In its code of conduct, Apple claims that it requires its suppliers to uphold its workers’ basic human rights as understood by the international community, and to treat them with dignity and respect. In contrast, our investigations demonstrate that Apple supplier factories are intensifying a military-style management of workers. Apples’ products sales are high, with new models and devices every year. This means that its suppliers in turn depend on an extremely large and flexible workforce to meet Apple’s demanding production orders on short notice. Therefore, to make sure workers meet the daily production targets, Apple suppliers resort to inhumane labor practices, even to the extent of denying workers’ basic human needs, such as allowing bathroom breaks, sufficient rest, and access to proper nutrition; these conditions partly contribute to the high labor turnover rate. Increasingly, Apple suppliers use student workers from vocational schools from all over China, under the guise of “student internships”. These alarming findings prove that Apple suppliers are indeed sweatshops that exploit their workers.
The report outlines the serious violations of labor rights at Apple suppliers in China. From the interviews’ findings, we have listed four main areas of concern:
- At all the factories investigated, the majority of workers- nearly 80% – are precarious workers who are more vulnerable to labor rights violations.
- There is a rise in using student interns. Apple suppliers collaborate with vocational training institutions which require students to join a supplementary workforce for the factories,depriving students’ right to a quality education.
- Excessive long working hours are observed in the suppliers’ factories, especially during peak production seasons. Overtime work might take up to 4 hours a day, yielding work days as much as 14 hours and workers could only have 1-2 days off for the entire 3-month period. This means during this period work weeks of 70-100 were common, far in excess of that required by Chinese law (about 49 hours) or the standard set by Apple (typically 60 hours per week).
- From our investigations, there are many instances of unpaid work, imposed through mechanisms such as cutting meal times, requiring workers to arrive to the factory before their official work hour for work meetings, making workers wait in long lines to swipe the time cards, and requiring workers to wear burdensome dust-free uniforms that are time consuming to put on and take off. The most severe complaint of the workers was in regard to unpaid overtime, as they are forced to stay in the factory’s unit until they have met the high production quotas assigned.
- The long working hours, unachievable production quotas, and alleged unpaid overtime work has driven workers from Apple suppliers and accelerated the turnover rate, which in turn, has compelled Apple suppliers to depend heavily on labor agencies to recruit an increasing number of dispatch workers (in one case, a labor agency recruited up to 1000 workers a day). In addition, dispatch labor is deprived of the benefits that regular, full-time workers are entitled to. Overall, labor conditions are deteriorating, both for regular workers and dispatch workers.
- Apple suppliers employ chemicals in the production process that are potentially harmful to workers. The research found that workers are not informed of the potential harms, and there is inadequate protective equipment. Excessive noise, dust, and potent chemicals put workers’ lives at risk. Our investigations show that the supplier Pegatron factory in Shanghai, one year after the explosion in December 2011, the case polishing unit has not improved the ventilation and the working environment remains very dusty.
- There is an intensification of military- style management in Apple suppliers. They employ measures that deter workers from using toilets and cut meal times to coerce workers to meet high production quotas. Workers also suffer verbal abuse from frontline supervisors and are humiliated in front of other workers.Moreover, to discipline workers, there is a wide range of arbitrary punitive fines imposed on them. Workers are intimidated and told to keep silent, with threats that their wages will be cut. These various punitive measures have led to increasing antagonism toward shop floor supervisors. We found scarce evidence of management’s attempts to improve this situation; on the contrary, the influx of new workers and rapid turnover of the work force have exacerbated management-worker relations.