Sunday, March 9, 2014

Apple's child labor

Apple iPhone child worker Shi Zhaokun who died last year
(Photo: China Labor Watch)

In writing a piece on child labor in Apple's supply chain, a reporter for Quartz magazine talked with me about the issue as it pertains to China. The article is an interesting read, but (as I told the reporter in an email after the article was publsihed), despite the seriousness of child labor, from a numbers perspective, child labor is a relatively minor aspect of the labor abuse going on in Apple's supply chain.

Let's look at those numbers:

Based on Apple's data, their audits have found hundreds of child workers in their supplier factories the past seven years. The real statistic is surely higher. And there was even a tragic case of a child worker death last year.

But while child workers number in the hundreds or thousands, the number of Apple workers who are not getting paid for overtime on a daily basis is in the hundreds of thousands. At just one Apple supplier (named Quanta) in Shanghai, China Labor Watch estimated that workers may not be paid up to $1.8 million per month. If scaled up to Apple's entire supply chain, there could be tens of millions of dollars that goes unpaid to Apple workers every month.

Other widespread violations that affect hundreds of thousands of (or even over a million) workers making Apple products include excessive overtime hours (up to 3 times the legal maximum), lax safety measures that lead to workers getting poisoned or injured, illegal overuse of temp workers, illegal hiring discrimination, and more.

So while this year Apple holds up its work to help child labor, something that has been known about for over a decade, I would stress: don't be fooled by slight of hand. Labor violations in Apple's Chinese supply chain are still pervasive.

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