Apple vows action over worker suicides

Apple plans to pursue 'more aggressive audits' this year at the factories of its mainland suppliers in a bid to address key labour issues, following a series of worker suicides that hit its top electronics manufacturing contractor, Foxconn Technology Group.

In its latest published Supplier Responsibility report, Apple made collaboration with relevant industry groups and non-governmental organisations a priority, to address issues such as underage labour, long working hours and employee well-being at its suppliers facilities.

Apple, maker of the popular iPhone, iPod and iPad devices, said it had audited 288 supplier facilities as of December, including those on the mainland, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and the Czech Republic.

The report said that the company was 'disturbed and deeply saddened' about the spate of suicides at Foxconn last year. The deaths led it to hire suicide-prevention specialists and commission in July an independent review of its Taiwanese supplier's manufacturing operations on the mainland.

That review's findings were presented last August to senior executives of Apple and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou Tai-ming.

It commended Foxconn, which employs more than one million workers on the mainland, for 'taking quick action on several fronts simultaneously, including hiring a large number of psychological counsellors, establishing a 24-hour care centre and even attaching large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulse suicides'.

'More important, the investigation found that Foxconn's response had definitely saved lives,' the Apple report said.

Debby Chan Sze-wan, spokeswoman for Hong Kong-based labour rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour, said the review was disappointing because 'Apple simply ignores the calls from NGOs to review Foxconn's management methodology'.

'Apple may request its suppliers to launch stronger corrective actions, but these do not include showing responsibility to the victims,' Chan said.

The media widely reported on the 14 suicide attempts by Foxconn workers, but an 83-page research report released in October raised the figure to 17, resulting in 13 deaths, since January last year. The report was jointly produced by 20 universities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland.

Despite Foxconn's moves to improve conditions - such as implementing large pay rises and improving mental-health support services - another young migrant worker committed suicide last November at its Guanglan manufacturing complex in Shenzhen. Last month, a 25-year-old female employee jumped to her death from her brother's 10th-floor flat in Shenzhen's Yantian district after allegedly being reprimanded and told to resign.

Higher pay

Foxconn raised wages by nearly 70 per cent at its mainland plants following the suicides

The number of assembly line workers in its Shezhen operation alone is about: 400,000