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Embarrassment for Apple over Chinese labour laws

by on10 December 2020

More worried about losing cash than helping workers

Rather than being an enthusiastic support of Chinese labour, the fruity cargo cult Apple was more interested in preserving its bottom line.

Wayne Ma, reporting for The Information, said that in 2014, Apple executives grew alarmed when China enacted a new labour law meant to protect workers' rights.

The law required that no more than 10 percent of a factory's workforce be temporary workers. Typically these employees have fewer benefits and legal protections than permanent ones, but Apple's suppliers increasingly relied on them in China's tightening labour market.

Apple surveyed 362 of its supplier factories in China that year and discovered that half were over the quota for temporary workers. Eighty factories used temporary workers for more than half their labour force, according to an internal Apple presentation.

Apple asked its suppliers to come up with plans to reduce their use of temporary workers by a March 2016 deadline, when a two year grace period for the law expired. However, by the time the law went into effect, little progress had been made.

According to four former Apple employees familiar with its labour issues, Apple for years took no major action against its suppliers for violating the temp-worker labour law out of concerns it would create costs, drain resources, and delay product launches.

Three of the ex-Apple employees were members of its supplier responsibility team, which is in charge of monitoring violations and enforcing penalties, while the fourth was a senior manager familiar with its operations in China.

The former employees, as well as a review of internal Apple presentations and the company's own data on factory hiring between 2013 and 2018, suggests that Apple's strategy for managing its supply chain made it difficult for its three biggest contract manufacturers -- Foxconn Technology, Quanta Computer and Pegatron -- to remain compliant with the labour restrictions.

The issue surfaced again publicly last year when Apple admitted that Foxconn had broken the law at its iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, which can employ as many as 300,000 workers. Apple says it requires suppliers to abide by local laws and pledges to remove those that won't comply.

Last modified on 10 December 2020
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