Apple took three years to cut ties with a supplier that used child labor

Iphone Factory China
Iphone Factory China (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple is being accused of hesitating to end relationships with suppliers who violate labor laws.
  • It took the company three years to end its relationship with a supplier that employed children.

As reported by The Information (via 9to5Mac), Apple is reportedly slow to ban its relationships with suppliers that are guilty of labor violations. The example in the report highlights an instance where Apple took three years to end its relationship with a supplier that was repeatedly found to be using child labor.

Apple had discovered that Suyin Electronics, a company that made the ports for its MacBooks, was employing two fifteen-year-old children.

Seven years ago, Apple made a staggering discovery: Among the employees at a factory in China that made most of the computer ports used in its MacBooks were two 15-year-olds. Apple told the manufacturer, Suyin Electronics, that it wouldn't get any new business until it improved employee screening to ensure no more people under 16 years of age got hired.

Despite Suyin pledging to stop the practice, an audit three months later found more children working for the company. While Apple stopped giving the company new business, it took three years to completely cut ties with the supplier.

Suyin pledged to do so, but an audit by Apple three months later found three more underage workers, including a 14-year-old. Apple, which has promised to ban suppliers that repeatedly use underage workers, stopped giving Suyin new business because of the violations. But it took Apple more than three years to fully cut its ties with Suyin, which continued to make HDMI, USB and other ports for older MacBooks under previous contracts.

A former employee says that Apple took time to cut ties with the company because it struggled to find another supplier that could meet its specifications and volume needs.

Apple faces problems in immediately removing suppliers who consistently breach these rules: Most obviously, there aren't many alternative manufacturers that can easily pick up the slack. New suppliers can take years to meet Apple's exacting standards for quality and volume. In the case of Suyin, Apple's procurement team was reluctant to abruptly shift orders to other suppliers because it would have created delays and incurred higher costs, said a former employee.

Ten previous employees of Apple's supply responsibility team says that the company hesitated to change suppliers that ignored safety suggestions or that violated labor laws.

In interviews, 10 former members of Apple's supplier responsibility team — the unit in charge of monitoring manufacturing partners for violations of labor, environmental, and safety rules — claimed that Apple avoided or delayed cutting ties with offenders when doing so would hurt its business. For example, the former team members said, Apple continued working with some suppliers that refused to implement safety suggestions or that consistently violated labor laws.

Apple has seen increasing pressure regarding its supplier relationships and their labor practices. Early in December, a report found that half of its suppliers were over the quota for temporary workers.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.