Apple's 'plastic' iPhone mini confirmed in shocking Pegatron labor report

Apple's [AAPL] future plan to introduce a plastic iPhone is confirmed within this morning's shocking report into labor abuses at manufacturing partner, Pegatron.

[ABOVE: China Labor Watch has published this video footage detailing some of its findings.]

Plastic iPhone is on its way

As part of the investigation, China Labor Watch inserted people inside three of Pegatron's factories. In one of these reports it confirms the future debut of a plastic iPhone:

"Today’s work is to paste protective film on the iPhone’s plastic back cover to prevent it from being scratched on assembly lines. This iPhone model with a plastic cover will soon be released on the market by Apple," the report explains.

Pegatron's CEO last month also confirmed moves toward a lower cost iPhone, warning these devices would not be cheap.

That's not to say working conditions are as expensive as they should be. Pegatron is accused, among other things, of deliberately misleading Apple on such matters as employee overtime.

"Pegatron has a falsified attendance recording system in which workers’ overtime is recorded to be less than the real amount. Each week, all workers are required by an HR assistant to check yes and sign their names on an overtime form. Workers are required to sign and are not to pay attention to the number of overtime hours written on the form; the document’s only purpose is to deceive Apple during inspections," the report explains.

budget-iphone-bondi-blue-2.jpg

[ABOVE: Might this be the iPhone mini? A product idea rendering from Nickolay Lamm and MyVoucherCodes.co.uk.]

The price of cheap

China Labor Watch claims to have identified at least 86 labor rights violations in Pegatron's factories, these include 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations, not least the use of underage labor.

The inevitable connection between cheap consumer goods in Europe and the US and appalling working conditions in the factories that feed this need continues to become overt.

To be fair, reports on these claims so far this morning seem more than happy to stress the Apple connection in preference to drawing any wider conclusion as to the fate of workers across the consumer electronics supply chain. It's clear the challenge of ensuring worker rights are not violated extends across the industry, as this second series of reports from China Labor Watch suggests -- Samsung also stands accused of such violation.

Pegatron's claimed violations also include (according to China Labor Watch):

  • Dispatch labor abuse,
  • Hiring discrimination,
  • Women’s rights violations,
  • Contract violations,
  • Insufficient worker training,
  • Excessive working hours,
  • Insufficient wages,
  • Poor working conditions,
  • Poor living conditions,
  • Difficulty in taking leave,
  • Labor health and safety concerns,
  • Ineffective grievance channels,
  • Abuse by management,
  • Environmental pollution.

Have things really improved?

That's a huge heap of violations, many of which also fall foul of Apple's own social responsibility code of conduct. Apple's previous May report claimed its suppliers had achieved 99 percent compliance with a 60-hour working week rule.

That's not what China Labor Watch found -- these findings reveal Pegatron's people are working 66, 67 and 69 hours per week across the three factories investigated. Workers in one factory were also required to sign a form that claimed their overtime hours were less than those they actually worked.

Safety training and environmental responsibility guidelines are also being ignored, the labor organization claimed.

CLW executive director Li Qiang said:

“Our investigations have shown that labor conditions at Pegatron factories are even worse than those at Foxconn factories. Apple has not lived up to its own standards. This will lead to Apple’s suppliers abusing labor in order to strengthen their position for receiving orders. In this way, Apple is worsening conditions for workers, not improving them.”

That's a shame, given Apple's stated intent to transform working practices across its supply chain.

However, it does mean that that lower-cost plastic iPhone that's currently being assembled for introduction this fall has been assembled in factories in which worker rights are sacrificed in favor of profit and productivity. This isn't a problem that's exclusive to Apple. This is an affliction in which consumer desire for cheap products necessarily predicates an increase in worker exploitation.

The inevitable question isn't just what tech firms should do about this, but also one of asking what you yourself, as a person interested in technology, should do about this? Pay more for products in order to improve worker rights, or pay the same and accept your part in perpetuating such exploitation?

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