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Apple says it found one underage worker building Apple products last year

Kif Leswing
Tim Cook

(Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)
The people that actually assemble Apple products like the iPhone don't actually work for Apple — the Cupertino giant contracts with manufacturing companies like Foxconn and Pegatron to do it for them.

And since those companies are based in Asia, which have different labor standards than the US, it's a constant battle for Apple to ensure that its products are built ethically and to its standards.

Apple said on Monday that it performed 705 checks on its various manufacturing facilities in 2016, and found 22 core violations of labor and human rights, including bonded labor violations, falsification of working hours, and harassment violations. 

The report issued on Monday is Apple's 11th annual report looking at its supply chain. Although the company has faced criticism for working conditions in the past, the company has also been praised for its annual reports and its efforts to increase its supply chain transparency by groups such as Greenpeace. 2016 was the best year for Apple in terms of improvements in the supply chain, according to Paula Pyers, Apple's senior director of supply chain social responsibility, in an interview with Buzzfeed News

One of the 22 core labor violations Apple found in 2016 was for an underage worker, who was "a 15½-year-old" at the time of the discovery. The legal working age in China is 16. 

Apple required the supplier that hired the child worker to "continue paying their wages while also providing an educational opportunity" and provide him "safe passage" home.

When the underage worker turns 16, the factory this person worked at will be required to provide a job offer, Apple said. 

"There’s absolutely no excuse for anyone under legal working age to be in our supply chain," Apple said in the report. Apple's 705 checks covered 1.2 million workers, according to the report. 

"All supplier core violations are escalated directly to senior management at Apple and the supplier, and are required to be addressed immediately," Apple writes. 

'We expect our suppliers to show steady improvement'

Apple measures own progress

(Apple)

Apple's official underage labor policy lists 15 as the minimum age to build Apple products, unless there's a law in the local region with a higher minimum age. According to the policy, Apple's suppliers should match photo IDs to worker's faces, verify workers' ages through local government offices or online, and inspect their facilities periodically.

Sometimes, supplier employees see Apple as a force that is able to put pressure on the manufacturer to improve working conditions, according to an open letter from an worker at an Apple supplier published by China Labor Watch, an activist group.

Often, violations like these happen without Apple knowing, which is why the company routinely drops in and checks their facilities, performing about two of these checks per day total during 2016. But there are a lot of factories working on Apple products, so while 705 checks, up from 574 last year, sounds like a lot, it could be higher. 



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