US watchdogs accuse Chinese Apple supplier of unsafe work conditions

WASHINGTON – Working conditions at a Chinese factory supplying parts for Apple Inc iPads and MacBooks are dangerous and have even deteriorated since they were highlighted a year ago, two labour watchdogs said on Thursday.


Apple, however, said many of the problems were corrected after an inspection last week. US-based China Labor Watch and Green America said that in a joint statement that an investigation last month at Catcher Technology Co Ltd (Suqian), part of Taiwan-based Catcher Technology Co Ltd, had found hazardous working conditions, with flammable aluminium-magnesium alloy filings scattered on the factory floor, and fire exits and windows locked.


Workers did not receive proper safety training and were exposed to toxic chemicals as they were not provided with protective equipment “in a timely manner or at all,”


A 25-page report on the factory investigation, the latest of several to criticize Apple suppliers over recent years, comes just before the expected launch on Tuesday of the new iPhone 6. Apple has also come under fire this week for lax security systems after photos of celebrities stored in individual iCloud accounts were leaked online.


China Labor Watch investigated the same factory in 2013 and found multiple labour rights and safety violations. It said Apple had then promised reforms by Catcher to improve conditions, but the companies had not delivered.


“In fact, the investigator going into the factory in 2014 discovered numerous additional violations that weren't found in 2013, as well as repeat violations from year to year, suggesting that conditions may actually be getting worse in the factory,”


In a brief emailed statement, Catcher said: “We are deeply concerned about the claims made by China Labor Watch, and we take the report very seriously. We are committed to following Apple's supplier code of conduct and will investigate thoroughly.” In a separate statement, Apple praised the Suqian facility for consistently exceeding international safety standards.


“As a result of our quarterly fire-safety inspections, the most recent of which happened last week, Catcher has made same-day repairs of broken and expired fire extinguishers, unblocked corridors and fire exits, and added missing emergency exit signs,” the statement said.


Apple said its annual audit in May had found some concrete areas for improvement at the factory, and it worked with Catcher on a plan to correct them. We had scheduled a follow-up visit next month to review their progress but have dispatched a team there immediately to investigate this report, Apple said.


In previous reports on Apple's China-based supply chain, factories owned by Taiwan's Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, were accused of mistreating workers, particularly after a string of employee suicides. In 2011, three people died in a combustible dust explosion at a Foxconn facility in Chengdu, China.


Factory safety has come under close scrutiny in China following an explosion that killed 75 people at an auto parts plant in the eastern province of Jiangsu last month. The blast, which also injured 185 people, occurred when a flame was lit in a room filled with metal dust at the factory, which supplied parts for General Motors Co and other automakers.


After the explosion, China suspended work at more than 200 factories in Jiangsu province, home to Catcher Technology's Suqian facility, for safety checks as part of a nationwide review.


The watchdogs' report said that after last month's Jiangsu explosion, supervisors at Catcher had specifically mentioned the high flammability of the plant's aluminium-magnesium alloy and the need to take precautions to prevent fires.


But, after this announcement, no new measures were taken to improve fire prevention or worker safety, the report said.

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