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Apple vows to clean supply chain as more underage workers are found

Apple claims it has been stepping up investigations into the working conditions of its supply chains, following their long association with labour rights scandals.

Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer that produces parts for Apple’s iPhones and iPads, has attracted the most attention for the poor treatment of its staff and employment of underage workers. Its plants in China have been linked to multiple suicide incidents, reports of humiliating treatment of workers, hiring interns as young as fourteen, and the outbreak of mass riots.

Apple told Reuters yesterday that it conducted 393 audits of its various supply chains last year – a 72 per cent increase from 2011 – as sites hosting a total of 1.5 million workers were inspected.

The company’s senior vice president of operations, Jeff Williams, said ensuring no underage workers were at its supply factories and limiting employees’ working hours to 60 hours a week were priorities. In terms of the former, difficulties arise in incidences where supply plants are supplied by smaller companies, who can use underage workers with less risk of scrutiny.

"We go deep in the supply chain to find it," Williams said. "And when we do find it, we ensure that the underage workers are taken care of, the suppliers are dealt with."

Apple said it terminated its relationship with component manufacturer Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electron after discovering 74 cases of underage workers. The firm also discovered an employment agency that was forging documents to allow children to illegally work at the supplier, which saw the agency and supplier reported to local authorities.

Stating his wish to eradicate underage labour from the industry as a whole, Williams added, "I don't know how long it will take to get there but that's our goal."