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Apple iPhone component supplier Biel Crystal accused of labour rights abuses

A Hong Kong-based labour rights organisation this week issued a new report alleging worker abuse at iDevice cover glass supplier Biel Crystal.

The report from Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) and other NGO partners allege that workers at Biel Crystal's factory in Huizhou, China have been forced to work "excessive" hours, sign blank work contracts before being hired, endure "military-style management" tactics, and are exposed to unsafe working conditions, among other alleged abusive labour practices.

Biel Crystal, headquartered in Hong Kong, supplies glass covers for mobile devices, consumer electronics products, and watches made by Apple, Samsung, HTC, Huawei, TCL, Lenovo, Nokia, Motorola, LG, Seiko, and other companies, according to SACOM. The contract supplier operates mainland China factories in Huizhou and Shenzhen which employ 80,000 workers, the labour rights group said.

The report also stated that five worker suicides have occurred on the premises of Biel Crystal's Huizhou factory since 2011. SACOM and other groups investigating labour practices at Chinese factories where consumer electronics are assembled have highlighted worker suicide rates before, notably a string of such incidents occurring over the course of several years at Apple's top contract manufacturing partner, Foxconn.

On the receiving end of increasingly vocal criticism about its suppliers' labour track record, Apple last year pledged to address labour issues at Chinese factories run by Foxconn and other suppliers while commissioning the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to conduct a month-long, independent investigation of alleged abuses.

In March 2012, the FLA reported that it discovered problems with excessive overtime, compensation, unsafe working conditions, and communication at Foxconn-run assembly plants in China, offering several recommendations for making improvements. Last August, the FLA reported that Apple and Foxconn had made progress in improving working conditions at the latter's factories in China.

SACOM and other organisations this week staged protests at Biel Crystal's headquarters and the Apple Store in Hong Kong. The protesters issued the following list of demands for change at the cover glass supplier's factories:

  • Establish work contract content with workers before they sign
  • Provide adequate training, protection, and health examination to workers for occupational health and safety
  • Provide a living wage for all the workers so the workers do not have to earn a living from overtime work
  • Enroll all workers in the social security system within 30 days of their starting date as required under the law
  • Inform workers clearly about their wages and social security status
  • Provide workers entitled benefits such as social security cards
  • Provide compensation and assistance to work-injured workers in accordance with the Regulation on Work-Related Injury Insurance
  • Reform workers' compulsory meal-fee system
  • Explain the number of suicides occurring since 2011
  • Reform management methodology to respect workers' dignity
  • Abolish standing-only operational practices and ensure workers can have appropriate breaks regularly
  • Reform the existing policy on unions and enable workers to select their representative in accordance with the Trade Union Law of China

SACOM and its partners in protest also presented Apple with a list of demands which implored the iPhone maker to use its influence to pressure Biel Crystal to make policy changes and adhere to Apple's own Code of Conduct for its manufacturing partners.

The labour rights groups said they planned to file the report on Biel Crystal and an official complaint with the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC).