Will Apple Feel Any Heat for Violations of Its Own Labor Code?

Emily Udell

While scanning whichever apps you use to track news on your iPhone this past weekend, you may have missed a story about Apple’s latest audit of its global suppliers.

The audit, which surveyed 102 suppliers in eight countries that included the United States, China, Malaysia and the Czech Republic during 2009, found these business partners committed 17 core” violations related to Apple’s own labor and environmental code and local labor laws. The violations found last year included instances where companies hired non-certified vendors to dispose of hazardous waste and violated local child labor laws. The audit found that three suppliers had hired 11 workers who were 15 in countries where the minimum age for employment was 16, though it does not identify the companies who did so.

TechNewsWorld blogger Renay San Miguel points out how the mainstream media has so far basically given Apple a pass on these violations, swallowing the company’s carefully-orchestrated presentation of the issue, hook, line and sinker. San Miguel writes:

Apple’s weekend revelation that it found 17 core violations at those supply plants … ha[s] been duly recorded and largely dismissed by the tech blogosphere and mainstream business media. Of course, it helps that the technosphere is populated largely by charter members of the Apple Cult of Personality.

San Miguel calls Apple out for protecting its suppliers by not naming the ones who violated child labor laws, though he does acknowledge that at least the company makes efforts toward transparency and responsibility for the entities it does business with.

Apple’s executive summary of the audit (PDF) says:

The companies we do business with must provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made.

The executive summary says the company conducted an analysis of the
hiring processes of companies who were found to be in violation of child labor laws.

Apple’s revelations are a reminder that child labor continues to be a serious global issue. Teenagers who were working for Apple’s suppliers aren’t even included in UNICEF’s estimate of 158 million child laborers worldwide, ranging in age from 5 to 14. The organization’s figure represents one in six child workers, including those who toil in mines, agricultural fields, factories and homes.

The International Labor Organization’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour tracks child labor across the globe, from the use of child soldiers in various African nations to those toiling on farms in Latin America and working homes in the Middle East. The ILO distinguishes between the kinds of work done by children:

Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays.

Child labor is defined as that which puts their mental and physical health at risk, deprives them of the opportunity to attend school or otherwise interferes with their education.

Some lawmakers want to eliminate credit check hurdle

As if scoring an interview weren’t hard enough in an economy where job opportunities are scarce and debt large, applicants in some states face credit checks. A recent survey found that 60 percent of employers screen some prospective employees this way.

But legislators in 16 states are considering a ban on most credit checks, recognizing that they can effectively trap people in a vicious circle of debt.

Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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