Report: China molding plant for plastic iPhone violates worker rights

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A Chinese injection molding factory of Jabil Circuit Inc. reportedly making covers for the new plastic iPhone 5c is breaking Chinese labor laws with excessive overtime, heavy use of less-regulated temporary workers and lack of safety training, according to a U.S.-based labor rights group.

New York-based China Labor Watch said in a Sept. 5 report that it conducted undercover investigations of the Wuxi, Jiangsu province, factory of Jabil’s Green Point unit over several months and found poor treatment of workers and repeated violations of both Chinese laws and Apple standards.

In a detailed response, St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Jabil said it was troubled by the allegations and had sent an audit team to investigate. It said an internal review of the Wuxi plant in August had uncovered some of the problems and they were being corrected.

“Jabil is committed to ensuring every employee is provided a safe working environment where they are treated with dignity and respect,” the company said in a statement. “We take seriously any allegation that we are not fulfilling that commitment and are taking immediate action to ensure recent allegations are thoroughly investigated and, if found to be credible, corrected.”

China Labor Watch, which has investigated other Apple suppliers, said it found violations at Jabil including lack of training on health and safety issues, intense production schedules requiring some workers to stand for 11.5 hours a day with limited breaks and forcing female workers to take pregnancy tests.

“This factory produces the rear plastic covers on the so-called cheap iPhone,” the labor group said. “CLW’s undercover investigation at Jabil exposed a series of violations of Chinese laws as well as Apple’s code of conduct.”

For example, the group said that Apple claims that 99 percent of its manufacturers comply with the company’s standard of no more than 60 hours of work per week, but CLW said among the 80 workers it interviewed, more than 80 percent worked more than that, often more than 100 hours a week.

Jabil noted that some Chinese workers want overtime, however, and said it was working to meet an industry code of conduct.

“While we are aware of the desire of many employees to work overtime, our goal is to regulate overtime to achieve a consistently high level of compliance with Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) standards,” the company said.

CLW said Jabil had “largely disregarded” EICC standards in the Wuxi factory.

Jabil, however, said it had instituted a global policy prohibiting pregnancy testing, and in an apparent reply to descriptions in the CLW report of worker dormitories with eight people per room, it said it had developed global dormitory standards.

The company also said in the last three years that it had elevated social and environmental responsibility to an executive-level job reporting directly to its chief operating officer and said it had brought in consultants to better train employees on health and safety issues.

“We are disheartened that there are allegations that we are not living up to our own standards, yet we are proud of the progress we’ve made,” the company said.

It said the company’s vice president of social responsibility was in China in August conducting audits, including at the Wuxi factory, and it conducts more than 100 audits of its operations each year.

“Our focus on continuous auditing – by internal, independent third-parties and customers – is why we are able to surface issues and also why we are continuously improving,” it said.

CLW, however, said the problems at Jabil are part of a pattern of systemic labor rights violations in factories making Apple products, including at Foxconn and Pegatron.

The group detailed other allegations in Wuxi, including mandatory meetings that were in effect uncompensated overtime equal to 11 hours per month per worker; inadequate safety training, including its investigators working in jobs for more than a week without receiving proper safety equipment; and a lack of effective grievance procedures for workers.

It also said Jabil hired workers from temporary agencies in violation of legal limits of no more than 30 percent of workers from such agencies, and it faulted the Chinese government for lax enforcement of its labor laws.

“Apple products are manufactured at the expense of Chinese workers, laboring in factories owned by Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and, in the case of Jabil, U.S.-owned companies,” CLW said.

Base salary in the factory is 1,500 Chinese yuan ($245) per month, with employees working six 12-hour days per week making 2,800 yuan ($457), CLW said.

Jabil is one of the world’s largest contract manufacturers of electronics for global brands like Apple, and is a world-scale injection molding company.

The Jabil Green Point unit, which operates the Wuxi plant, had 755 injection molding machines in mainland China in 2010, company officials told Plastics News at the time for a feature story on the company. Green Point is based in Taichung, Taiwan.

Jabil also bought U.S.-based injection molding giant Nypro Inc. earlier this year, paying $665 million for one of the country’s largest custom injection molders and its 1,500 injection machines worldwide. The acquisition in part is designed to help Jabil broaden beyond electronics manufacturing.