Amid outcry, Apple says it monitors work conditions in China

Apple restated its pledge to provide safe working conditions for workers assembling of its products after environmental groups in China released a report criticizing the tech company for failing to be transparent about its suppliers.

“Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base,” said Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu in a statement. The company requires all suppliers to sign up to Apple’s code of conduct before the contracts are made. Compliance is then monitored through factory audits and measures to correct violations.

However, Apple would not directly comment on the report, which had the backing of 36 environmental groups from China. Titled “The Other Side of Apple,” the report faulted the tech giant for failing to respond to inquiries related to the working and environmental conditions at its suppliers, while also refusing to disclose who the company’s suppliers are. The 26-page document pointed to suppliers reportedly connected to Apple that had violated environmental regulations or poisoned workers due to working conditions.

“Apple is so famous for their products. They are fashionable and user-friendly. But the company also should take care of the ones are who making these products,” said Wang Jing Jing, vice director of the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, one the groups behind the report.

Apple has said it is actively working to improve working conditions at its suppliers' facilities, and has even made progress reports available online. The 2010 progress report noted that the company had conducted audits of 102 facilities the year before. The company has also worked with the Fair Labor Association to ensure the suppliers’ workers are trained in their rights and obligations. “In general, annual audits of final-assembly manufacturers show continued performance improvements and better working conditions,” said the report.

Still, the company reported finding multiple code violations in 2009. Some involved the hiring of underage workers, non-certified vendors disposing of hazardous waste, and suppliers deliberately providing falsified records. Apple also reported that at 60 facilities, workers had exceeded the weekly work limit more than 50 percent of the time. Apple’s supplier conduct code sets a maximum of 60 work hours per week.

In spite of Apple’s efforts, the report from the environmental groups say there is a gap between what the company pledges and what it does in reality. Environmental groups and workers contacted Apple last year about concerns with the suppliers, but the company withheld from giving concrete feedback about how it would resolve the problems, Wang said.

“Apple needs to show the public, whether these companies are their suppliers, what next steps they will take, and whether they will help clean up these companies,” she added.

The tech company has already received attention for past problems with its suppliers in China. Foxconn, a manufacturer of Apple products, took measures last year to improve working conditions after more than a dozen workers there tried to commit suicide.

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