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Apple, Foxconn broke Chinese labor law to build latest iPhones

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg News on

Published in Science & Technology News

SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple Inc. and manufacturing partner Foxconn violated a Chinese labor rule by using too many temporary staff members in the world's largest iPhone factory, the companies confirmed following a report that also alleged harsh working conditions.

The claims came from China Labor Watch, which issued the report ahead of an Apple event on Tuesday to announce new iPhones. The nonprofit advocacy group investigates conditions in Chinese factories, and says it has uncovered other alleged labor rights violations by Apple partners in the past.

For its latest report, CLW said undercover investigators worked in Foxconn's Zhengzhou plant in China, including one who was employed there for four years. One of the main findings: Temporary staff, known as dispatch workers, made up about 50% the workforce in August. Chinese labor law stipulates a maximum of 10%, CLW noted.

Apple said that, after conducting an investigation, it found the "percentage of dispatch workers exceeded our standards" and that it is "working closely with Foxconn to resolve this issue." It added that when it finds issues, it works with suppliers to "take immediate corrective action." Foxconn Technology Group also confirmed the dispatch worker violation following an operational review.

Apple's supply chain has faced criticism over poor labor standards for years, and the company has pushed manufacturing partners to improve factory conditions or risk losing business. However, suppliers and assemblers are always trying to churn out more handsets. Foxconn, officially known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., hires tens of thousands of temporary workers to ramp up production and meet iPhone demand during the key holiday season each year.

"Our recent findings on working conditions at Zhengzhou Foxconn highlights several issues which are in violation of Apple's own code of conduct," CLW wrote in its report. "Apple has the responsibility and capacity to make fundamental improvements to the working conditions along its supply chain, however, Apple is now transferring costs from the trade war through their suppliers to workers and profiting from the exploitation of Chinese workers."

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CLW was founded in 2000 as a 501(c)(3) organization to investigate Chinese factories that make toys, shoes, electronics and other products for some of the world's largest multinational companies. It has an office in New York City and one in Shenzhen that offers a hotline for factory workers in China, according to its website.

While its report said 55% of factory staff were dispatch workers in 2018, and about 50% in August, this included student interns. Because many of these students returned to school at the end of August, that number is now closer to 30%, which is still a violation, according to CLW.

"We believe everyone in our supply chain should be treated with dignity and respect," Apple also said in a statement. "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 work carried out by employees, which we have confirmed was always voluntary, was not consistent with company guidelines."

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