A senior Apple executive said he was “deeply offended” by the BBC’s allegations that Apple mistreats its workers in overseas factories.
Footage from an undercover BBC investigation, which aired Thursday, shows what the British broadcaster said were child laborers in Indonesia digging through mud pits for the tin used in phones and tablets. The report also shed light on the treatment of employees in factories of Apple supplier Pegatron near Shanghai, some of whom were seen sleeping at their workstations during their 12-hour shifts.
One undercover reporter was hired to make Apple computer parts, the BBC said, working 18 days in a row without reprieve.
"Like many of you, Tim [Chief Executive Tim Cook] and I were deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way," Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, wrote in an email to the staff.
The email, published by the Telegraph, reached nearly 5,000 Apple employees in Britain.
Williams said he “[knows] of no other company doing as much as Apple does” to ensure safe working conditions, investigate complaints and fix problems with transparency in suppliers’ operations.
“I want you to know that more than 1,400 of your Apple coworkers are stationed in China to manage our manufacturing operations,” he said in the email. “They are in the factories constantly — talented engineers and managers who are also compassionate people, trained to speak up when they see safety risks or mistreatment.”
While the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has worked to improve factory conditions in recent years, the BBC investigation is the latest in a spate of reports that have revealed evidence that Apple’s suppliers mistreat their workers. Previous investigations uncovered hellish conditions in China’s Foxconn factories, which also serve Sony.
Following reports of suicides and dangerous working conditions in the facilities, Apple and its suppliers allowed the Fair Labor Assn. to inspect Foxconn factories in February and March of 2012. The audits uncovered "significant issues," including excessive overtime and health and safety risks, the organization said.
The Taiwan-based supplier had successfully completed more than 280 recommended actions by August of that year, the watchdog group said.
But Williams admitted Apple and its manufacturers could “still do better” in the employee email.
“Several years ago, the vast majority of workers in our supply chain worked in excess of 60 hours, and 70+ hour workweeks were typical,” he wrote. “After years of slow progress and industry excuses, Apple decided to attack the problem by tracking the weekly hours of over one million workers, driving corrective actions with our suppliers and publishing the results on our website monthly — something no other company had ever done.”
This year, Williams added, Apple suppliers achieved an average of 93% compliance with the company’s 60-hour workweek limit.
The BBC’s report uncovered other workplace hazards, including overcrowding -- a problem also prevalent in Foxconn factories. In one Pegatron dormitory, 12 workers shared a single room. Apple's guidelines note a maximum of eight people.