Apple has 'work to do' to improve iPhone factory conditions

Can one Apple change the world?

Apple has published its annual Supplier Responsibility Report, confirming numerous problems and announcing several key initiatives in its attempt to improve working conditions across its network of iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple Watch factories.

More to do

While the company doesn’t say as much the latest report hints that improving working conditions in the technology manufacturing industry will require a cross-industry effort.

Apple’s VP operations, Jeff Williams, says the firm “cares deeply” about every worker in its supply chain stressing its efforts “will not stop until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Apple conducted 633 audits covering 1.6 million workers in 19 countries in 2014. It also spoke with 30,000 workers individually to confirm its findings.

210 facilities were audited for the first time, some of these suppliers are very new, having only recently been recruited to supply Apple Watch components.

Some sample report highlights include:

  • Ending bonded servitude across its chain and refunding $3.96 million to workers who had paid exorbitant fees to simply get a job in an iPhone factory.
  • Luanching an academic advisory board to advise the company’s efforts to improve working conditions.
  • The Supplier Environment, Health and Safety Academy offering 18-month courses

Better may be better than best

Despite these efforts working conditions don’t sound so great, unless you think working 60-hour shifts (as 8 percent of its workers do) on production lines is appealing as a lifestyle choice? Should having a job also mean lacking a life?

Apple is attempting to provide some kind of future for its workers with its education schemes, which now include new mobile app-based iPad education programs at ten sites.

The company’s Supplier Employee Education and Development program now offers 48 classrooms at 23 factories. This offers free education to workers, 379,000 of which took courses in 2014.

Big challenges

Williams is candid about the extent of the challenges the company faces. “With every audit we perform, we find violations associated with factory and worker safety,” he said.

Apple continues in its attempt to end use of conflict minerals. Of 225 smelters supplying Apple with gold, tantalum, tin or tungsten, 135 have been audited and found not to be part of this blood-soaked trade. 90 additional smelters have agreed to be audited in future, and Apple has stopped working with four suppliers who declined an audit.

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