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By 29 July 2013 | Categories: news

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Apple appears to be in the dogbox again over labour issues, at least with human rights group China Labor Watch, which asserts that the company’s supplier, Pegatron, has violated workers’ rights.  

The newly release report is based on an investigation into three factories owned by Pegatron Group, which have apparently been tasked with increased orders for Apple products this year. The factories subjected to scrutiny included Pegatron Shanghai (producing the iPhone), Riteng (a Pegatron subsidiary in Shanghai producing Apple computers), and AVY (a Pegatron subsidiary in Suzhou producing iPad parts).

According to China Labor Watch (CLW), the factories in question have “relied upon labour violations to increase their competitive edge.”

Under attack

More specifically, it grouped the 86 labour violations into fifteen categories: dispatch labour abuse, hiring discrimination, women’s rights violations, underage labour, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labour health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution.

The report also criticised Apple for its recent feedback that its suppliers had achieved 99% compliance with its 60 hour workday rule. This, continued the report, was “in direct violation of China’s 49-hour statutory limit.” Furthermore, the CLW report indicated that the average weekly working hours in the three factories investigated ranged from 66 hours to 69 hours.

Equally as disturbing, CLW cited that in its investigation of Pegatron Shanghai, it found that workers were forced to sign forms indicating that their overtime hours were less than the actual levels.

“Indeed, a number of Apple’s social responsibility promises are being broken, including those related to worker safety, protecting the environment, and more. None of the Pegatron factories investigated here, for example, provide sufficient safety training to workers. At Riteng and AVY, waste water is disposed of directly into the sewage system, polluting the local water source,” continued CLW.

Recriminations and responses

It also damned the conditions at the factories, claiming that within two weeks, more 27% of the 110 new recruits at AVY had left.

In a statement to Reuters, Apple responded that the latest report “contains claims that are new” but reassured that these will be investigated “immediately”.  Apple is further quoted as stating that if its audits find that workers have been underpaid or denied compensation for any time they've worked, Pegatron will be required to “reimburse them in full."

Pegatron, meanwhile, is quoted as responding that “it would investigate the matter and would take immediate action to correct any violations of Chinese labor laws and its own code of conduct, ” while  Pegatron’s chief executive officer, Jason Cheng, affirmed that it “took these allegations very seriously.”

“Our investigations have shown that labour conditions at Pegatron factories are even worse than those at Foxconn factories. Apple has not lived up to its own standards. This will lead to Apple’s suppliers abusing labour in order to strengthen their position for receiving orders. In this way, Apple is worsening conditions for workers, not improving them,” commented CLW executive director Li Qiang.

Not everyone is quite so convinced about the dire nature of the report or Apple’s role therein. In an article in Forbes, the writer dissects the report and concludes that much of the charges levied by CLW against Pegatron and Apple are “trivial” and “nonsense.”

To the point

In any event, this is not the first time Apple has found itself in the firing line over conditions at its suppliers. At the beginning of last year, Apple was accused of condoning labour abuses at Foxconn, while unsafe working conditions at Foxconn were previously credited with playing a role in explosions which killed workers.     

Admittedly, we look forward to the next iPad/iPhone as much as the next user, but not if it comes as a consequence of human suffering. With new iPads reportedly in the works, hopefully the issues brought to light by CLW will be resolved post haste.

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