Tim Cook: Under-age labor is abhorrent

Apple has always been very secretive and did not make comments on manufacturer issues, or rumors of deaths at Foxconn in China. That changed as Steve Jobs passed away and new CEO, Tim Cook took the reins, publishing information on their suppliers, auditing and the code of conduct Apple asks that they abide to.

Today, Tim Cook spoke publicly about the issues that have been raised in China. At the start of his speech, he addressed the issues immediately, saying “[Apple] take the conditions of workers very seriously. I worked in factories, I worked at a paper mill. We understand working conditions at a very granular level."

He went on to say that "[Apple] realize that the supply chain is very complex, and the issues surrounding it are very complex. But we believe that every worker has the right to a safe working environment where workers can earn a fair wage, and Apple suppliers must live up to this in order to do business with Apple."

Impressively, Cook points out that the company manages this to a low level, and pays attention to details such as having safe fire extinguishers in the factories that they employ.

He continued on "We think that the use of underage labor is abhorrent. Our top priority is to eliminate it entirely," and that "No one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple. [...] If we find a supplier that intentionally supplies child labor, it is a fireable offense." 

On the topic of workers being forced to work far more hours than they should, Cook said "[Apple is] continuing to focusing on the problems endemic to our industry like excessive overtime. Our code of conduct has a cap of 60 hours per work week, but we've consistently found violations to this code over the course of our time."

He continued on to say "we're determined to drive widespread change and we've begun to manage working hours at a very micro basis. An example, in January, we collected weekly data on over a half million workers in our supply chain, and we had 84 percent compliant. This is significantly improved from the past, but we can do better. And we're taking the unprecedented step of reporting this monthly on our website so that it's transparent to everyone what we're doing."

According to Cook, Apple plans to publish information on it's supplier responsibility page about worker hours, overtime and working conditions on a monthly basis. 

Cook finished by saying "We know that people have a very high expectation of Apple. We have an even higher expectation of ourselves. Our customers expect us to lead and we will continue to do so. We have the smartest and most innovative people on earth, and we put the same kind of effort and energy into supply responsibility as we do with our new product. That is what Apple is all about." 

It's great to see a company of this scale taking such responsibility for those affected by their actions, and actually doing something about it as well as informing consumers. It will be interesting to see if other OEM's following suit.

The full transcript of Tim Cook's appearance is available on the next page (via The Verge), and its worth a read if you thought Apple was being evil or unfair to their suppliers and workers.

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17 Comments

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What he doesnt say is how they determine "underage". In China, 16 years old is a valid working age. So Apple works within Chinese law and says, "Yeah it's ok for a 16 year old to work 60 hours a week with one day off for every six he works."

AmazingRando said,
What he doesnt say is how they determine "underage". In China, 16 years old is a valid working age. So Apple works within Chinese law and says, "Yeah it's ok for a 16 year old to work 60 hours a week with one day off for every six he works."

You're 'shocked' that there are people who are 16 years old working a 60 hour week? bah, good one, I'm in a first world country and I can show you 1/2 dozen friends of that age who are doing the exact same thing!

Mr Nom Nom's said,

You're 'shocked' that there are people who are 16 years old working a 60 hour week? bah, good one, I'm in a first world country and I can show you 1/2 dozen friends of that age who are doing the exact same thing!

Not shocked. Apple stated as much in one of their audits a year or so ago. But like I said he doesnt define what's "underage" in these statements.

Also the 6 friends that work 60 hours a week that you know. Are they doing it to feed their families or save up for a nice car, or to move out on their own or for college? I'm thinking these are top priorities or even possibilities for 16 year olds in China.

Free trade with China is a human rights issue. We hope that China will come around to a more acceptable level of human and worker's rights if we allow them in the "club". That and we can then gain access to a billion consumers of our own products. The only problem is that no one's sure if it will work or what to do when it doesnt.

"Ka-ching," he added.

I wonder if this will undermine the "tea and biscuit" benefits package offered by Foxconn, one of Apple's awesome contractors. They're doubleplusgood, I hear.

If you cut the hours workers can work, you possibly hurt their families lifestyle. You can't put western ideals on the eastern world.

ccoltmanm said,
If you cut the hours workers can work, you possibly hurt their families lifestyle. You can't put western ideals on the eastern world.

Pay them more to compensate. Simples.

Shiranui said,
Pay them more to compensate. Simples.

