Back in 2006, Apple took a substantial public relations hit over alleged poor working and living conditions at “iPod City,” the massive Foxconn manufacturing facility in China where Apple’s iPod media players were assembled. Although an investigation into those allegations turned up few violations of Apple requirements, since then the Cupertino company has taken a harder line with its supplier code of conduct, regularly auditing its suppliers to ensure workplace standards comply with Apple standards and workplace conditions are improved. Now, Apple has released its Supplier Responsibility 2010 Progress Report (PDF), revealing that audits of its suppliers turned up 17 violations, including hiring underage workers, falsifying records, and improper disposal of hazardous waste.
Apple did not identify any of the suppliers by name, nor did it specify the countries in which the suppliers operate. During 2009, the audits covered more than 100 facilities, including component and non-production facilities as well as final assembly manufacturers; Apple works with suppliers in the Czech Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and, of course, China.
Three of the facilities’ violations involved hiring 15-year-old workers in countries where the minimum employment age is 16 years of age. Three facilities also hired non-certified disposal companies to dispose of hazardous waste, and eight facilities had foreign workers who had paid agency recruitment fees above the legal limits. Three suppliers also “deliberately provided falsified records during our audit,” with one attempting to conceal historical cases of underage workers an the other two attempting to conceal evidence of code violations covering working hours and days of rest.
Apple says it will hold suppliers’ feet to the fire, requiring facilities to come into full compliance with Apple’s code of conduct or lose Apple’s business. However, Apple was generally upbeat about conditions with its suppliers.
“In general, annual audits of final assembly manufacturers show continued performance improvements and better working conditions,” Apple wrote in the report. It found 98 percent of suppliers were in core compliance.
In the public realm, Apple has taken another PR hit in releasing this report, with some industry watchers calling for Apple to lift the veils of secrecy surrounding its products and suppliers. However, it’s worth noting that Apple is far from along in the technology industry in partnering with its specific suppliers: in many cases, Apple sources manufacturing and components from the same firms as companies like Dell and Hewlett-Packard.