Report Examines Labor Violations at Apple Supplier's Malaysian Plant

In a lengthy piece detailing the hardships that workers in Apple's supply chain can face, Bloomberg follows the story of a factory worker at Flextronics International, a contract manufacturer based in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur that produced camera parts for the iPhone 5.

Ahead of the launch of the iPhone 5, Flextronics had to significantly ramp up production, hiring a 1,500 new employees via brokers and recruiters in Nepal, Malaysia, and surrounding areas. Because factory jobs are highly desired, many families pay upfront fees to brokers to acquire the positions, resulting in loans that can take "imported" workers years to pay off, with factory managers controlling when workers are able to leave.

flextronics

Inside a Flextronics factory in Fort Worth, Texas. Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

For the iPhone 5 rollout, a recruiter working for Flextronics contacted four brokers in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, in late August and early September, urgently seeking 1,500 men to make cameras, according to three of the four brokers. The pressure to move so many men so quickly was unprecedented. "The recruitment agency was telling me, 'We need these workers, you have to send them by today,'" says Rajan Shrestha, managing director of a small company called Sharp Human Resources.

The frenzy to hire workers was how one Nepalese man, Bibek Dhong, found himself paying $250 and handing over his passport to a recruiter who promised him a good job. Dhong was forced to pay another $500 to a broker (6 months of his wages from his former job as a dairy farmer) and sign a debt agreement stating he would pay $400 more. Dhong was told to keep his broker fees secret, as Apple has a policy that prevents excessive charges by recruiters.

Last year [Apple's] audits turned up $6.4 million in fees paid by workers beyond the company's prescribed limit—compared with $6.7 million in the previous four years combined. And Apple audited fewer plants last year than it did in 2011. The company orders its suppliers to refund workers charged beyond its limit.

The Flextronics plant where Dhong was inspecting cameras experienced high failure rates before slowing and shutting down production. Because Flextronics retained Dhong's visa, he was unable to leave, stuck in a hostel in Malaysia with no food. After two months, he was permitted to return home, where he had to sell off much of his land to pay his debts and take a low paying job to continue to pay off the rest of the money for the factory job he didn't get to keep.

According to an Apple spokesman, Apple aggressively investigates claims of bonded labor where Apple products are made, and has mandated reimbursement to employees charged excessive recruitment fees.

"We aggressively investigate any claims of bonded labor where Apple products are made, and our team is continuously auditing deeper into the supply chain. We recently updated our code of conduct to require our suppliers to directly interview workers who are hired through labor brokers, as another way of eliminating unethical practices. Although Flextronics's Bukit Raja facility is no longer in Apple's supply chain, we take these allegations extremely seriously."

Apple has frequently been in the spotlight over the conditions at the factories where its products are made and the company has low tolerance for factories that violate its rules. For example, in January, Apple dropped one supplier for using underage workers. It is, however, an ongoing battle for Apple, as many factories are aiming to produce high volumes of products at low costs, often defying labor rules to keep profits high.

Earlier this year, Apple formed a Supplier Responsibility Academic Advisory board to work on providing "safe and ethical working conditions" wherever Apple products are made. The company also maintains an annual Apple Supplier Responsibility report [PDF] tracking its efforts to improve working conditions for factory employees.

Flextronics remains an Apple partner, and will run an Austin plant that will be responsible for the production of Apple's upcoming Mac Pro.

Top Rated Comments

Chupa Chupa Avatar
107 months ago
Funny how all these labor violation stories always single out Apple even though the facilities produce products for other top end electronics companies. Then there are companies that produce in other facilities and never called out. And finally, all these facilities are in countries that are U.N. members and supposedly pledged to the U.N's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet its condemnation is as loud as a sugar ant. Makes you think it's more about trying to knock Apple down than actually help abused workers.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Sodner Avatar
107 months ago
Ya, Apple is the only one using these plants to build products. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

It's all Apple's fault. HP, Samsung, Acer, Moto, etc., etc., all use air conditioned plants in the US where emplyees work from the comfort of a Lazy Boy reclinder for $60 an hour working just three 7 hour days a week but get paid for 40 hours.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
likemyorbs Avatar
107 months ago
Good. For what I pay for my products they damn well better be made with sweat shop labor and children's tears.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mbh Avatar
107 months ago
Funny how all these labor violation stories always single out Apple even though the facilities produce products for other top end electronics companies. Then there are companies that produce in other facilities and never called out. And finally, all these facilities are in countries that are U.N. members and supposedly pledged to the U.N's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet its condemnation is as loud as a sugar ant. Makes you think it's more about trying to knock Apple down than actually help abused workers.

Put "Apple" in the headline: more attention, more hits, more $$$.

