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Apple nixes child labor practices at Chinese factories

Review finds Apple’s contractors in China hired 91 workers under the age of 16

By Brad Reed, Network World
February 15, 2011 11:31 AM ET

Network World - Apple Tuesday said that it has terminated business with a Chinese factory that it found had employed 42 underage workers.

In Apple's "Supplier Responsibility" internal review released today, the company said that the factory accounted for nearly half of the 91 underage workers its contractors employed in 2010 to build products such as iPhone smartphones, iPad tablets and Macintosh computers. Apple decided to cut ties with this specific contractor factory because it had "determined that management had chosen to overlook the issue and was not committed to addressing the problem."

Apple says that the factory had been working with a vocational school that had "falsified student IDs and threatened retaliation against students who revealed their ages during audits." Apple reported the school to "appropriate authorities in the Chinese government."

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Apple chose to maintain its contracts with the nine other factories that employed a total of 49 underage workers last year, since those factories agreed to cooperate with Apple's policies designed to "prevent employment of underage workers." Apple says that it has furthermore launched a training program to prevent any future hiring of workers under the age of 16, which is the legal age to work in China.

It wasn't just child labor that Apple had to correct last year, however, as the company also reported finding several other "core violations" to its labor standards. Among them were:

* 137 workers in a Suzhou factory suffered "adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane, a chemical in cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes." Apple said that illness was due to poor ventilation within the facility and that no workers have fallen ill since the ventilation system was fixed last year. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation broke the story on Apple workers being poisoned by n-hexane while making Apple products. According to the ABC report, some of the poisoned workers said that exposure to the chemical has left them "unable to walk."

* Less than one-third of all factories reviewed complied with Apple's standards of working hours. Although Apple tells factories that its workers can work for a maximum of 60 hours, the company has found that "76 facilities had records that indicated workers had exceeded weekly working-hour limits more than 50 percent of the time." Apple says it is requiring factories to "develop management systems" to ensure compliance with work rules.

* Just 57% of factories Apple reviewed complied with the company's occupational injury prevention standards. Apple found that 64 factories had engineering control violations, 95 factories did not conduct regular safety inspections and 54 factories either did not give their workers protective equipment or train their workers to use the equipment properly.

* Apple also terminated contracts with one factory that gave auditors falsified payroll records and another factory that tried to bribe the auditors with cash.

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