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Apple denies accusations of employee mistreatment

"The reality is, we find violations in every audit we have ever performed."


AJ Dellinger


Posted on Dec 19, 2014   Updated on May 29, 2021, 10:44 pm CDT

In a letter penned to Apple’s United Kingdom team, Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams stated that he and CEO Tim Cook are “deeply offended” by allegations that the company mistreats workers at its overseas factories and suppliers.

“Apple is dedicated to the advancement of human rights and equality around the world. We are honest about the challenges we face and we work hard to make sure that people who make our products are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” begins the letter, which was obtained by the Telegraph. It then addresses the claims made during the BBC Panorama program.

BBC reporters discovered that a tin supplier in Apple’s supply chain in Indonesia forces workers—some of whom are young children—into dangerous and illegal work conditions.

Apple did not dispute the claim. Williams wrote that the company has “publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines.”

Williams called the conditions “shocking” and said the company is “appalled” by them. But, Williams wrote, “Tens of thousands of artisanal miners are selling tin through many middlemen to the smelters who supply to component suppliers who sell to the world. The government is not addressing the issue, and there is widespread corruption in the undeveloped supply chain.”

According to Williams, the situation in Indonesia placed Apple with one of two options. The company could either make sure that all suppliers buy tin from outside of Indonesia. Williams acknowledged this solution is the “easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism,” but he called this approach the “lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there.” 

Williams said Apple has instead decided to stay engaged to try to improve the conditions, creating the Indonesian Tin Working Group with other technology companies and “pushing to find and implement a system that holds smelters accountable so we can influence artisanal mining in Indonesia.”

If it is possible to both get tin from other suppliers and help to implement change within the Indonesian mines, it’s not mentioned in the letter.

The BBC also reported mistreatment and poor working conditions at Apple factories. Undercover reporters for BBC Panorama were hired at Pegatron factories in Shanghai, a manufacturer of the company’s products, and captured the mistreatment firsthand. They found workers falling asleep after 12-hour shifts and workers made to work 18 days straight after being repeatedly denied days off.

Other allegations—worker ID cards were taken; workers got special treatment to pass health and safety tests—are laid bare in footage taken from within the Pegatron factory.

Williams countered the findings, claiming, “We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.”

Williams states there are more than 1,400 Apple workers stationed in China to manage the manufacturing operations and ensure compliance with the company’s Supplier Code of Conduct. Apple’s Supplier Responsibility team completed more 630 in-depth audits in 2014, according to Williams. 

“The reality is that we find violations in every audit we have ever performed, no matter how sophisticated the company we’re auditing,” Williams wrote. “We find problems, we drive improvement, and then we raise the bar.”

“This year, our suppliers have achieved an average of 93% compliance with our 60-hour limit. We can still do better. And we will.” Williams acknowledges this comes after years in which workweeks of over 70 hours were once typical.

Williams closes the letter by stating, “We take all allegations seriously, and we investigate every claim. We know there are a lot of issues out there, and our work is never done. We will not rest until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Photo via ibusinesslines/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Dec 19, 2014, 4:16 pm CST