The BBC's Panorama recently aired its report into working conditions on the iPhone factory floor, and things don't look good — and Apple CEO Tim Cook has allowed Senior Vice President of Operations, Jeff Williams, to internally comment on the matter for him.
First thing's first — the report clearly shows illegal activity and broken promises in device production, made possible by undercover cameras carried by workers who applied through recruitment agencies. They dealt with 16 hour days, and one was made to work 18 days in a row, as you can see below.
In response, Williams sent an email describing the reaction of both he and Cook:
Like many of you, Tim and I were deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way.
There's no denying what was seen on the factory floor, no matter how offended the two gentlemen feel as a result. But the Panorama report also finds its way to Indonesia, and encounters youth labour in dangerous conditions — a subject on which Williams had more concrete things to say.
Tens of thousands of artisanal miners are selling tin through many middlemen to the smelters who supply to component suppliers who sell to the world. The government is not addressing the issue, and there is widespread corruption in the undeveloped supply chain. Our team visited the same parts of Indonesia visited by the BBC, and of course we are appalled by what’s going on there.
Tin is of course a problem not limited to Apple, but the first world's reliance on it for electronics, along with the conflict minerals we make use of every day. A lot of pressure surrounding these materials is to pull out and not support the human rights abuses interwoven with their use. But Jeff Williams contends that Apple's involvement will improve conditions for Indonesia:
Apple has two choices: We could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism. But it would be the lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution. We spearheaded the creation of an Indonesian Tin Working Group with other technology companies. Apple is pushing to find and implement a system that holds smelters accountable so we can influence artisanal mining in Indonesia.
One third of the world's tin supplies used in manufacturing comes from Indonesia. As of 2012, 179 Apple suppliers use it, and Foxconn (the Apple factory previously infamous for workplace conditions) buys 100% of its tin from Indonesia.
Both Pegatron and and Apple have stated they will be committed to taking the necessary actions to look after employees.