Apple supplier audit finds underage labour and environmental policy violations

8 Mar 2018

iPhone X. Image: hurricanehank/Shutterstock

Apple releases information on working conditions for suppliers and conflict mineral progress.

Apple has released its annual supply chain audit for 2017 and it has identified 44 “core violations” of labour rules, twice the number reported in 2016. These incidents fall under what the company considers the “most serious breaches of compliance”.

There were 38 recorded violations of falsifying of work hours data, two underage labour violations and several debt-bonded violations. Other core violations included emissions and wastewater management, but the company found no core violations in the health and safety category.

756 suppliers in 30 countries

The company conducted 756 supplier assessments in 30 countries, 197 of which were visited for the first time in 2017. The report covers suppliers representing 95pc of the company’s annual spend.

Despite the increase in core violations, the overall pattern was towards higher compliance with Apple’s code of conduct. The proportion of so-called “low performers” or suppliers scoring less than 59 points on its 100-point scale fell to just 1pc in 2017 from 3pc in 2016 and a massive 14pc in 2014. High performers with scores of more than 90 points rose to a record high of 59pc from 2016’s figure of 47pc.

94pc of suppliers were found to have complied with Apple’s 60-hour work week stipulations, a decrease from 98pc in 2016. Apple said when it finds that a supplier falsified data, it notifies the chief executive of the offending supplier and puts the supplier on probation until a fix is implemented. Further reviews are also carried out to prevent the reoccurrence of the issue.

According to Apple, the increase in falsification of working hours records was down to the onboarding of several new suppliers in 2017 and a 30pc increase in the amount of supplier employees being monitored from 2016’s levels.

Underage labour

Of the two underage labour cases, Apple said: “The two underage employees were ages 14 and 15. In both cases, individuals used false identification to gain employment.

“Once identified, both were immediately transported home and enrolled in their school of choice, while continuing to receive wages from the supplier. Upon reaching legal working age, they will be offered a job at the supplier facility they departed, should they wish to return.”

The firm is also launching a women’s health initiative at its supplier plants, with a target in place to reach 1m women by 2020. A programme was also launched in China to train workers to become factory line leaders, allowing them to make 20-30pc more than an average line worker.

Conflict minerals progress

The issue of conflict minerals in Apple devices was dealt with in a separate report, a requirement of the US securities regulators. 16 smelters and refiners left Apple’s supply chain, 10 of which were dropped due to their unwillingness to take part in a third-party audit of their practices, while the remaining six left out of choice.

100pc of identified smelters and refiners in the company supply chain were happy to participate in a third-party conflict mineral audit, the company’s third annual examination of the issue.

Apple said “more must be done to help end abuses caused by conflict and to protect human rights” and it made mention of hopes to improve conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an area notorious for child labourer use in its cobalt mines.

iPhone X. Image: hurricanehank/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects