Apple’s labour pains won’t go away without unions
Apple have been hit by more allegations of child labour in their supply chain this week. It isn’t the first time, and if they continue putting their reliance in voluntary auditing methods, it won’t be the last.
China Labor Watch, a union-connected NGO that operates out of New York but has good roots in mainland China, issued a report on Monday revealing violations in three factories of the Pegatron Group, a major supplier to Apple. CLW’s investigations revealed at least 86 rights violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations. The violations included women’s rights violations, underage labour, excessive working hours, underpayment of wages, health and safety concerns, abuse by management and environmental pollution.
The TUC’s response was this:
“It’s not much to ask of companies that can determine every detail of the production process that they prevent their goods being made by children. Relying on private auditing companies to do this for them – as Apple does – has failed time and time again to eradicate child labour from global supply chains.”
Apple, which prides itself on its corporate social responsibility, has responded by pledging to investigate the claims which were, it says, news to the company. But the investigation it has pledged will simply reproduce the flaws in its compliance mechanism, based as both are on voluntary audit measures. These have been heavily criticised by unions: one of the main bodies Apple uses, the Fair Labor Association, was specifically criticised in an AFLCIO report earlier this year.
What worked in the UK and other developed countries was strong laws properly inspected and enforced, independent trade unions at the workplace and a legal requirement that children should be in school. Large multi-national companies will continue to face embarrassing allegations and reputational damage if they do not insist on these minimum standards in the countries where they manufacture goods.