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Apple supplier accused of violating worker protections

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One of the main factories building Apple products is accused of violating numerous worker protection standards in a new report from the BBC, which sent several undercover reporters to work at the plant. The BBC found that the factory, Pegatron in Shanghai, exhausted its workers with long shifts, didn't allow them to take time off, gave them cramped dorms to live in, and did not pay them for their time attending mandatory meetings. Apple is said to strongly disagree with the BBC's findings. It says that the dorm issue has been resolved and that suppliers are required to pay their employees for meetings.

"We know our work is never done."

"We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions," Apple tells the BBC. "We work with suppliers to address shortfalls, and we see continuous and significant improvement, but we know our work is never done."

You can view the hour-long video component of the BBC's report, which includes undercover footage inside of Pegatron, over at its iPlayer website if you're within the UK.

Apple's suppliers have been accused of maintaining poor working conditions on several occasions over the last few years, with its other Chinese supplier, Foxconn, being the center of attention. In response, Apple began working with Foxconn to make changes back in 2012, including setting up a number of worker protection standards for all of its suppliers. Apple publishes data on how well it finds those standards are being held to, but the BBC makes it sound like there are still significant issues for some workers at Pegatron.

The BBC says that it found Pegatron violating Apple's standards for juvenile workers, though it does not elaborate on what those violations are. The BBC also found that Pegatron employees are being forced to work overtime, rather than having it presented as an option like it's supposed to be. One of its undercover reporters says that their longest shift was 16 hours. Another reporter says that they were required to work 18 days in a row. Apple tells the BBC that it montors more than 1 million Pegatron employees' working hours and that they average out to around 55 per week. The average in 2013, for employees working at least 40 hours each week, was a 54-hour week.

"Worker safety and well-being are our top priorities," Pegatron says in a statement to the BBC. "We set very high standards, conduct rigorous training for managers and workers, and have external auditors regularly visiting our facilities to find areas for improvement." Pegatron also says that it is investigating the BBC's claims and will take corrective action if necessary.

In addition to investigating Apple's factory, the BBC also looked into one of its mineral suppliers in Indonesia. Apple says that it is "driving responsible sourcing of minerals," but the BBC found that tin from illegal mines — including some with child workers and unsafe conditions — may be making their way into its supply chain. That's not an issue that's unique to Apple, however, and it can be seen as a difficult one to solve because of how many mines the material is ultimately sourced from.

Apple stands by its decision to use suppliers that may not be totally ethical, saying that it can push for improvement that way. "The simplest course of action would be for Apple to unilaterally refuse any tin from Indonesian mines. That would be easy for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism," it tells the BBC. "But that would also be the lazy and cowardly path, since it would do nothing to improve the situation. We have chosen to stay engaged and attempt to drive changes on the ground."

Apple's suppliers were previously said to have shown signs of progress in improving working conditions, but by no means has it been said that the situation is improved entirely. Labor watchdogs have been keeping a close eye on Apple and its suppliers because of continued reports of bad practices, and this investigation from the BBC is likely to stoke that even further.