After the world learned what the true human cost of making Apple products was when conditions at Foxconn were laid bare to the world, Apple stepped up. They started audits of all their suppliers across the supply chain. Not just final assembly, but all the stops along the way. Apple released the 2013 report today and say they are making progress at all levels and in one case have severed ties with a supplier hiring underage workers—and reported the agency that supplied them to authorities.
According to Apple’s report, Gaungdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics (PZ) was found not only to have underage workers, but hired them knowingly and willingly. Apple wasn’t okay with this, so they are out of the supplier pool. From that investigation, the labor agency Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources was found to have been a key recruiter in finding kids to work in the factory. While Apple couldn’t do more than report Quanshun to authorities, there is another part of this story that could send ripples through the entire industry. Apple wasn’t PZ’s only customer. According to Apple’s report, they supply circuit boards to many companies and industries. Let’s hope those companies take a hard look at what Apple did and change their supplier arrangements as well.
Here is the section from the Apple report on underage workers:
How dishonest third-party labor agents conspire to corrupt the system.
In many of the cases of underage labor we’ve discovered, the culprit behind the violation was a third-party labor agent that willfully and illegally recruited young workers. In January 2012, for example, we audited a supplier, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co., Ltd. (PZ) ￼ that produces a standard circuit board component used by many other companies in many industries. Our auditors were dismayed to discover 74 cases of workers under age 16—a core violation of our Code of Conduct. As a result, we terminated our business relationship with PZ.
But we didn’t stop there. We also learned that one of the region’s largest labor agencies, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources Co., Ltd. (Quanshun) , which is registered in both the Shenzhen and Henan provinces, was responsible for knowingly providing the children to PZ. In fact, to obtain the workers, this agency conspired with families to forge age verification documents and make the workers seem older than they were.
We also alerted the provincial governments to the actions of Quanshun. The agency had its business license suspended and was fined. The children were returned to their families, and PZ was required to pay expenses to facilitate their successful return. In addition, the company that subcontracted its work to PZ was prompted by our findings to audit its other subcontractors for underage labor violations—proving that one discovery can have far-reaching impact.
Let’s not deceive ourselves, Apple isn’t fixing the world in a day. Nor have they fixed all the labor problems in the supply chain. That task could take decades. However, this is a positive step in the right direction. As Apple continues to work for better worker hours, better pay, worker rights, worker education, and keeping kids out of factories, it helps get to a place where we don’t have to wonder about the human cost of the device we hold in our hands.
The entire Apple Supplier Responsibility report is available as a PDF from the from the Supplier Responsibility page.