Sunday, December 21, 2014

Excessive Work Hours Still the Rule at Apple Suppliers

While Foxconn has received media attention in the last few years for deplorable working conditions and the consequent suicides of some of its workers, there are other Chinese factories within the Apple supply chain guilty of the same, if not worse, practices.  These practices, which include excessive work hours, low wages and lack of work breaks, are against Apple’s supplier code of conduct as well as many Chinese labor laws.

One such plant, investigated and reported on by China Labor Watch (CLW), is Jabil Wuxi. CLW published a scathing report in September of 2013 of the many labor violations it found Jabil guilty of including hiring discrimination, imposed hiring fees, lack of safety training and gear, 110 hours of overtime per month, mandatory and sometimes unpaid overtime, a lack of effective grievance channels, occupational safety hazards, etc. Some workers were said to have been forced to stand for 11 consecutive hours during a shift while only receiving half-hour meal breaks (1, 2, 3).

On their website, Apple claims 95 percent of its manufacturers comply with it's standard of no more than 60 hours per week, the Chinese legal limit is 49 hours (5, 1). Apple also claims, in response to these accusations, that the Jabil plant has an "excellent track record" of compliance with Apple standards. Apple did, in fact, complete an audit in early 2013 which found that some Jabil employees had worked more than six consecutive days, but added that the factory was working towards better regulating overtime. Jabil responded separately that it would correct any issues found when it conducted its own audit (4).

One year later, little seems to have changed at the factory. According to CLW, who investigated the plant for a second time in September of 2014, working conditions had not gotten better but may in fact have gotten worse since sales of the iPhone 6 have continued to soar and Jabil production lines are straining to keep up with demand. CLW claims workers at Jabil “perform even more overtime (up to 158 hours), where they are not permitted to talk or even look up from their work,” while working in unsafe buildings that are still under construction and where ceiling slabs have been reported to fall down around the production line (1).

Here again, given the repeated reports of abuses at many factories, it is difficult to believe that Apple is doing everything in it's power to prevent such conditions. If CLW’s findings are representative of the working environment at Jabil, Apple has failed to make good, as yet, on its promise of improved labor practices within its supply chain. This is perhaps especially true in the wake of newly released Apple products and where demands for increased production of iphones have soared.


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