Workers at an Apple manufacturing plant in China complained about poor working conditions and exposure to noxious chemicals
- Advocacy group China Labour Watch and Bloomberg have released reports highlighting harsh working conditions at a manufacturing plant in Suqian, China.
- The factory is owned by Catcher, a company that builds and polishes components for consumer electronics devices such as Apple's iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers.
- The workers exposed problems with their poor training and equipment, exceedingly long working hours, dirty facilities and low wages.
- Apple and Catcher released separate statements, in which they said the results of their own investigations found no violations of their respective standards.
New reports from Bloomberg and China Labour Watch (CLW) have exposed the poor conditions under which Catcher employees in China work. Catcher is a critical partner in Apple's supply chain as it takes responsibility for most of the manufacturing of the company's devices casings.
Workers are often in contact with chemical components that are noxious for the human body, but their equipment is reportedly inadequate most of the times.
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China Labour Watch's investigation focused mostly on a facility in Suqian, a small city located about six hours away from Shanghai, and highlighted problems that go beyond chemical exposure.
Workers at the factory reportedly work for six days a week, more than 10 hours every day, and do so without having received proper training or adequate equipment.
In various interviews with Bloomberg, where they asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, a number of workers expressed concern about safety issues and their lack of knowledge of the materials and machinery they come into contact with.
CLW found that new staff members were trained for about four hours on average, whereas Catcher's official requirements state that the training should last no less than 24 hours.
The report mentioned cases where an instructor would say the answers out loud as workers were filling their requirement tests, and some workers told Bloomberg that they were asked to sign papers that certified that they had completed the full training when they had not.
Catcher doesn't outline standard procedures clearly, apparently, and employees told Bloomberg that they were, in fact, unaware of how to best use the complex machinery required to polish up iPhone, iPad, and MacBook cases, among others.
Two employees said that they were not given earplugs "until well into their first month," and that Catcher only gives workers low-quality, active carbon face masks (one per day) to protect against dust, fumes, and small-particle chemicals.
Supervisors reportedly hand out more up-to-standard 3M-branded masks "only when they expect an inspection," and even then the high temperatures make wearing them uncomfortable.
Gloves, too, are apparently in short supply, and CLW found that some workers reported irritated skin on their hands. "After a few hours, the gloves swell and get soft, like they've been corroded. The fingers would be exposed," an employee told Bloomberg.
"My hands turned bloodless white after a day of work," another worker, who was forced to turn to Catcher because her husband's business was struggling, said. "I only tell good things to my family and keep the sufferings like this for myself."
When their intensive workday ends, employees reportedly share shabby dorms with four bunk beds, with many of them going without washing "for days" at times.
Here's Bloomberg, which visited the facility:
"[...] Outside temperatures often fell to close to freezing and the workers kept all windows shut to preserve heat. That created a humid atmosphere in which odors of sweat, cigarettes, feet and unwashed clothing mixed freely. Workers living in about 20 rooms per floor share one wash space with 14 cold-water taps, a big public toilet — but no shower. Taking a proper bath required walking to an adjacent facility."
But it doesn't end there either, apparently. Workers who have reported the poorness of their working conditions in the past have reportedly being threatened not to be paid the ~$2 (£1.45) they are owed for each hour of work if they meant to leave.
CLW said that wages for resigning workers are rarely settled when they quit, and the hiring agencies that hire them reportedly "withhold their full salaries if they insist on leaving." (CLW says that Catcher would be legally required to settle payments the day workers quit.)
CLW found that the inspected facilities violated 14 of Apple's standards overall, "ranging from a failure to communicate the risk of handling hazardous chemicals to forcing probationary workers to pay for uniforms."
On their side, however, both Apple and Catcher have denied the allegations, claiming that they found no evidence of standards' violations in their own investigations.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told Bloomberg in a statement that "we know our work is never done and we investigate each and every allegation that's made. We remain dedicated to doing all we can to protect the workers in our supply chain."
Catcher's stock has fallen by 3.3% in Taipei.