Apple Watch supplier under fire over China student labor

The US technology giant has sold tens of millions of Apple Watches — which can cost up to $1,499 — since it was launched three years ago. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2018

Apple Watch supplier under fire over China student labor

  • Many were compelled to work in order to get their vocational degrees and had to do night shifts
  • ‘We are like robots on the production lines’

WASHINGTON: Apple is investigating a factory in southwest China after a labor rights group said the tech giant’s supplier forced student workers to work “like robots” to assemble its popular Apple Watch.
Many were compelled to work in order to get their vocational degrees and had to do night shifts, according to an investigation by Hong Kong-based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).
SACOM interviewed 28 students at the plant in Chongqing municipality over the summer, and all of them said they had not voluntarily applied to work there, according to the report published last week.
They worked under the guise of “internships,” SACOM said, a practice rights groups say is widespread in China as manufacturers pair up with vocational schools to supply workers and fill labor shortages when they ramp up production for new models or the Christmas rush.
“Our graduation certificate will be withheld by the school if we refuse to come,” said one student majoring in e-commerce, according to SACOM.
The US titan has sold tens of millions of Apple Watches — which can cost up to $1,499 — since it was launched three years ago and chief executive Tim Cook said it was the most popular watch in the world.
Manufacturing internships are permitted under Chinese labor law in some cases, but SACOM found the work has “literally nothing to do with learning” and violated some of the country’s labor law provisions permitting intern work in factories.
“We are like robots on the production lines,” one 18-year-old student told SACOM. “We repeat the same procedure for hundreds and thousands of times every day, like a robot.”
Others said they were put on the night shift working from 8 p.m. to 8 am with minimal breaks, according to SACOM.
The Chongqing factory is operated by Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, and also produces for other brands. Quanta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Apple spokeswoman Wei Gu said: “We are urgently investigating the report that student interns added in September are working overtime and night shifts.”
Wei noted Quanta Chongqing was a new Apple supplier and had been audited three times between March and June without finding student interns.
Student workers told SACOM student labor was widespread at the factory.
Assembly lines that repieced together Apple Watches that had failed a quality check were almost entirely made up of student workers, one intern told SACOM.
“The factory would not be able to operate without student workers,” a student told SACOM.
The NGO demanded Apple investigate and bring the labor practices in line with the firm’s own policies and those of the local and central Chinese government.


At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

Updated 24 January 2020

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

  • A single tree that to bear 40 different types of apple

DAVOS: The World Economic Forum is not all about the fourth industrial revolution or the rise of AI.

You can also find all manner of strange and intriguing products on display from biodegradable plastic made from algae to wallpaper made from recycled corn husks.

One stand titled “How do you design a tree?” is part of a conservation effort where a single tree is designed to bear 40 different types of apple.

Another stand displays colored seaweed on a rack, showing how clothes can be dyed in a sustainable, non-chemically corrosive manner.

Propped along a large wall is Fernando Laposse’s wallpaper made of variations of purple corn husks that are reinforced with recycled cardboard and cork to create wallpaper and furniture. The husks come from corn that needs very little water and can be grown in the desert, which makes it all the more sustainable.

“This initiative helps the local economy as it brings in jobs and a resurgence of crafts and food traditions while also ensuring sustainability,” Laposse said.

Another display shows a machine that extracts pellets from a mixture of algae and starch and is used to create a thread that is the base of 3D printing. These sustainable, biodegradable plastics made from algae are being experimented with in different regions.

With the rise of deep fakes — a branch of synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness — another stand delivers a warning on the looming dangers of unregulated software.

The Davos forum prides itself on its sustainability, and key topics have included climate, mobility, energy and the circular economy. Everything is recyclable, and participants must download an application in order to keep up with the program and any changes — a move to cut down on paper waste.