Another Chinese Apple supplier faces claims of labour violations

Madeleine Swain
26 November, 2013
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Over the last few years, multiple reports have surfaced regarding the abuse of labour rights in major Apple suppliers in China. Both Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry) and Pegatron have come under fire for abuses of workers’ rights.

In July, the CLW (China Labour Watch) organisation released a report citing no fewer than 86 labour rights violations at the latter facility, including “dispatch labour abuse, hiring discrimination, women’s rights violations, underage labour, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labour health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management and environmental pollution”.

Taiwan-based Foxconn and others have also faced claims of causing pollution.

And now another player has joined the ‘naughty, not nice’ list that Santa Claus will be perusing this Christmas.

Biel Crystal Manufactory (Huizhou) Limited in Guangdong Province is a factory owned by the Hong Kong-based glass producer Biel Crystal Manufactory, which is one of the largest suppliers of cover glass in the world.

Biel currently produces 60 percent of the glass Apple uses in its products and 20 percent of that used by Samsung. It also supplies a third of the glass used for such European watch brands as Christian Dior, Franck Muller and TAG Heuer.

Now, a report has been released by SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour), which alleges that Biel’s ‘just-in-time inventory’ approach to the supply chain, exploits workers to meet its targets.

Among the allegations made by SACOM in its report are: excessive working hours (including mandatory ‘voluntary’ overtime), of 11 hours a day, seven days a week at times; many suicides at the factory (at least five since 2011); blank work contracts; serious work injuries without reasonable compensation; irregular pay days; and military style management (extending to forcing workers to obtain off-duty permits for toilet breaks). One thing Biel does not apparently do, however, is hire underage workers, student interns or temps, which SACOM’s report notes “can be considered as relatively rare in China, as labour shortage is a general issue nowadays”.

Then there are a whole raft of complaints revolving around basic safety. SACOM alleges that Biel believes in “efficiency first, safety last”, which means there is only basic first aid available, chemicals are misused (“Workers only know they have been poisoned by the time they feel unwell,” says the report) and the plants have no fire escapes.

The UK’s Daily Mail online has detailed some of the major injuries allegedly suffered by workers at the Guangdong facility publishing photographs of scars and other injuries, that the site acknowledges “cannot be verified”.

SACOM has listed two sets of demands: one for Biel itself and one for Apple, which requests that, among other things, the Cupertino, California tech company puts pressure on Biel to lift its game and provide transparency for consumers, informing them of the steps it has taken to make improvements at Biel.

You can read SACOM’s full report and conclusions here.

On the plus side, however, the aforementioned Foxconn appears to be taking its responsibilities seriously, to the extent that reports have also surfaced this week that the company is preparing to invest US$40 million in to a new manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania in the US. In addition, claims “that the company is considering building manufacturing centres in Arizona, following the construction of a facility in Japan which will develop displays and touch panels for the US market”.

If it is looking towards hiring 500 US employees, right under Apple’s nose as it were (OK, Pennsylvania may be closer to the east coast and California on the west, but it’s still the same country at least), this does seem to suggest that Foxconn, at least, is now confident its working conditions pass muster.


One Comment

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  1. udi says:

    All these are standard working conditions in most of China and the rest of the world. Being able to buy finished products for less than we would pay for the raw materials, must make it obvious to anybody with a brain, that corners are being cut somewhere. Anybody that thinks that Apple or any other large conglomerate, is motivated by anything but maximising profit, is deluded. We can’t have it both ways.

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