Put "Asus" in the headline: who?
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rogifan Avatar
107 months ago
how does tim sleep at night ? besides on his million dollar bed sheets

How about all the people who complain about this yet continue to purchase Apple products. Put your money where your mouth is if it bothers you so.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
IbisDoc Avatar
107 months ago
Ya, Apple is the only one using these plants to build products. :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

It's all Apple's fault.

As the industry leader, which they happily celebrate, they should be setting an example for everyone else. Not to mention their CEO is happy to support liberal ideas and individuals when it suits him.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

airpodsinear 1

AirPods Save Woman's Life With Feature Everyone Should Know

Friday January 21, 2022 2:13 am PST by
Apple's AirPods have been credited with saving a woman's life after a potentially fatal fall, People reports. When a 60-year-old florist in New Jersey tripped and hit her head in her studio, she lost consciousness and awoke heavily bleeding. With nobody around to call for help, she realized she had her AirPods in, and used a "Hey Siri" command to call 911. An operator was able to stay on the ...
iphone 13 earpods

Apple to Stop Including EarPods With Every iPhone Sold in France From Next Week

Friday January 21, 2022 3:21 am PST by
Apple will no longer include EarPods with every iPhone sold in France, starting on January 24, according to a notice posted by a French carrier (via iGeneration). Apple was previously required to include EarPods in the box with the iPhone due to a French law that required every smartphone sold in the country to come with a "handsfree kit," but the law has now been changed in favor of reducing the ...
peloton tv workout cardio

Apple Floated as Potential Buyer of Peloton

Friday January 21, 2022 6:11 am PST by
Following months of bleak news about Peloton's "precarious state," including the revelation that it has halted production of its bikes and treadmills, Apple is being floated as a potential buyer of Peloton's troubled fitness business. Yesterday, CNBC reported that Peloton will temporarily stop production of its connected fitness products due to a "significant reduction" in consumer demand, a ...
Questionable Design Decisions

Apple's Most Questionable Design Decisions in Recent Memory

Sunday January 23, 2022 2:59 am PST by
Apple has always emphasized the depth of thought that goes into the design of its products. In the foreword to Designed by Apple in California, a photo book released by the company in 2016, Jony Ive explains how Apple strives "to define objects that appear effortless" and "so simple, coherent and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative." But every once in a while even Apple...
Spring 2022 Apple Products Feature

New iPad Air, Macs, and iPhone SE With 5G Likely to Be Announced at Apple Event This Spring

Thursday January 20, 2022 8:32 am PST by
Earlier this week, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman tweeted that Apple "will be holding a spring event" to announce a new iPhone SE and other hardware. In a recent edition of his newsletter, Gurman said the event is likely to occur in March or April. Gurman did not elaborate on what "other hardware" will be announced at Apple's purported spring event, but rumors suggest at least four products are...
Upcoming Products 2022 Feature

Gurman: Apple Preparing 'Widest Array of New Hardware Products in Its History' for Fall

Sunday January 23, 2022 10:32 am PST by
Apple is working on a number of new products that are set to launch this fall, and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that it will be "the widest array" of new devices that Apple has introduced in its history. In his latest "Power On" newsletter, Gurman explains that Apple is working on four new flagship iPhones (iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Max, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max), an updated low-end Ma...
apple watch series 7 aluminum colors yellowbg

Apple Watch Charging Bug Fixed in watchOS 8.4 Release Candidate

Thursday January 20, 2022 4:01 pm PST by
The watchOS 8.4 release candidate that was seeded to developers and beta testers this morning addresses an ongoing bug that could cause some Apple Watch chargers not to work properly with the Apple Watch. Back in December, we reported on a growing number of charging issues that Apple Watch Series 7 owners were facing. Since watchOS 8.3, there have been a number of complaints about...
safari icon blue banner

macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 Release Candidates Fix Safari Bug That Leaks Browsing Activity

Thursday January 20, 2022 1:30 pm PST by
The macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 release candidates that came out today appear to address a Safari bug that could cause your recent browsing history and details about your identity to be leaked to malicious entities. As shared last week by browser fingerprinting service FingerprintJS, there is an issue with the WebKit implementation of the IndexedDB JavaScript API. Any website that uses...
apple college discounts

Apple Walks Back UNiDAYS Verification Requirement for U.S. Education Store

Friday January 21, 2022 12:43 pm PST by
Earlier this week, Apple began requiring that customers taking advantage of educational discounts in the United States verify their status as a teacher, student, or school staff member through UNiDAYS. The requirement was a major change as Apple had never asked customers to go through a verification process in the United States before, and now, just three days after verification was added,...