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Apple is 'deeply offended' by BBC's labor abuse allegations

Apple is 'deeply offended' by BBC's labor abuse allegations

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In internal email, Apple contests BBC documentary on labor violations at Shanghai factory

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has responded to an investigative report that revealed labor abuses at one of the company's Chinese suppliers, saying he's "deeply offended" by the allegations. In an internal email to UK employees obtained by the Telegraph, Jeff Williams, Apple senior vice president of operations, wrote that both he and Cook are "deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way."

The email was in response to a BBC documentary released this week, in which undercover journalists working at a Pegatron factory in Shanghai reported that workers there were subjected to long hours without breaks, and under cramped living conditions. In the email, Williams said that the hour-long documentary "implied that Apple isn’t improving working conditions. Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth." He went on to say that the company provided the BBC with "facts and perspective" on its efforts to improve working conditions throughout its supply chain, but that input was "clearly missing from their programme."

"Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth."

The plant in question manufactures iPads and iPhones for Apple, which employs around 1,400 workers across China. The BBC reported that employees there were forced to work shifts that lasted up to 16 hours, and that some worked 18 days in a row after their requests for time off were denied. One reporter was made to share a small dorm with 11 other workers.

Apple and other technology companies have come under increased scrutiny in recent years for alleged labor abuses in their supply chains, most notoriously at plants owned by Foxconn. Last year, a labor rights watchdog accused Pegatron of committing safety and environmental violations at its factories, in addition to labor abuse allegations that are similar to what the BBC reported this week.

In response, Apple has increased efforts to monitor and regulate its supply chain, as detailed in its annual supplier responsibility reports. In the internal email, Williams noted that the company has tracked the working hours of more than 1 million supply chain workers, and that 93 percent comply with the mandated 60-hour working week limit, though he acknowledged that there's room for improvement. "We can still do better. And we will," he wrote.

"We can still do better. And we will."

The BBC investigation also reported that tin from an illegal mine in Indonesia may be making its way into Apple's supply chain, with some of the mines employing child laborers under unsafe working conditions. In the email, Williams contests that Apple has publicly acknowledged that "tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines," and that the company has visited the region and is "appalled by what's going on there." He added that Apple is actively working to hold tin suppliers accountable, after having created an Indonesian Tin Working Group with other tech companies.

"Apple has two choices: We could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism," Williams wrote. "But it would be the lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution."

Williams' full email is below.

UK Team,

As you know, Apple is dedicated to the advancement of human rights and equality around the world. We are honest about the challenges we face and we work hard to make sure that people who make our products are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Last night, the BBC’s Panorama program called those values into question. Like many of you, Tim and I were deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way.

I’d like to give you facts and perspective, all of which we shared with the BBC in advance, but were clearly missing from their program.

Panorama showed some of the shocking conditions around tin mining in Indonesia. Apple has publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines. Here are the facts:

Tens of thousands of artisanal miners are selling tin through many middlemen to the smelters who supply to component suppliers who sell to the world. The government is not addressing the issue, and there is widespread corruption in the undeveloped supply chain. Our team visited the same parts of Indonesia visited by the BBC, and of course we are appalled by what’s going on there.

Apple has two choices: We could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism. But it would be the lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution.

We spearheaded the creation of an Indonesian Tin Working Group with other technology companies. Apple is pushing to find and implement a system that holds smelters accountable so we can influence artisanal mining in Indonesia. It could be an approach such as "bagging and tagging" legally mined material, which has been successful over time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are looking to drive similar results in Indonesia, which is the right thing to do.

Panorama also made claims about our commitment to working conditions in our factories. We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.

I want you to know that more than 1400 of your Apple coworkers are stationed in China to manage our manufacturing operations. They are in the factories constantly — talented engineers and managers who are also compassionate people, trained to speak up when they see safety risks or mistreatment. We also have a team of experts dedicated solely to driving compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct across our vast supply chain.

In 2014 alone, our Supplier Responsibility team completed 630 comprehensive, in-person audits deep into our supply chain. These audits include face-to-face interviews with workers, away from their managers, in their native language. Sometimes critics point to the discovery of problems as evidence that the process isn’t working. The reality is that we find violations in every audit we have ever performed, no matter how sophisticated the company we're auditing. We find problems, we drive improvement, and then we raise the bar.

Panorama’s report implied that Apple isn’t improving working conditions. Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are just a few examples:

Several years ago, the vast majority of workers in our supply chain worked in excess of 60 hours, and 70+ hour workweeks were typical. After years of slow progress and industry excuses, Apple decided to attack the problem by tracking the weekly hours of over one million workers, driving corrective actions with our suppliers and publishing the results on our website monthly — something no other company had ever done. It takes substantial effort, and we have to weed out false reporting, but it's working. This year, our suppliers have achieved an average of 93% compliance with our 60-hour limit. We can still do better. And we will.

Our auditors were the first to identify and crack down on a ring of unscrupulous labor brokers who were holding workers’ passports and forcing them to pay exorbitant fees. To date, we have helped workers recoup $20 million in excessive payments like these.

We’ve gone far beyond auditing and corrective actions by creating educational programs for workers in the same facilities where they make our products. More than 750,000 people have taken advantage of these college-level courses and enrichment programs, and the feedback we get from students is inspiring.

I will not dive into every issue raised by Panorama in this note, but you can rest assured that we take all allegations seriously, and we investigate every claim. We know there are a lot of issues out there, and our work is never done. We will not rest until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

If you’d like to learn more about our Supplier Responsibility program, I encourage you and our customers to visit our website at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.

Thanks for your time and your support.

Jeff

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