Or how about have managers that treat their workers with respect, good meal times, better living facilities etc - why not make accommodation and food free of charge so that all money earned can be saved for their family back home?

While his statement was admirable, I have to wonder if he would have taken any type of stance on the Chinese labor issue if this didn't become public.

Glen said,
While his statement was admirable, I have to wonder if he would have taken any type of stance on the Chinese labor issue if this didn't become public.

Exactly. Now he's just providing lip-service.

Damn, those fire extinguishers sure helped out during the dust explosions, where were the extractor fans.

I lived in China for 15 years and know well the way the state and companies operate, often hand in hand, workers count for nothing. A common saying was 1 dead still have another 1.3 billion people. Unless the western companies post a safety officer in every factory they sub contract to with the power to stop production it's all just words.

silky said,
Damn, those fire extinguishers sure helped out during the dust explosions, where were the extractor fans.

I lived in China for 15 years and know well the way the state and companies operate, often hand in hand, workers count for nothing. A common saying was 1 dead still have another 1.3 billion people. Unless the western companies post a safety officer in every factory they sub contract to with the power to stop production it's all just words.


At that point its an issue with the country rather than the companies, though.

Owen W said,

At that point its an issue with the country rather than the companies, though.

I'd say both, but for sure Apple by virtue of the money it spends in these factories can influence what happens. Chinese companies will screw over any other company they can, but at the level (value) of customers like Apple they will refrain. Apple has the influence to have changes occur for the saftey and well being of workers. the dilema is Apple will continualy push for lower prices which in turn becomes harmfull to the workers. It is disingenuous of Cook to talk about fire extinguishers when there is no fan extraction as I stated above. He talks about his own personal knowledge of working factories and paper mills, that would be in the west with health and safety in place, that does not mean he has knowledge of working conditions in China.

Edited by silky, Feb 14 2012, 10:32pm :

silky said,

I lived in China for 15 years and know well the way the state and companies operate, often hand in hand, workers count for nothing. A common saying was 1 dead still have another 1.3 billion people.

Slightly relevant- As Stalin said
"One is a tragedy, a million is a statistic"

silky said,

I'd say both, but for sure Apple by virtue of the money it spends in these factories can influence what happens. Chinese companies will screw over any other company they can, but at the level (value) of customers like Apple they will refrain. Apple has the influence to have changes occur for the saftey and well being of workers. the dilema is Apple will continualy push for lower prices which in turn becomes harmfull to the workers. It is disingenuous of Cook to talk about fire extinguishers when there is no fan extraction as I stated above. He talks about his own personal knowledge of working factories and paper mills, that would be in the west with health and safety in place, that does not mean he has knowledge of working conditions in China.

Mate, do you realise that these contractors are breaking Chinese law? maybe the question that should be asked is WHY the Chinese authorities are enforcing the laws that exist already that prohibit such behaviour. Apple says to these contractors, "I need this many products in this amount of time etc." and it is up to the factory itself to comply with the laws of that country.

I'll let you in on a little secret, the Chinese government doesn't give a crap about the workers because their concern is ensuring that there are lots of jobs as a way of quelling the population from rising up. Keep the population working, a modest wage, the appearance that things are improving and those at the top keep their jobs - it is the same reason why their currency is devalued - to boost exports, keep employment high and quell the population into submission.

I know it is 'cool' to hate on Apple just as it was 'cool' to hate on Microsoft 10 years ago but how about directing the fury at the entities that deserve it - namely Foxconn and the Chinese authorities who don't enforce their own laws.

[quote=Mr Nom Nom's said,]

Mate, do you realise that these contractors are breaking Chinese law?

I believe that is what I said the the Gov and Companies often are hand in hand. The Gov makes laws and a lot of provinces ignor those laws, enforcement is often sparse or non existant. Why, the city leaders and others have there hands in the till, every now and then the Gov has a crack down, the president of the province I lived in got a bullet in the head, he had solid gold statues decorating his house, he had so much money in the bank he couldn't spend it. But these public showings by the Gov don't last very long they are just to put on the news to keep the masses from having another revolution. But there are many that are protected from the highest levels and when they get caught the trials suddenly get held behind closed doors and there is a news black out, some months later some muppet in the customs dept catches the bullet and the ceo and his wife in the particular case I'm thinking of were freed to carry on. still this is off topic. A lot of what you said is correct but there is another whole layer of things that go on as well.