BBC shines spotlight back on Apple’s poor working conditions in Asia

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Photo: Apple
Photo: Apple

In a documentary set to air tonight called Apple’s Broken Promises, BBC One went undercover at Pegatron, one of Apple’s main supply chain partners in China. The findings from inside Pegatron’s walls show that “Apple’s promises to protect workers were routinely broken,” according to the report.

Another alarming revelation was that Apple could be using tin dug by impoverished children in illegal Indonesian mines. Apple is denying the allegations, but BBC One is committed to unearthing a sensitive topic the iPhone maker has spent years trying to put to rest.

BBC One found “standards on workers’ hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were being breached” at Pegatron, which employs over one million Chinese works to make devices like the iPhone 6. The poor working conditions observed by undercover reporters posing as factory workers are reminiscent of The New York Times’ 2012 findings at Foxconn, Apple’s largest supply chain partner.

One of the BBC One’s undercover reporters was subjected to 16-hour shifts, and another had to work 18 days in a row “despite repeated requests for a day off.”

“We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions,” Apple told BBC One before its documentary premieres tonight in the UK at 9:00 PM. “We work with suppliers to address shortfalls, and we see continuous and significant improvement, but we know our work is never done.”

Children were subjected to mining the tin by hand in “extremely dangerous conditions”

Beyond the problems at Pegatron, BBC One traveled to Bangka, a remote Indonesian island where minerals are mined for Apple’s products. Not only was evidence found “that tin from illegal mines could be entering its supply chain,” but children were subjected to mining the tin by hand in “extremely dangerous conditions.” One 12-year-old who worked at the bottom of a 70-foot sand pit said, “I worry about landslides. The earth slipping from up there to the bottom. It could happen.”

“The simplest course of action would be for Apple to unilaterally refuse any tin from Indonesian mines,” Apple said in a statement. “That would be easy for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism. But that would also be the lazy and cowardly path, since it would do nothing to improve the situation. We have chosen to stay engaged and attempt to drive changes on the ground.”

For what it’s worth, Apple is widely considered the most transparent corporation on earth in terms of regulating its supply chain partners. It regularly publishes updated responsibility reports and lists detailed data about its partners on its website.

After airing tonight on BBC One, Apple’s Broken Promises will be available for streaming on BBC iPlayer.