Just days away from a much-anticipated new Apple products launch, one of its Chinese parts suppliers is being accused of new labor rights violations. Workers at the Taiwanese supply company Catcher Technology's factory in Suqian, China, are routinely exposed to numerous health and safety risks, as well as discriminatory hiring practices, according to a report released online today by advocacy groups Green America and China Labor Watch (both groups have been persistent watchdogs of the manufacturing companies behind big tech brands, including Samsung). The plant cited in the latest report manufacturers aluminum cases for various Apple products, including an unreleased new iPad model rumored for 2015. The very same plant was also cited for some of the same violations last year.
This time, an investigator working undercover at the plant in August documented discriminatory hiring practices in addition to massive safety violations. The factory reportedly turned away applicants with tattoos and those over age 46; failed to train employees on safety protocols; didn't provide protective equipment for workers handling toxic materials; dumped hazardous chemicals directly into a nearby river; blocked fire exits in the factory; allowed workers to smoke in areas with flammable aluminum dust; and had some workers accrue over 100 hours of overtime a month. The report estimates that Catcher may have been underpaying workers collectively by $290,000 a month for their overtime labor.
The fire risks posed by dust accumulation are especially worrisome, given the fact that back in 2011, metal dust accumulation at Foxconn, another Apple supplier, precipitated an explosion that killed three workers and injured many others. The report from China Labor Watch and Green America notes that most of the conditions described not only violate Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct, but also, in some cases, Chinese labor law. The report does give Apple credit for phasing out the use of two other hazardous chemicals in use at several supplier factories last month, but calls upon the company to do more to ensure worker safety at the factories of its third-party suppliers. In response, Apple issued a statement to The Washington Post saying it had immediately sent a team of its own investigators to the Catcher factory to investigate the reported violations.