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Electronics Production | October 29, 2010

How well does Apple check compliance with its CoC?

In March 2010, a SACOM research team went to investigate the massive poisoning case at United Win (China) Technology, a subsidiary of Wintek in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China. However, this is seemingly not a unique occurrence.
The interesting thing here is: all victims stated that they produced for Cupertino-based wiz-kid Apple. So, how does that correspond to Apple's Supplier Responsibility Report 2010 stating that 'the level of compliance on occupational safety procedures and systems is up to 89%'?

In mid-2009, there were rumours about workers being poisoned and were only confirmed at the beginning of 2010. Forty seven workers were confirmed poisoned by a chemical called n-hexane which the workers used to clean iPhone screens. [100 workers were said to have been affected; however, Suzhou Municipal Administration of Work Safety confirmed in a press conference on January 15, 2010 that 47 workers suffered from n-hexane poisoning]. Where was Apple? The company did not comment.

While investigating the poisonings at United Win in March, SACOM encountered a few workers from Yun Heng Metal, Electrical and Mechanical Company (運恆五金機電經營部) who were also poisoned by n-hexane [Yun Heng is a small workshop which hires about thirty workers. The major task of workers is to polish the logos of Apple which is subcontracted by the SurTech.]. Here again, affected workers claimed to have produced of Apple. All workers that were interviewed [all asked for anonymity] were treated for their symptoms at the Number Five People's Hospital in Suzhou.

According to the Yun Heng workers, their factory is a supplier to the SurTech Technology (Suzhou) Co. Ltd. (宇瀚光電科技蘇州有限 公司). And the buying relationship between Yun Heng and SurTech was confirmed by the
Suzhou Municipal Administration of Work Safety. From April 2009 to January 2010, there were at least 8 workers poisoned at Yun Heng. Additionally, a SurTech employee confirmed that the company produced Apple logos. A recent ABC News item affirmed this production relationship.

The monthly basic wage of workers at Yun Heng is CNY 960, which is the same as the statutory minimum wage. Workers are paid by piece rate. They can get CNY 0.8 for polishing one Apple logo [they kept logos to prove that they were supplying Apple]. No overtime premium is provided to workers.

This constitutes a violation of the law on overtime premium according to article 44 of the Labour Law, states the non-government organisation SACOM in a new report. As workers are paid by piece rate, working hours are not fixed. Including overtime, the maximum amount workers can get is about CNY 2'000 per month.

Interviewees told SACOM they used n-hexane to clean the Apple logos. The smell of the chemical is strong and irritating, but the workers are not provided with personal protective equipment. Workers do not have protective uniform. And there is an absence of ventilation facilities on the closed shop floor. These are definitely violations of the Law of the Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases which requires workplaces to implement preventive measures in the work area, and personal protective equipment for workers against occupational diseases (article 20).

Besides the blatant violations of the law on work and safety, compliance with the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct it seems is non-existent. The CoC of Apple states that 'suppliers must identify, evaluate, and control worker exposure to hazardous chemicals, biological, and physical agents'.

“In its reports [Apple's Supplier Responsibility Report 2010], it never raises any case of violations of the CoC. Apple must stop covering up labour rights violations at its suppliers, including health and safety issues. It is evident that Apple should be responsible to the victims”, SACOM states.

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