John Paczkowski

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Apple Investigating Worker-Abuse Charges at “iPhone C” Supplier

Apple_supplier_chinaApple hasn’t even launched the less-expensive iPhone it’s rumored to have in the pipeline, but already a company involved in its manufacture stands accused of labor violations.

In a report published Thursday, China Labor Watch decried Apple supplier Jabil Circuit (see page 15 of Apple’s 2013 supplier list) for a broad range of ethical and legal labor violations at its factory in Wuxi, China: Hiring discrimination, overcrowding, poor training, mandatory overtime — three times in excess of legal limits — and the withholding of overtime pay. Together, they constitute what the watchdog organization describes as a systemic pattern of violation, one that “runs counter to Apple’s Code of Conduct and their self-reporting of conditions at these facilities.”

For Apple, which has faced a number of reports of alleged worker abuse in its supply chain in recent years, these accusations are particularly harsh. The company believes it is doing much to improve working conditions at its manufacturing partners. As CEO Tim Cook said last year, “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us.”

The company reiterated that position in a statement today, noting that it has already dispatched a team to the Jabil facility at issue in China Labor Watch’s report to investigate the group’s claims.

“We take any concerns about our suppliers very seriously, and our team of experts is on-site at Jabil Wuxi to look into the new claims about conditions there,” said Apple spokeswoman Kirstin Huguet.

Jabil had a similar reaction to CLW’s report. “We are troubled by recent allegations related to excessive overtime, unpaid overtime, and working conditions at our Wuxi, China site,” a company spokeswoman told AllThingsD. “An audit team is en route to Wuxi to thoroughly investigate these claims.”

Below, Apple’s and Jabil’s statements in full:

Apple is committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout our supply chain. We lead the industry with far-reaching and specialized audits, the most transparent reporting and educational programs that enrich the lives of workers who make our products. Apple is the first and only technology company to be admitted to the Fair Labor Association, and we are dedicated to protecting every worker in our supply chain.

As part of our extensive Supplier Responsibility program, Apple has conducted 14 comprehensive audits at Jabil facilities since 2008, including three audits of Jabil Wuxi in the past 36 months. We take any concerns about our suppliers very seriously, and our team of experts is on-site at Jabil Wuxi to look into the new claims about conditions there. Jabil has a proactive auditing program of their own and they have an excellent track record of meeting Apple’s high standards.

Employees at Jabil are among the 1 million workers in Apple’s supply chain whose working hours we track each week and report on our website. Year to date, Jabil Wuxi has performed above our 92% average for compliance with Apple’s 60-hour per week limit. An audit completed earlier this year did find that some employees had worked more than six consecutive days without a day of rest, and Jabil has been working with our team to better manage overtime.

We are proud of the work we do with our suppliers to improve conditions for workers. Our program goes far beyond monitoring by ensuring corrective actions where they are needed and aggressively enforcing our supplier code of conduct wherever Apple products are made. We believe in transparency and accountability, both for our suppliers and ourselves.

Jabil is committed to ensuring every employee is provided a safe working environment where they are treated fairly, with dignity and respect. We take seriously any allegation that we are not fulfilling that commitment and are taking immediate action to ensure recent allegations are thoroughly investigated and, if found to be credible, corrected.

In August, Eric Austermann, Jabil’s Vice President of Social Responsibility, was in China conducting audits at our facilities, including Jabil Wuxi. Jabil conducts more than 100 annual audits of its operations, assessing them on a broad range of items, including health and safety, employee treatment, and overtime. Some issues cited in the report were surfaced in that audit and corrective action was immediately started. Our focus on continuous auditing — by internal, independent third parties, and customers — is why we are able to surface issues and also why we are continuously improving.

We are troubled by recent allegations related to excessive overtime, unpaid overtime, and working conditions at our Wuxi, China site. An audit team is en route to Wuxi to thoroughly investigate these claims. While we are aware of the desire of many employees to work overtime, our goal is to regulate overtime to achieve a consistently high level of compliance with Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) standards. Other allegations, such 10-minute unpaid meeting times, were surfaced during Austermann’s audit in August and corrective action was begun.

The well being of our employees is our priority. In the last three years, Jabil has elevated Social and Environmental Responsibility to an executive-level position reporting directly to Jabil’s Chief Operating Officer. We have also developed Global Dormitory Standards, a global policy prohibiting pregnancy testing, and a policy stipulating 18 as the minimum age for employment. We have also engaged a leading consultant to train Environmental, Health and Safety employees to better assess, recognize and control process hazards.

We are disheartened that there are allegations that we are not living up to our own standards, yet we are proud of the progress we’ve made in ensuring every Jabil employee is treated with dignity and respect and provided the opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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