Apple Publishes Unsettling Annual Supplier Audit

On Monday, Apple published its 2011 “Supplier Responsibility” report.

Despite Apple’s expectations – and demands – that suppliers “provide safe working conditions” and “treat workers with dignity and respect,” a number of disturbing violations were brought to the surface in the report, which is raising eyebrows today.

According to the audit, forty-nine underage workers were employed at one point last year at various overseas production facilities – forty-two of which were employed at a single plant. Based on these findings, Apple has ended its working relationship with that particular facility, but not before requiring the supplier “to support the young workers’ return to school and to improve their management systems to prevent recurrences.”

There were also reports of bribery and significant safety threats to workers. Last year, 137 workers at a Wintek facility were exposed to the poisonous chemical n-hexane gas. Afterward, Apple required the facility to stop using n-hexane gas and to repair the plant’s inadequate ventilation systems.

The 25-page report even candidly addressed the infamous wave of suicides last year at Foxconn, Apple’s largest overseas manufacturer. In 2010, headlines of one suicide after the next at the Shenzhen, China plant haunted both Apple and Foxconn.

The report suggests that Apple took the rash of suicides seriously and deployed Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook to the controversial plant. Apple obtained the assistance of multiple suicide prevention experts who closely examined the production facilities and interviewed hundreds of Foxconn employees.

The panel of experts “commended Foxconn for taking quick action on several fronts simultaneously, including hiring a large number of psychological counselors, establishing a 24-hour care center, and even attaching large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides.” In addition, Apple provided Foxconn with a sizable list of recommended improvements to be made at the plant.

The Cupertino, California-based tech giant conducted a total of 127 audits in 2010, the overwhelming majority of which were first-time audits.

To read the full report from Apple, click here.