Few people think about where their smartphone or tablet comes from, but the truth is the conditions in those places are usually quite terrible. What was once an inescapable part of doing business in developing countries is slowly being dealt with, and Apple appears to leading the charge after a recent audit revealed a drop in abuse and child labour.
As one of the biggest technology companies in the world, and as though no other company is guilty of these same things, Apple has taken a lot of heat over the past couple of years regarding the working conditions of the factories where their devices are made.
There are a lot of reason to be concerned, compared to almost anywhere else on earth these conditions are unlivable. Tales of suicide, child labour, noxious fumes, and abusive behaviour towards migrant workers are just a part of a long and terrible list, all while Apple and other companies pull in record profits. Apple has released an audit of the facilities that they contract to in order to compare the work situation from last year, and it looks like things are slowly improving.
Last year, the manufacturing centres Apple contracts with employed 74 underage workers. This year, those same facilities only employ 23 underage workers. On top of this, the factories managed to enforce a 60 hour work week maximum 95 per cent of the time and all active facilities were using conflict-free minerals at the time of the audit. Apple has also started requiring that fees be paid to supply brokers any time there are reports of migrant worker abuse in the facilities they contract out to. Compared to last year's audit, there are significant increases in the quality of the work environment.
Things are still quite a ways away from perfect. That same report identified 106 facilities that did not pay night shift workers correctly for holidays, and 105 facilities that didn't provide social insurance. There are also still 23 underage workers at these facilities, and while that number is a great deal lower than last year it's still a big problem. Progress like this is difficult, and with Apple leading the change it is likely that other companies will follow suit with their manufacturing centres, which in the long run will be good for everyone.