Apple uses off shore facilities to build their products, as do many technology giants. Many of their suppliers don’t live up to human rights and environmental protection standards. Apple strives to correct that.
Apple instituted audits and training at the companies that supply components and build Apple brand devices. Facilities that don’t comply are kicked out of the supply chain.
Apple has a Supplier Code of Conduct that must be adhered to if a factory wants to stay in the game.
It forbids illegal under age workers who are not at least 16 years old, protects legal juvenile workers who are not yet 18, requires elimination of environmental hazards, and demands safe working conditions. It also frowns on charging employees excessive placement fees.
Getting involved in the labor practices of one’s suppliers is not common in the computer industry. However, not only does Apple cite companies for not living up to their Code, but they train management on why and how to adhere to the rules, and they school employees on what their rights are and how to defend them.
Apple professes to require everyone who makes Apple products to provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes.
Their Health and Safety rules aim to prevent occupational injuries and chemical exposure and to have emergency preparedness plans in place.
Their Environmental Impact policy requires facilities to manage hazardous substances, and control air emissions and waste water.
As to Ethics, they cite whistleblower protection, protection of intellectual property, and emphasize the responsibility of management.
Apple oversees compliance with their Code with aggressive onsite factory audits, help with corrective action plans, and follow up with verification measures.
Apple highlighted one practice that they see as an industry-wide problem: driving employees into debt with exorbitant fees resulting from the process of bringing workers from another country and placing them in jobs.
It’s like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song, Sixteen Tons, where the worker “owes his soul to the company store”. Third-party labor agencies place contract workers who come from countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam in jobs located in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore.
After auditing all their production suppliers in those countries, Apple instituted reimbursements to foreign workers for $3.4 million that they had paid in extraordinary recruitment fees over the past two years. To overcome the problem, Apple has undertaken to train their suppliers on their legal and ethical obligations to these foreign laborers whom Apple classifies as involuntary workers.
Chinese factories have also been using labor agencies as well as vocational schools to help fill their workforce. Some of those sources misrepresent young people’s ages by providing the youngsters with false ID’s.
So, Apple helps the companies with their screening processes. When underage workers are discovered, Apple requires the companies to pay educational expenses, living stipends, and lost wages for a specified time period. The most critical and widely publicized problem encountered in an Apple supplier’s facility was that at Foxconn where multiple employees committed suicide. An independent team made recommendations after an investigation of conditions, and to Foxconn’s credited they made improvements. One change is their expansion of operations to parts of China that would allow workers to be closer to their home provinces.
Another sizeable problem was the exposure of 137 workers to n-hexane, a neurotoxin that is colorless, volatile, and smells like gasoline and is used in cleaning agents in some manufacturing. The exposure occurred at the Suzhou facility of Wintek. All those workers were treated, and Apple is checking medical reports until all have fully recuperated from their 2010 exposure. Recovery can take longer than a year.
Some violations of Apple’s Suppliers Code of Conduct are more common, others are unusual, but important enough to threaten the business relationship. Apple reports seeing consistent violations of their limits on working hours. One audit uncovered bribery where a facility manager, trying to look better, offered cash to Apple’s third-party auditors, not to report all their findings.
As of December 2010, Apple has audited 288 facilities located in China, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. Apple claims that in some cases where the violations were flagrant and the companies demonstrated a poor likelihood of improvement, they ceased doing business with the supplier. Considering Apple’s clout, that’s a big stick to threaten a partner with.