Apple suspends key manufacturer for exploiting student workers

The company misclassified student workers to enable them to work overtime.

Apple has suspended one of its key manufacturing partners after discovering that it violated labor rules concerning student workers. Bloomberg reports that Taiwan’s Pegatron, misclassified workers in order to allow them to work night shifts and overtime. According to the report, Pegatron then made a massive effort to cover up the misdeeds, which Apple discovered several weeks ago. Apple has already said that Pegatron is now on “probation” until such time that it can get its house in order.

This is the latest in a series of high-profile incidents concerning Pegatron and how it chooses to treat its employees. In 2014, the BBC took hidden cameras into a facility to show multiple breaches of standards from workers’ housing, the use of ID cards and juvenile workers. The practice of withholding worker ID cards, for instance, means that they’re unable to get work elsewhere, stopping them from quitting their jobs.

Employees are also said to have lived in substandard dormitories, as well as working significantly longer hours than was claimed. Other reports claimed that workers were given insufficient PPE to work on hazardous production lines.

Apple contracts almost all of its manufacturing out to third-parties, but is still held responsible for the ethical standards used. Its most notorious third-party relationship is with Hon Hai Precision Industry, or Foxconn, where a series of employees died by suicide to worldwide outrage. In 2017, Foxconn was found to have made high school students work 11-hour days building the iPhone X or else they wouldn’t graduate.

In 2018 another partner, Catcher Technology, was found to have made employees stand for 10 hours a day in a toxic environment without any PPE. That included workers who were standing next to 80-decibel noise not being handed earplugs, and exposed to metallic particles without any goggles. Workers were expected to sleep in unclean dormitories that lacked hot water and even basic washing facilities.

And in 2019, Apple and Foxconn admitted that the latter had hired too many temporary workers to deal with a surge in demand, in violation of local laws. That same year, a human rights group said that Quanta Computer, another manufacturer, skirted labor laws by using teenage “interns” to work night shifts.

Apple says that its supplier audit program has worked hard to improve conditions and reduce rule breaks at its supplier factories. When the program started in 2014, it says that only 26 percent of factories were performing at their best, a figure that rose to 82 percent in 2019.

In this instance, Pegatron has said that it has fired the manager responsible and Apple said that it hadn’t found evidence of forced labor. The manufacturer has added that it will fix the issue with its current practices and will compensate the workers who were affected.

Bloomberg says that the Pegatron suspension, which only covers new business, may afford a rival manufacturer a chance at earning Apple’s lucrative iPhone business. Luxshare, which the report says is the first company on China’s mainland that could be tasked with building the new smartphones.

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