Investigative Report Details Toxic Gas Poisoning and Other Serious Labor Violations at Key Apple Supplier

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China Labor Watch released a lengthy report Tuesday detailing appalling work conditions at Catcher Technology, a supplier of computers, digital cameras and other products to Apple, Dell, HP and Sony.

The factory under investigation, however, is primarily an Apple supplier, producing iPhone frames and MacBook components. Among many other labor violations, China Labor Watch found toxic gas poisoning, unsanitary food, inadequate protective gear and excessive pollution during its investigation of the Catcher factory in Suqian, China, conducted from October 2017 to January 2018.

This is not the first time that Catcher has been investigated by China Labor Watch, a New York City-based nonprofit that defends workers’ rights in China. A 2014 report found discriminatory hiring policies and inadequate safety training, but the latest findings are decidedly more serious and suggest that Apple’s supplier audits are still not thorough enough.

Perhaps the most egregious finding is an incident of toxic gas poisoning that occurred on May 25, 2017. According to interviews with workers conducted by China Labor Watch’s undercover investigator, the toxic gas incident sent 90 people to the hospital, landing five of them in intensive care.

Unsurprisingly, this was largely unknown to the factory’s new employees, who are provided with minimal safety training. According to the report, training lasts about an hour, even though 24 hours of training are officially required by the Catcher factory.

Similarly, the factory mandates goggle and earmuff usage, but these items were not given to the workers, the investigator found. Workers handling cutting fluid are supplied with one pair of gloves a day, but the gloves quickly absorb the fluid, leading to irritated and peeling skin.

This was confirmed by Bloomberg, which conducted its own investigation and interviews. Workers told Bloomberg that the gloves corrode within hours, leaving skin exposed to the chemicals.

Here are some of the other findings that violate Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Standards:

  • Before being hired, workers are required to pay for a physical examination (70 renminbi, or about $11). Probationary workers are charged for their own uniforms.
  • A lack of hot water in the dormitories means that many workers have to shower with cold water, something that Bloomberg’s investigation also found. This, along with insufficient heating in the wintertime, is a regular cause of worker illness.
  • Pollution in the factory has led to respiratory and other health problems among the workers. (The investigator also came down with respiratory issues after working at the factory for four weeks.)
  • Face masks worn by workers only protect their mouths from cutting fluid, which splashes into their eyes when they work with air pressure guns.

The report is accompanied by photos of the factory and worker dormitories, as well as the wastewater, which overflows onto sidewalks. After learning of this investigation by China Labor Watch, Apple conducted its own interviews with 150 factory workers and claimed that it did not find any violations.

Many of the findings from China Labor Watch, however, were consistent with those from Bloomberg’s investigation, and considering the numerous labor violations and scandals at major suppliers that were unearthed in prior years (remember the Foxconn suicides?) the real extent of Apple’s commitment to corporate social responsibility is questionable.

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