Apple says it is forcing suppliers to stop recruitment agencies from charging excessive recruitment fees in exchange for jobs, creating a kind of “bonded labor” for assembly line workers.
The company, which posted $8.5 billion in profit on $42 billion in revenue in just the 4th quarter of 2014, this week released its latest supplier responsibility report, which examines the labor conditions at factories that produce Apple products.
"Every violation we unearthed in the 633 supplier audits we conducted last year offered an opportunity to make concrete changes for the better," says Jeff Williams, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Operations, in the report. "Because of these audits, over $3.96 million was repaid to foreign contract workers for excessive recruitment fees charged by
labor brokers. And nearly $900,000 was paid to workers for unpaid overtime. Underage workers were sent back to school with full tuition and salary."
Many of these factories are based in mainland China, where suppliers are hiring thousands of local workers. But in periods of labor shortages, Apple suppliers have at times relied on third-party recruitment agencies to bring in more temporary assembly line workers.
When they are charged excessive recruitment fees in exchange for those jobs, Apple said it "creates an unjust system that places contract workers in debt before they even begin their jobs.
Excessive work hours are also a widespread and persistent industry problem, Apple admits in the report. The company says "finding a solution
remains a top priority."
A non-profit organization called China Labor Watch that analyzes labor conditions in China casts some doubt on Apple's claims.
CLW says that while Apple earns huge profits, the labor costs are relatively low. One way that is achieved, they say, is by shifting production to cheaper manufacturers.
The group also says their research into conditions at these cheaper suppliers reveals workers are spending 60+ hours a week on the job, with 52% of workers completing more than 90 hours of overtime per month, and some even working as many as 132 hours of overtime.
Still, Apple claims it is making "tremendous progress" when it comes to supplier responsibility.
In 2014, the company says they performed 633 audits covering over 1.6 million workers in 19 countries. They also say calls were made to 30,000 workers to make sure their rights were being upheld.
The audits resulted in suppliers repaying workers almost $900,000 for unpaid overtime.
"While we have made significant progress, gaps still exist, and there is more work to do," says Apple's Williams in summary. "We know that workers are counting on us. We will not stop until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve."