ABC exposes Apple's controversial working conditions

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ABC exposes Apple's controversial working conditions

Working conditions in a Chinese iPhone factory failed to reach minimum standards, according to a report aired on the ABC on Monday night.

In 2012, Apple promised to improve workplace conditions in overseas factories, after 14 employees committed suicide in a Foxconn iPhone factory in China.

BBC Panorama’s Apple’s Broken Promises, syndicated by ABC’s Four Corners, conducted an undercover investigation of a Pegatron factory in Shanghai. The factory assembles Apple’s iPhone 6.

The report showed workers being forced under duress to sign agreements to work over 12-hour shifts. This breaks Apple’s policy requiring a working week to be a maximum of 60 hours. 

The program depicted workers being asked to sign a document declaring their willingness to work overtime and at night or see their positions terminated.

It also showed many workers falling asleep on assembly lines or during their break due to fatigue from working up to 16-hour shifts.

In response to the ABC's plans to broadcast the program, Apple submitted the following statement, in which it wrote: "We are disappointed that the ABC has chosen to broadcast such an irresponsible and misleading report. As we told the BBC, the program misrepresents the current conditions in our supply chain."

Apple had already responded to the allegations after the program originally aired in the UK. According to British newspaper The Telegraph, Apple vice president of operations Jeff Williams issued this statement to its UK employees:

“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.”

Supply chain concerns

The TV report also investigated conditions faced by workers in mines supplying tin for smartphones. 

Illegal tin miners operating on Bangka Island in Indonesia admitted to selling tin to Apple’s suppliers, Refined Bangka Tin (RBT) and Nurjanah.

The illegally sourced tin was said to be sold to smelters without questioning its source, and mixed with the legal tin supply.

Conditions in the operations – both legal and illegal mines – were shown to be highly dangerous, with workers prone to injury and death from landslides.

Apple's Williams also countered this in his memo. “Apple has two choices: we could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism.

"But it would be 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. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution.”

Apple is reported to make a profit of US$248 on every iPhone sold, while Pegatron spends US$5 to produce each device. 

Apple's statement to the ABC can be read here.

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