Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he’s “deeply offended” by fresh allegations of poor working conditions in its suppliers’ Chinese factories. Contractors hired by Apple to assemble its latest products have been exposed before, and while the firm has tried to be more proactive in recent years, a new BBC investigation suggests the same problems still persist. Undercover reporters hired at Pegatron factories discovered an exhausted workforce regularly falling asleep at the production line. Twelve hour shifts are common, which means employees often clock over 60 hours on the factory floor each week — well above China’s 44-hour limit, but still possibly legal given the country permits 36 hours of overtime each month.
The BBC also highlighted other mispractices. One journalist was forced to hand over his ID card, breaking local laws that require everyone to hold an ID at all times. During health and safety tests, which is part of the induction process, examiners gave prospective employees the answers. Furthermore, when asked about work preferences, it was implied that candidates not willing to work nights, or shifts that require standing up for long hours, would not be hired. Overcrowding — a hot issue when Apple was criticized over Foxconn factory conditions a couple of years ago, was still a problem too. In one Pegatron dormitory 12 people were sharing a single room, when Apple’s guidelines state a maximum of eight.
As you’d expect, Apple has moved quickly to discredit the BBC documentary. An internal Apple memo sent to UK employees, acquired by The Telegraph, said: “Panorama’s report implied that Apple isn’t improving working conditions. Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.” The letter was written by Apple SVP of operations Jeff Williams, who notes “Tim [Cook] and I were deeply offended” by the BBC’s allegations. Williams goes on to argue that “no other company [is] doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.”
The company reminded employees that its own engineers and managers are “constantly” in the factories to oversee production, and are encouraged to report back on any safety concerns or instances of worker mistreatment. It also took issue with the hours reported by the BBC, claiming that its suppliers are now hitting 93-percent compliance for the weekly 60-hour limit. But as the BBC’s new documentary has shown, suppliers appear to be bending the rules in order to complete the necessary paperwork and satisfy Apple’s guidelines.
Apple’s full letter to employees:
As you know, Apple is dedicated to the advancement of human rights and equality around the world. We are honest about the challenges we face and we work hard to make sure that people who make our products are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Last night, the BBC’s Panorama program called those values into question. Like many of you, Tim and I were deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way.
I’d like to give you facts and perspective, all of which we shared with the BBC in advance, but were clearly missing from their program.
Panorama showed some of the shocking conditions around tin mining in Indonesia. Apple has publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines. Here are the facts:
Tens of thousands of artisanal miners are selling tin through many middlemen to the smelters who supply to component suppliers who sell to the world. The government is not addressing the issue, and there is widespread corruption in the undeveloped supply chain. Our team visited the same parts of Indonesia visited by the BBC, and of course we are appalled by what’s going on there.
Apple has two choices: We could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism. But it would be the lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution.
We spearheaded the creation of an Indonesian Tin Working Group with other technology companies. Apple is pushing to find and implement a system that holds smelters accountable so we can influence artisanal mining in Indonesia. It could be an approach such as “bagging and tagging” legally mined material, which has been successful over time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are looking to drive similar results in Indonesia, which is the right thing to do.
Panorama also made claims about our commitment to working conditions in our factories. We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.
I want you to know that more than 1400 of your Apple coworkers are stationed in China to manage our manufacturing operations. They are in the factories constantly – talented engineers and managers who are also compassionate people, trained to speak up when they see safety risks or mistreatment. We also have a team of experts dedicated solely to driving compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct across our vast supply chain.
In 2014 alone, our Supplier Responsibility team completed 630 comprehensive, in-person audits deep into our supply chain. These audits include face-to-face interviews with workers, away from their managers, in their native language. Sometimes critics point to the discovery of problems as evidence that the process isn’t working. The reality is that we find violations in every audit we have ever performed, no matter how sophisticated the company we’re auditing. We find problems, we drive improvement, and then we raise the bar.
Panorama’s report implied that Apple isn’t improving working conditions. Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are just a few examples:
Several years ago, the vast majority of workers in our supply chain worked in excess of 60 hours, and 70+ hour workweeks were typical. After years of slow progress and industry excuses, Apple decided to attack the problem by tracking the weekly hours of over one million workers, driving corrective actions with our suppliers and publishing the results on our website monthly – something no other company had ever done. It takes substantial effort, and we have to weed out false reporting, but it’s working. This year, our suppliers have achieved an average of 93% compliance with our 60-hour limit. We can still do better.
And we will.
Our auditors were the first to identify and crack down on a ring of unscrupulous labor brokers who were holding workers’ passports and forcing them to pay exorbitant fees. To date, we have helped workers recoup $20 million in excessive payments like these.
We’ve gone far beyond auditing and corrective actions by creating educational programs for workers in the same facilities where they make our products. More than 750,000 people have taken advantage of these college-level courses and enrichment programs, and the feedback we get from students is inspiring
I will not dive into every issue raised by Panorama in this note, but you can rest assured that we take all allegations seriously, and we investigate every claim. We know there are a lot of issues out there, and our work is never done. We will not rest until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
If you’d like to learn more about our Supplier Responsibility program, I encourage you and our customers to visit our website at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.
Thanks for your time and your support.