Apple admits child labour, poisoning in China

Apple has admitted that 91 children were last year found to be assembling the company's products, which include the iPhone 4 and iPad, according to its annual report on the working conditions of people building its gadgets - which also includes evidence the use of potentially lethal chemicals.

Bowing to pressure from all fronts after damning reports revealed that dozens of workers had committed suicide at facilities predominantly used by the richest tech company on the planet, this year's Supplier Resonsibility Progress Report (PDF) reaches a new level of transparency for the notoriously secretive company, but still makes uncomfortable reading in places.

Apple admits that it found 91 under-age children working in the ten Chinese factories it uses, although 31 of those have since reached the 16 years legally required.

Apple blamed 'unsophisticated systems for age verification and ID checks' for the cases and has sacked one supplier which turned a blind eye to 42 under-age workers.

It also says it has been 'aggressive' in getting under-age workers back to their families and into school, forcing offending suppliers to pay educational and living costs as well as lost wages for anyone under 16 until they reach that age or for six months.

The report also admits for the first time that 137 workers were poisoned by the hydrocarbon n-hexacane last year, despite previous reports that the number of people involved was 62.

"I think it is positive that after such a long delay Apple has finally acknowledged the [n-hexane] problem," Ma Jun of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs told the Guardian, adding, "This report shows that Apple is still not ready to accept public scrutiny. We have listed the names of some Apple suppliers but there is no mention of them [in the report]."

Apple conducted audits at 127 facilities, including 30 repeat audits and 97 first-time audits.

The audits revealed 37 of what Apple terms 'core violations', including 18 facilities at which workers had paid excessive recruitment fees, 10 where under-age workers had been hired, two instances of worker endangerment, four facilities where records were falsified, one case of bribery, and one instance of the management coaching workers on how to answer auditors’ questions.