It's bad enough when overworked Chinese adults are killing themselves and rioting because of our Apple lust—adding kids under 16 is just awful. But Apple says it's cutting these industrious, exploited kiddos out of the supply chain.
According to a Supplier Responsibility "progress report" released last night, Apple is trying to do the right thing and keep young teens off the assembly lines—a consequence of "dishonest third-party labor agents [conspiring] to corrupt the system." Apple says illegal kids wind up in Chinese factories after their families collaborate with labor headhunting agencies to forge papers saying they're of legal age—then to the factories they go, like Dickens meets Foxconn, putting an extra mini in your iPad Mini. And that's not OK with the people back in Cupertino, because brutal labor is bad enough—Americans usually draw the line at brutal underage labor. Crackdown time:
Our auditors were dismayed to discover 74 cases of workers under age 16-a core violation of our Code of Conduct. As a result, we terminated our business relationship with [supplier] PZ. But we didn't stop there. We also learned that one of the region's largest labor agencies, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources Co., Ltd. (Quanshun), which is registered in both the Shenzhen and Henan provinces, was responsible for knowingly providing the children to PZ.
In fact, to obtain the workers, this agency conspired with families to forge age verification documents and make the workers seem older than they were. We also alerted the provincial governments to the actions of Quanshun. The agency had its business license suspended and was fined. The children were returned to their families, and PZ was required to pay expenses to facilitate their successful return. In addition, the company that subcontracted its work to PZ was prompted by our findings to audit its other subcontractors for underage labor violations-proving that one discovery can have far-reaching impact.
It's hard to do anything but applaud Apple for fighting illegal child labor, but it is 2013—we've known for years now that Chinese labor is a murky pool. And it's going to take more than cutting ties with a firm or two and issuing a progress report to reverse that.