Executive Briefings

Workers at Apple Supplier Describe Health and Safety Hazards

At a Catcher Technology Co. manufacturing complex in the Chinese industrial city of Suqian, about six hours' drive from Shanghai, workers stand for up to 10 hours a day in hot workshops slicing and blasting iPhone casings for Apple Inc., handling noxious chemicals sometimes without proper gloves or masks.

These conditions — some described in a report last week by advocacy group China Labor Watch and others in Bloomberg News interviews with Catcher workers — show the downside of a high-tech boom buoying the world's second-largest economy. Chinese recruiters play up the chance to build advanced consumer electronics to attract the millions of typically impoverished, uneducated laborers without whom the production of iPhones and other digital gadgets would be impossible.

Goggles and earplugs are not always available, a problem when some factory machines are noisy and spray tiny metallic particles or coolant, according to Bloomberg interviews with workers. CLW said the noise was about 80 decibels or more. That's roughly equivalent to an average factory or a garbage disposal, according to IAC Acoustics, an industrial noise-control specialist. Hundreds throng a workshop where the main door only opens about 12 inches. Off duty, they return to debris-strewn dorms bereft of showers or hot water. Many go without washing for days at a time, workers told Bloomberg.

"My hands turned bloodless white after a day of work," said one of the workers, who makes a little over 4,000 yuan a month (just over $2 an hour) in her first job outside her home province of Henan. She turned to Catcher because her husband's home-decorating business was struggling. "I only tell good things to my family and keep the sufferings like this for myself," she said. All workers who spoke with Bloomberg asked not to be identified out of fear of recrimination.

Big supply chain

Apple spent years upbraiding manufacturers after a rash of suicides in 2010 at its main partner, Foxconn Technology Group, provoked outrage over the harsh working environments in which its upscale gadgets were made. Foxconn hired psychological counselors, set up a 24-hour care center, and attached large nets to factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides, according to a 2011 Apple progress report. Soon after, Apple developed standards and started audits of the hundreds of companies that produce components for its devices, threatening to pull business from those that flout labor laws.

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These conditions — some described in a report last week by advocacy group China Labor Watch and others in Bloomberg News interviews with Catcher workers — show the downside of a high-tech boom buoying the world's second-largest economy. Chinese recruiters play up the chance to build advanced consumer electronics to attract the millions of typically impoverished, uneducated laborers without whom the production of iPhones and other digital gadgets would be impossible.

Goggles and earplugs are not always available, a problem when some factory machines are noisy and spray tiny metallic particles or coolant, according to Bloomberg interviews with workers. CLW said the noise was about 80 decibels or more. That's roughly equivalent to an average factory or a garbage disposal, according to IAC Acoustics, an industrial noise-control specialist. Hundreds throng a workshop where the main door only opens about 12 inches. Off duty, they return to debris-strewn dorms bereft of showers or hot water. Many go without washing for days at a time, workers told Bloomberg.

"My hands turned bloodless white after a day of work," said one of the workers, who makes a little over 4,000 yuan a month (just over $2 an hour) in her first job outside her home province of Henan. She turned to Catcher because her husband's home-decorating business was struggling. "I only tell good things to my family and keep the sufferings like this for myself," she said. All workers who spoke with Bloomberg asked not to be identified out of fear of recrimination.

Big supply chain

Apple spent years upbraiding manufacturers after a rash of suicides in 2010 at its main partner, Foxconn Technology Group, provoked outrage over the harsh working environments in which its upscale gadgets were made. Foxconn hired psychological counselors, set up a 24-hour care center, and attached large nets to factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides, according to a 2011 Apple progress report. Soon after, Apple developed standards and started audits of the hundreds of companies that produce components for its devices, threatening to pull business from those that flout labor laws.

Read full article