Apple Supplier Blasted for Dangerous Working Conditions in China

A new report reveals unsafe working conditions and grueling hours at a factory that produces parts for the iPhone and iPad. Did Apple turn a blind eye?


Apple is once again under fire for poor working conditions at one of its parts suppliers' factories in China.

Arriving just days before the iPhone 6 launch, which is rumored to include an appearance by the long-awaited iWatch, a report (PDF) from two nonprofit organizations, China Labor Watch (CLW) and Green America, alleges that a factory in Suqian, China, run by Catcher Technology is subjecting its employees to a dangerous work environment. An undercover investigation conducted last month revealed "health and safety, environmental, and human rights violations," said the nonprofits in a Sept. 4 statement.

Catcher is accused of causing several life-threatening health hazards, including one with the potential to affect neighboring areas. Violations range from locked safety exits that can prevent a worker's escape from a fire or explosion to a lack of protective equipment. In the past year, there have been no fire drills.

The lack of drills and locked exits are "inexcusable in a work environment that requires the handling of flammable materials," said Elizabeth O'Connell, campaigns director at Green America, in a statement. "Additionally, the lack of safety training in this facility and improper handling of hazardous materials contributes to the risk of life-threatening emergencies."

Some workers were directly exposed to toxic metal-cutting fluids used in the production of iPad casings and Apple keyboards. "After a period of time, this causes workers' skin to itch, swell, and peel. CLW's investigator himself suffered these side effects," stated the report.

And the company's unsafe practices isn't limited to its own facilities. Catcher pours "industrial fluids and waste into groundwater and nearby rivers," stated CLW and Green America.

The Catcher Suqian factory supplies Apple with metal iPad covers and parts for the fifth-generation iPhone, according to the advocacy groups. As the investigation unfolded, 500 to 600 workers were moved to a "sister location in Taizhou to work on the iPhone 6."

In addition to safety violations, Catcher is accused of subjecting employees to forced overtime and excessive work hours. Student workers, ranging from 16 to 18 years of age, work the same jobs as adults and clock in 10-plus-hour days.

Catcher is also behind on the payroll. The company owes "an estimated 6 hours of unpaid overtime per worker per month," or $290,000.

Nothing has changed since a similar investigation conducted in 2013 unearthed many of the same conditions, CLW Executive Director Li Qiang said. "Last year, CLW shared our investigative results with Apple, and the company said that it would correct the safety and labor rights violations at Catcher. This time, we are making our findings public, in an effort to reduce the exploitation of Chinese workers making Apple's products."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...