Tales of underage workers in Apple's supply chain

Former members of Apple's supplier responsibility team spill the beans to The Information.

From Wayne Ma's "Apple Took Three Years to Cut Ties With Supplier That Used Underage Labor" ($) posted Thursday:

Seven years ago, Apple made a staggering discovery: Among the employees at a factory in China that made most of the computer ports used in its MacBooks were two 15-year-olds. Apple told the manufacturer, Suyin Electronics, that it wouldn’t get any new business until it improved employee screening to ensure no more people under 16 years of age got hired.

Suyin pledged to do so, but an audit by Apple three months later found three more underage workers, including a 14-year-old. Apple, which has promised to ban suppliers that repeatedly use underage workers, stopped giving Suyin new business because of the violations. But it took Apple more than three years to fully cut its ties with Suyin, which continued to make HDMI, USB and other ports for older MacBooks under previous contracts. A person close to Suyin, which is headquartered in Taiwan, said that the company hadn’t intentionally hired underage workers and that it had passed Apple’s audits in later years...

Li Qiang, founder of New York–based activist group China Labor Watch, which regularly investigates Apple’s supply chain, said the recent incidents don’t surprise him, as Apple typically doesn’t go above and beyond the minimum standards set by local authorities when policing its supply chain for worker abuses. “Apple is a company that is beholden to shareholders and in pursuit of profit. Every penny to them is important,” he said.

Apple has said... that it has zero tolerance for the use of forced and underage labor and that suppliers’ use of temporary and contract workers must comply with local laws. Suppliers must pay all wages and benefits as required by local laws and can’t make employees younger than 18 years of age work overtime or nights. If Apple finds violations of its supplier code of conduct, its suppliers typically must fix them within 90 days.

But Apple faces problems in immediately removing suppliers who consistently breach these rules: Most obviously, there aren’t many alternative manufacturers that can easily pick up the slack. New suppliers can take years to meet Apple’s exacting standards for quality and volume. In the case of Suyin, Apple’s procurement team was reluctant to abruptly shift orders to other suppliers because it would have created delays and incurred higher costs, said a former employee.

In interviews, 10 former members of Apple’s supplier responsibility team—the unit in charge of monitoring manufacturing partners for violations of labor, environmental and safety rules—claimed that Apple avoided or delayed cutting ties with offenders when doing so would hurt its business. For example, the former team members said, Apple continued working with some suppliers that refused to implement safety suggestions or that consistently violated labor laws.

My take: Shades of Mike Daisy, but with sources.

See Ira Glass' Retracting "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory"


  1. Gregg Thurman said:
    Do I live on another planet or something? Yes, environmental and labor laws are necessary and should be enforced, but why is Apple being criticized so harshly for not doing the job of government.

    In a totalitarian setting like China, these violations would not exist without government acquiescence. If there is a failure in enforcing labor laws, its roots are the PRC government itself.

    The Chinese Communist Party, the rulers of China, is exploiting its citizens in order to make the rest of the world wholly dependent on Chinese manufacturing.

    Organizations such as China Labor Watch are based in NEW YORK and criticize Apple, because criticizing the Chinese government from within China results in long, harsh prison terms.

    January 1, 2021
  2. John Butt said:
    In workforce’s of 100s of thousands, having some break rules seems normal.
    My grand uncle could not get into the army in 1918 due to underage at 17, plus he had a German surname. His brothers were already in the army despite the surname. He changed his name to his mother’s English name and was accepted well before he was 18.
    Rules about age are almost impossible to be always kept in any culture

    January 1, 2021
  3. Aaron Belich said:
    “The world is not as black and white as some wish it to be… news at 11.“

    And what other businesses also contracted with Suyin? I dislike resorting to whataboutism, but this is FUD trying to besmirch Apple, and all it does it shine a light on everyone.

    The side effect? Apple will put forth the bucks to raise everyone else’s standards. But does Apple get any credit?

    January 1, 2021
  4. Steven Noyes said:
    How big is Suyin‘a workforce? If it is 100, 3% is a huge number. If it is 100,000, 0.03% is more understandable. That is a very important number to be able to make any judgement beyond being ideologically possessed.

    Note: I got my first job (paper route) at 12 so I don’t see huge issues with kids doing small amounts of work after school depending on what if is. But we currently live in a society which doesn’t expect kids to be adults until 26 so what do I know?

    January 1, 2021
  5. Fred Stein said:
    Stop this nonsense.

    Per Wikipedia, “The practices of slavery and human trafficking are still prevalent in modern America with estimated 17,500 foreign nationals and 400,000 Americans being trafficked into and within the United States every year with 80% of those being women and children.”

    “The information” had go back 7 years.

    January 1, 2021
  6. Bart Yee said:
    Meanwhile, companies like Huawei operate their own factories under Chinese government oversight. Xiaomi and Vivo/Oppo have some factories & do some design and then use ODMs (Original Device Makers) to build lower cost products for them – Samsung does the same for its lower cost M series. Per sammobile dot com, New Mobile CEO TM Roh favors this approach to cut costs further by designing the cheap M series ($130 price target) and having Wingtech and Hwachin build them. Samsung has originally wanted 60M units in 2020 but the pandemic disrupted production down to <25M units.

    If ODMs build $130 entry level units for these big Android players, what do you suppose the marginal cost of labor for them is and do you suppose they skirt the labor rules to keep costs down? And do any of these Chinese or Korean customers have “ANY” oversight or third party monitors/auditors looking into their labor practices? No, and no, never hear about it because few care and the companies don’t make any hay about having labor compliance. There have been a few reports 6-8 years ago and a few surfaced about Korean factory conditions being sweatshops too. But relatively little since.

    January 1, 2021

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