Apple Caught Underage Kids Making Its Gadgets

foxconnA Foxconn employee smiles for the camera. Apple addressed the suicides at the supplier in a report released today.

Apple found underage workers in 10 of the 127 supplier factories it audited in 2010, according to a supplier responsibility study it just released. The company also discovered “involuntary labour,” bribery, and unsafe working conditions, and addressed last year’s suicides at supplier Foxconn.Apple uncovered a total of 91 workers under the age of 16, the minimum age of work in China. One facility was particularly bad, with 42 underage employees, so Apple terminated its relationship with that supplier. For the others, Apple is requiring them to put new procedures in place, with enforcement provided by third-party recruiters.

Apple also terminated its business with another supplier that had repeatedly falsified payroll records and provided misleading answers to Apple’s investigators.

The other violations were less blatant, but Apple noted that some suppliers work with recruiters who charge outrageous fees to workers from countries such as the Philippines and Thailand. Workers cannot pay the fees without going into debt, which then requires them to work in a sort of forced labour. Apple demands that recruiters refund fees that are greater than one month’s wages — even workers who aren’t building Apple products. A total of $3.4 million has been reimbursed to workers since 2008.

The report also has an entire section devoted to the suicides at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, which assembles products for Apple as well as many other tech companies. Apple was worried enough about the suicides to send COO Tim Cook and a group of other execs to check out the plant in August. Foxconn had already taken some steps — including installing nets around buildings to prevent jumpers — but Apple recommended better training for counselors there.

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