Apple concerned about child labor, suicides at supplier plants

In its annual public report on conditions at its overseas suppliers, Apple said it had noted an increase in child labor as well as tackling the issue of suicides at Foxconn, one of its biggest overseas partners. It also said that it had continued efforts to improve workplace safety and morale, two issues the company had taken heat for ignoring in the past.

Apple said that poor checks had resulted in the increases in child labor over the past year, and it had instituted efforts to assist its suppliers in preventing it from occurring. One case was especially severe, and the company found the supplier was doing little to fix the problem, or appeared willing to.

Of the 91 underage workers found to be employed, 42 came from this factory alone. Apple has since terminated its involvement with the company, which it did not identify.

Such was not the same for Foxconn, which Apple identified and explained in detail in the audit. A group of Apple executives and two experts led by chief operating officer Tim Cook visited the plant in June of last year to investigate the rash of suicides that were occurring among workers.

Foxconn has been a thorn in Apple's side since at least 2006, when claims of worker abuse first surfaced. At the time, the company found Foxconn violated its work code and pledged to remedy the issue. Its efforts were apparently for naught, as the supplier again made the headlines in 2009 for a rash of suicides at its Shenzhen, China plant. At least a dozen workers committed suicide while on the job, news reports indicated.

1,000 workers were surveyed by Apple independently of Foxconn, and found that while the company had taken steps to provide better support for workers, it needed to do better in monitoring and providing support for those that may be ailing from psychological issues.

"Apple will continue to work with Foxconn through the implementation of these programs, and we plan to take key learnings from this engagement to other facilities in our supply base," it said in the report.

The Cupertino company has been releasing these reports since 2007, and has ever since been auditing all its suppliers for compliance with its Supplier Code of Conduct. 288 facilities have so far been visited by Apple representatives.

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