We don’t allow suppliers to act unethically or in ways that threaten the rights of workers — even when local laws and customs permit such practices. We’re working to end excessive working hours, prohibit unethical hiring policies and prevent the hiring of underage workers.
Ending excessive working hours.
Ending the industry-wide practice of excessive overtime is a top priority for Apple. Our Supplier Code of Conduct limits working weeks to 60 hours except in unusual circumstances, and all overtime must be voluntary. Unfortunately, working weeks in excess of 60 hours have historically been standard rather than exceptional, and little has changed for many years in our industry. In the past, we tried different ways to fix the problem, but we weren’t seeing results. So in 2011, we took a more basic approach: we tracked working hours weekly at a handful of suppliers, and when we found excessive hours, we were able to address the problems quickly with the supplier.
In 2012, we expanded that programme and tracked working hours weekly for over a million employees, publishing the data every month. As a result of this effort, our suppliers have achieved an average of 92 per cent compliance across all working weeks, and the average hours worked per week was under 50.
Addressing underage labour.
Our approach to underage labour is clear: we don’t tolerate it, and we’re working to eradicate it from our industry. When we discover suppliers with underage workers or find out about historical cases — where workers had either left or reached legal working age by the time of the audit — we demand immediate corrective action as part of our Underage Labour Remediation Programme. Suppliers must return underage workers to school and finance their education at a school chosen by the family. In addition, the children must continue to receive income matching what they received when they were employed. We also follow up regularly to ensure that the children remain in school and that the suppliers continue to uphold their financial commitment.
In 2012, we found no cases of underage labour at any of our final assembly suppliers. While we are encouraged by these results, we will continue regular audits and go deeper into our supply chain to ensure that there are no underage workers at any Apple supplier. Many suppliers tell us that we are the only company performing these audits, so when we do find and correct problems, the impact goes far beyond our own suppliers.
How dishonest third-party employment agencies conspire to corrupt the system.
In many of the cases of underage labour we’ve discovered, the culprit behind the violation was a third-party employment agency that wilfully and illegally recruited young workers. In January 2012, for example, we audited a supplier, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co., Ltd. (PZ) (广东昭信平洲电子有限公司), 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 employment agencies, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources Co., Ltd. (Quanshun) (深圳全顺人力资源有限公司), 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 licence 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 labour violations — proving that one discovery can have far-reaching impact.
Providing tools to enable responsible hiring.
Last year marked the third year of our Prevention of Underage Labour training programme, an initiative to help suppliers identify and prevent underage labour. We conducted training for 84 suppliers that were chosen because their facilities are located in provinces at high risk for underage labour. The training outlines methods and provides tools for implementing and sustaining effective age verification processes. It also specifies the steps suppliers must follow if underage labour is found during an audit.
New in 2012, we provided a guidebook to help with identifying legal IDs and assessing recruitment practices of third-party employment agencies. We also added a layer of support beyond the classroom. After the training, suppliers now assess their internal and external risks and create action plans to revise policies for preventing underage labour. Then we follow up to review their new systems. For suppliers that need additional help, industry consultants provide onsite support in implementing action plans and improving management practices.
In addition, we give at-risk suppliers the names of employment agencies that have been associated with the recruitment of underage workers. We also offer guidance on working with other agencies, including ensuring that the agency has the appropriate licences and permits, conducting regular audits of the agency’s recruitment practices, and reporting violations to Apple and the local government.
Setting standards for hiring students.
In China, many students are required by their school programmes to complete fieldwork (internships) as part of their curriculum. Our suppliers must follow strict standards when hiring students as interns or apprentices. For example, student working hours must comply with legal restrictions and not conflict with school attendance. Suppliers must also ensure that the education programme requirements adhere to laws and regulations. We’ve discovered that some elements of these programmes are poorly run, and the cyclical nature of internship work makes it difficult to catch problems. In 2013, we will require suppliers to provide the number of student workers along with school affiliations so we can monitor this issue more carefully. We’ve begun to partner with industry consultants to help our suppliers improve their policies, procedures and management of internship programmes to go beyond what the law requires.
Stopping excessive recruitment fees and bonded labour.
Third-party employment agencies help many suppliers recruit contract workers from other countries. The agencies often use multiple sub-agencies, which in turn do business through smaller local agencies in the workers’ home countries. Workers are often required to pay fees to each of these agencies to gain employment. And many find that they have taken on huge debt even before they start the work. As a result, they must hand over a high proportion of their wages to recruiters to pay this debt, and they have to remain at the job until the debt is paid. We consider this a form of bonded labour, and it is strictly prohibited by our Supplier Code of Conduct.
When we find violations, suppliers must reimburse excessive recruitment fees — anything higher than the equivalent of one month’s net wages — for any eligible contract worker found working on Apple projects. Knowing that factories in certain countries are more likely to employ foreign contract labour, we target these factories for bonded labour audits, and we help them modify their management systems and practices to comply with our standards. Apple is the only company in the electronics industry to mandate these reimbursements, and our suppliers have reimbursed a total of US$13.1 million to contract workers since 2008, including US$6.4 million in 2012.
Sourcing conflict-free materials.
Apple is committed to using conflict-free minerals, and we’ve joined the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, a joint initiative between governments, companies and civil society to support supply chain solutions to conflict minerals challenges in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As one of the first electronics companies to map its supply chain for conflict minerals, we actively survey suppliers to confirm their smelter sources. As of December 2012, we have identified 211 smelters and refiners from which our suppliers source tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold.
Apple suppliers are using conflict-free sources of tantalum, are certifying their tantalum smelters or are transitioning their sourcing to already certified tantalum smelters. We will continue to work to certify qualified smelters, and we’ll require our suppliers to move their sourcing of tin, tungsten and gold to certified conflict-free sources as smelters become certified.