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Apple supplier's China factory: Hazard to workers' safety?

Posted: 08 Sep 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple? China? safety? iPad?

Taiwan-based Catcher Technology is operating a factory in Suqian, China that reportedly violates more than a few health, safety, environmental and human rights laws. The company makes metal iPad covers and parts for fifth-generation iPhones, and also supplies to other technology companies including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony, HTC and Motorola among others.

The factory, which employs about 20,000 people, was found to have 20 "legal and ethical" violationsincluding significant amounts of aluminium-magnesium alloy shreddings on the floor, dust particles in the air, improper ventilation, and inadequate protective equipment for handling flammable and combustible materialsaccording to a report from the nonprofit organisations China Labour Watch (CLW) and Green America. Skin is said to be exposed directly to toxins. There are no ventilator masks, and industrial waste is poured into groundwater and nearby rivers.

Employees haven't participated in fire drills in a year, investigators said, and the factory locked its safety exits.

"The health and safety violations found in this factory two years in a row are startling," Elizabeth O'Connell, campaigns director at Green America, said in a press release. "The lack of fire drill training and locked safety exits are inexcusable in a work environment that requires the handling of flammable materials. Additionally, the lack of safety training in this facility and improper handling of hazardous materials contributes to the risk of life-threatening emergencies."

The report also told of excessive hours for employees of all ages, including students 16-18 years old. Investigators estimate that workers are forced into six hours of unpaid overtime per month and are owed $290,000 in unpaid wages. Workers who complain face retaliation.

"Workers must take mandatory overtime, labouring on their feet for more than 10 hours a day, six days a week, and they are not even paid for all of that overtime work," CLW programme coordinator Kevin Slaten said in the release. "This is exploitation by the factory and Apple for the sake of profit maximisation."

During the investigation, 500-600 workers from Catcher Suqian were transferred to a sister location in Taizhou to work on the iPhone 6, the report said.

CLW investigated the Catcher factory in April 2013 and found many of the same violations; officials said that, despite Apple's promises, the company hasn't made progress in improving work conditions. Catcher is not one of 18 final assembly plants in China where Apple has committed to banning the use of benzene and n-hexane in manufacturing.

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