Apple and child labor, why it's a non-story

The UK's Telegraph published a story over the weekend accusing Apple of using child labor, but Apple claims that the problem stems from some of its suppliers and that it has been taken care of.

A headline that hit the wires on Saturday got a lot of play over the weekend, but after the hype died down a little it's pretty clear that all may not be as it seems.

The story, published by Telegraph.co.uk "Apple admits to using child labor" is pretty scandalous and conjures memories of the Nike and Kathy Lee Gifford child labor scandals in the past few years. But when you dig a little deeper it may not seem as bad as your RSS reader wants you to believe.

To its credit TUAW didn't get sucked into the black hole of Apple criticism in light of the news. Instead the site took a thoughtful and objective look at the issue and discovered that it may in fact be a non-issue.

If you read the Telegraph story, it becomes obvious that its headline is nothing more than link bait. In the first sentence, it's revealed that Apple didn't hire the underage children directly, they were hired by its suppliers. Emphasis mine.

At least eleven 15-year-old children were discovered to be working last year in three factories which supply Apple.

Apple, like most other hardware manufacturers, uses several manufacturing partners in China, including Foxconn International, Wintek and Quanta Computer Inc. It wasn't revealed where specifically the violations took place. While its never acceptable to hire children, let's keep in mind that there were only 11 violations found and that they were 15 years old, less than a year away from being able to legally work in China.

In the fourth paragraph it becomes clear that Apple knew about the problem and took steps internally to mitigate it.

Apple said the child workers are now no longer being used, or are no longer underage. "In each of the three facilities, we required a review of all employment records for the year as well as a complete analysis of the hiring process to clarify how underage people had been able to gain employment," Apple said, in an annual report on its suppliers.

Apple also took steps to eliminate the practice of excessively long hours at supplier's factories.

"When we investigated, we uncovered records and conducted worker interviews that revealed excessive working hours and seven days of continuous work," Apple said, adding that it had terminated all contracts with the factory.

The story also brings up a litany of other allegations against Apple's suppliers, including low wages, safety issues and environmental irresponsibility and I'm not saying that Apple should get a pass on them, but it's important to look at all the facts before jumping to conclusions.

So there you have it. Some Apple suppliers in China used underage labor, Apple looked into it and took care of the problem. Please move along.