After stepping up the auditing of third-party suppliers and kinks within the supply chain, Apple has discovered multiple cases of underage workers.
Within the iPad and iPhone marker's latest Supplier Responsibility report released yesterday, the tech giant said that it has cut ties with a supplier after exposing child labor practices at Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics (PZ). The component supplier allegedly conspired with the families of 74 children to forge age-verification documents so that they could work, and knowingly hired them. As a result, PZ has now been fined and had its license suspended.
Apple has reported the violations to relevant local authorities, and the children--all of whom were under 16 years old--returned to their families. The report states:
The children were returned to their families, and PZ was required to pay expenses to facilitate their successful return. In addition, the company that subcontracted its work to PZ was prompted by our findings to audit its other subcontractors for underage labor violations--proving that one discovery can have far-reaching impact.
The tech giant has to rely heavily on Asian manufacturers and partners, including Taiwanese Foxconn, to keep up with iPhone and iPad demand, but after coming under fire over the allegedly poor conditions workers had to endure at Foxconn factories, audit systems have been revamped. Within the latest 2012 report, Apple said that there has been a 72 percent increase in the amount of audits conducted in the supply chain in comparison to 2011. In total, 393 audits were conducted, covering manufacturers that looked after 1.5 million employees.
Each audit explores not only the age of workers, but operational safety, working conditions, and supplier business practices. The annual report's intention is not only to boost transparency, but to also improve the safety and living conditions of workers within the Apple chain.
The report found that 95 percent of suppliers within Apple's supply chain now comply with working age regulations, and 92 percent complied with a maximum 60-hour working week, whereas last year's report only managed a compliance rate of 38 percent.
Internships have been a major focus of the latest audit, coming after Foxconn admitted to hiring interns under the age of 16. The firm said in October that it would "immediately" terminate any employee that facilitated the practice.
In an interview with Reuters, Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, said that the issue of child labor is a challenging one, and Apple is now probing the deeper recesses of its supply chain to try and eradicate the practice.
We go deep in the supply chain to find it. And when we do find it, we ensure that the underage workers are taken care of, the suppliers are dealt with. I don't know how long it will take to get there, but that's our goal.