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.

Full transcript of Tim Cook's appearance at Goldman Sachs below.

 

Apple takes working conditions very, very seriously, and we have for a very long time. Whether the workers are in Europe or Asia or the United States, we care about every worker. I've spent a lot of time in factories personally, and not just as an executive." [A paper Mill in Alabama. Aluminum in Virginia] "So we are very closely connected to the construction process and we understand working conditions on a very granular level. I realize that supply chain is complex... and the issue surrounding this is complex. But our commitment is very simple. We believe that every worker has a right to a fair and safe work environment free of discrimination where they can earn competitive wages and they can voice their concerns freely. Apple suppliers must live up to this to do business with Apple.

"We also believe that education is the great equalizer. And that is, if people are provided the skills or knowledge, they can improve their lives. We've put a lot of effort [in providing education]." [Free classes and partnered with local colleges.] "More than 60,000 employees have attended these classes, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. if you could take all these employees and move them in one location, it would be a campus larger than Arizona State [the largest public university in the US]. Many of these workers go on to earn Associate's degrees. This is a very powerful stepping stone for people looking to advance careers and their lives.

"In terms of problems we're working to fix, you can read the details on our website, but I can tell you that no one in our industry is doing more to improving working conditions than Apple." [Constantly auditing, looking for problems, finding problems, fixing problems. "[Reporting everything] because we believe transparency is so very important in this area. I am so incredibly proud of the work our teams are doing in this area. They focus on the most difficult problem and they stay with them until they fix them. They're truly a model for the industry.

"Let me give you some examples because I think this is so important and topical, both in large and small. We think the use of underage labor is abhorrent. It's extremely rare in our supply chain, but our top priority is to eliminate it totally. We've done that with our final assembly and are working on down the supply chain. If we find a supplier that intentionally hires underage labor it's a firing offense. We don't let anyone cut corners on safety. There's a production process that can be made safer, we seek out the foremost authorities, foremost experts, and cut out a new standard, and take that and apply it to the supply chain. We focus on the details. If there's a fire extinguisher missing from the cafeteria, then that facility doesn't pass inspection until that fire extinguisher is in place.

"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. So the beginning of this year, we announced that 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. As you probably know, the Fair Labor Association began a major audit at our request. We started working with the FLA ... and just in January, we were the first tech company ever admitted to their association. The audit they're conducting is probably the most detailed factory audit in the history of mass... in scale, in scope, and in transparency, and I am looking forward to seeing the results.

"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. "

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