. "And when we do find it, we ensure that the underage workers are taken care of, the suppliers are dealt with."

In one case, Apple terminated its relationship with a component maker after discovering 74 cases of underage workers. Apple also discovered an employment agency that was forging documents to allow children to illegally work at the supplier.

Apple reported both the supplier and the employment agency to local authorities, the company said in its latest annual report on the conditions in its supply chain.

Apple has audited both small and ancillary suppliers, as well as large ones such as Korea's Samsung Electronics Co, for working conditions. It found 95 percent of sites audited complied with avoiding underage labor.

Child labor is an issue that is part of the larger supply industry as the component maker that Apple found violated child labor laws supplied parts to more than a hundred different companies, including automotive companies, Williams said, vowing to eradicate under aged labor from the industry.

"I don't know how long it will take to get there but that's our goal," said Williams, who has spent a significant amount of his 14 years at Apple in Asia managing the supply chain.

More: Apple Supplier Foxconn Admits To Using Underage Workers As 'Interns'

Focus on Student Interns

For 2013, Williams said a key focus for Apple will be student interns and ensuring that suppliers do not abuse the internship system, especially in China where many colleges require students to complete internships as part of their curriculum.

Some companies in China are solving labor shortages by employing students. Last September, city officials of the northeastern Chinese coastal city of Yantai ordered vocational high schools to send students to a large plant run by Foxconn -- a key contract manufacture for Apple and other large electronics companies like Hewlett Packard -- to overcome a shortage of workers.

Another focus areas has been "bonded labor," where agencies who help immigrant workers find jobs take a substantial portion of the worker's pay. Apple said in the report that it asked suppliers to reimburse $6.4 million in excess foreign contract worker fees in 2012, according to the report.

The company said it achieved 92 percent compliance with a maximum 60-hour work week in its supply chain. Where violations were discovered, Apple took action, it said in its report.

Apple also found and stopped discriminatory practices against women workers in 34 supplier facilities that required pregnancy testing and 25 facilities that tested employees for certain medical conditions, the report said.

Apple Contractors Say It Hired Teen Workers

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That's how it labor control, no environmental control...China is a major producer because they are exploiting both the planet and the people. Brown toxic air and people working 16-hour days with little's an advantage they'll enjoy until they realize having all the money on the planet is worthless if you have no time or place to live.

January 26 2013 at 5:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank god no foreign detainees were sent there. These repeated abuses by a media darling company/country might actually deserve below the surface scrutiny! But no! Again, this will amount to a 'that's just China being China" and fade away until the next abuses in 5...4...3...2..1...!

January 26 2013 at 8:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LA is Best

That's right Apple, don't hire teen laborers just let them stay home and play video games like American kids do!!

January 26 2013 at 8:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Now you are talking about China and now remember when the Iphone 5 was coming out they made all the students in schools go tot eh factory and assemble them ummmmmm really ok

January 26 2013 at 8:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A tiny step in the correct direction if the article can be believed. A long way to go. Time is a wasting.

January 26 2013 at 8:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yep, fire all the underage workers who CHOOSE to work to feed themselves and their families. Nice going Apple, now you really are leading people to die.

January 26 2013 at 7:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It just strikes me a really sad that another one of our products that was probably developed here in the US wound up in a foriegn country to be assembled. When is this country going to wake up and see what sending manufacturing jobs over seas is doing to this country. It was a sad day in America History when we allowed the first of our products to be manufactured over seas. They said it was good for our economy to allow it to happen, I don't see how when we have so many out of work here in the US.

January 26 2013 at 7:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

these are assembly plants........wonder what percentage of their parts are made by free prison labor....where you're imprisoned for 10 yrs for failing to pay rediculous taxes, and told, don't work, don't eat.

January 26 2013 at 5:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No unions, here's what you get.

January 26 2013 at 3:51 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Larry Anderson

So what, I worked on the farm, harvesting, digging rows or weeds from corn, picking up olives on the ground after the workers moved on getting 10 cents an hour, hauled hay, picked fruit, knocked almonds, harvested watermellon and cantalope along side Meixcan workers, did yard work for spending money in the neighborhoods, sold papers, cards, etc. for Art Linkletter, the Grit Newspaper, etc. Did the milking by hand, not machines, hauled in the fire wood, etc. since I could walk, SO WHAT, I had a job from the first my first day at HS as a Freshman till graduating, $1 an hour, so what. On and on, did not seem to hurt myself or any others who worked as children, maybe learned responsiblity. If a child at any age can handle the work, why stop them.

January 26 2013 at 1:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Larry Anderson's comment

i also worked and went to school and i worked the rest of my life ? maybe some of these familys need the money thier kids are making to survive ? whats so bad about that ? i can see if these children are homeless and being held against thier will to do this work as slaves ? but if they are just trying to help the family , then leave em alone ? or give them a bonus for doing the right thing .....

January 26 2013 at 1:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Honey, when Art Linkletter was on $1.00/hour was the going rate. That was 60 years ago. Get over the hump. It is the 21st century.

January 26 2013 at 8:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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