Apple accused of breaking Chinese labour law to build latest iPhone

9 Sep 2019

An Apple store. Image: Vividrange/Depositphotos

Apple admitted that the number of temporary workers assembling the iPhone 11 exceeded the company’s standards.

Tomorrow (10 September), Apple is due to debut at least three new iPhone models, including the iPhone 11.

Ahead of the annual launch event, New York-based China Labor Watch (CLW) released a lengthy report accusing Apple and its partner Foxconn of breaking Chinese labour laws to build the new phones.

The non-profit advocacy group, which has been monitoring working conditions at several Foxconn facilities, said that Foxconn had broken labour laws at its Zhengzhou factory, which is the largest iPhone factory in the world.

Dispatch workers

One of these laws relates to temporary staff, known as dispatch workers. These workers do not receive benefits such as paid sick leave, paid holidays and social insurance for medical, unemployment and pension coverage, while full-time employees do, according to CLW.

Chinese labour laws stipulate that only 10pc of the workforce can be temporary staff, but CLW alleged that these dispatch workers made up around 50pc of the workforce at the Zhengzhou plant in August 2019.

CLW claimed that Apple abided by Chinese law and internet regulations when it came to moving Chinese iCloud accounts to a local server, under the pressure of the Chinese government, but the company is not abiding by Chinese laws relating to workers, which are not as heavily enforced.

The organisation said: “Although Apple and its supplier Foxconn are aware of these restrictions on dispatch workers and overtime work hours, they do not implement these regulations.

“The Chinese government does not properly enforce laws, especially laws regarding labour rights. Multinational corporations helped drive economic development in China but they have also exploited loopholes in Chinese labour laws.”

The advocacy group’s report also claimed that during peak production seasons, workers’ resignations are not approved. Some workers exceed 100 hours in overtime each month, when Chinese law limits monthly overtime to 36 hours. Workers also need to seek approval to not do overtime.

CLW reported that Apple and Foxconn aim to build 12,000 iPhones per shift at the Zhengzhou factory.

‘No evidence of forced labour’

In response to these allegations, Apple said: “We looked into the claims by China Labor Watch and most of the allegations are false. We have confirmed all workers are being compensated appropriately, including any overtime wages and bonuses, all overtime work was voluntary and there was no evidence of forced labour.”

However, Apple said that it had investigated the percentage of temporary workers in the overall workforce and concluded that the figure exceeded the company’s standards. Apple said that it would work with Foxconn to “immediately resolve this issue”.

The Californian tech giant said that when it finds issues such as these, it works with suppliers to “take immediate corrective action”.

“We believe everyone in our supply chain should be treated with dignity and respect,” Apple added. “To make sure our high standards are being adhered to, we have robust management systems in place, beginning with training on workplace rights, on-site worker interviews, anonymous grievance channels and ongoing audits.”

Foxconn said it found evidence that “the use of dispatch workers and the number of hours of overtime carried out by employees, which we have confirmed was always voluntary, was not consistent with company guidelines”.

“We will not hesitate to take any additional steps that might be required to meet the high standards we set for our operations.”

According to CLW, which was founded in 2000 and has a hotline for factory workers in China, many of the dispatch workers in the Foxconn factory were students who returned to school at the end of August.

However, the organisation claimed that the proportion of temporary workers remains at 30pc, which is still a violation of labour laws.

In 2017, Apple discovered that Foxconn had employed high school students to build the iPhone X while working illegal overtime.

Last month, Foxconn also faced allegations that it had facilitated illegal child labour in China to build Amazon Kindle and Echo devices.

An Apple store. Image: Vividrange/Depositphotos

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic