Apple Inc. reported it continues working with supplier companies and labor agents to remove “debt-bonded” labor from its supply chain. It also noted steps it is taking within its supply chain to respond to Covid-19.
The iPhone and computer maker released its “Apple Supplier responsibility 2020 Progress Report” on Thursday. It noted $32.3 million in recruitment fees have been paid back by suppliers to 36,599 employees since 2008 over concerns with debt-bonded labor. Looking at 2019 alone, $1.3 million in recruitment fees have been repaid to 162 employees.
Apple describes debt-bonded labor as “a form of modern slavery, occurs when a person is forced to work in exchange for the repayment of a debt or other obligation, such as a recruitment fee paid to get a job, meaning that the person receives no pay until the debt is repaid. It can also involve the withholding of personal identity documents, such as passports, by the employment agent or employer, making it physically impossible for the employee to leave their job.”
Foreign contract workers are particularly vulnerable to debt-bonded labor, the report noted. Supplier companies found using debt-bonded labor are required to repay workers for any fees paid. Supplier companies are also placed on probation and penalized.
Apple also put together a toolkit for suppliers and labor agents for combating the problem. It held training on the toolkit in countries where the most prevalent migration corridors in its supply chain exist, including Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
The company also reported it is studying the problem of debt-bonded labor through its Responsible Labor Recruitment program, which uses data from the International Labour Organization, US State Department and Apple’s own data. Apple also worked with an expert group of government policymakers, nongovernmental organizations and researchers. It also spoke directly with migrant workers and labor agents to better understand their experiences.
“We found that some suppliers and labor agents were not rigorously carrying out supply chain due diligence at the labor recruitment level and that, in some cases, people traveling for work did not receive adequate training prior to departing their home country,” according to the report.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Apple Senior VP of Operations Sabih Khan wrote in the report that the company has been working with its suppliers to ensure worker safety. Among steps taken include conducting health screenings, limiting density and ensuring adherence to social distancing at facilities. The company also requires the use of personal protective equipment and has put in place enhanced deep cleaning protocols. Staggered work shifts have been put in place as well.
The report draws on interviews from more than 50,000 employees in its supply chain and more than 1,000 audits of supplier facilities across 49 countries, including surprise audits.