Apple last year found a number of workplace violations, including use of underage workers, among its suppliers, even as those companies are coming more in line with Apple's standards.
In 2009, according to its 2010 Progress Report (PDF), Apple's audits of suppliers turned up 17 core violations, those that it considers to be the most serious practices or situations that run counter to the central principles of the company's Supplier Code of Conduct.
Of those core violations, three involved the hiring of underage workers; three involved the use of noncertified vendors for the disposal of hazardous waste; three involved the presentation of falsified records during the audit; and eight involved excessive recruitment fees.
The supplier code of conduct and the site audits are intended to protect workers' rights and to improve factory conditions.
Apple did not identify any suppliers by name or the countries in which the infractions took place.
In the case of the underage labor, three facilities had hired 15-year-olds in countries where the minimum employment age is 16. In addition, Apple said it found records of 11 workers who had been hired before reaching that minimum age, though those people were no longer underage or were no longer actively employed at the facilities.
Following up its investigation of how those people had come to be hired, Apple said it required the facilities to protect against future such violations through more thorough ID checks and verification procedures.
In the case of the hazardous waste disposal, Apple required the three facilities to stop shipping waste, to hire certified vendors, and to bring on an outside consultant for a thorough review of the systems used in managing hazardous wastes. It also prompted the facilities to immediately perform inspections of their wastewater disposal systems.
The suppliers who provided falsified records included one attempt to conceal evidence of historical instances of underage workers and two attempts to conceal violations regarding working hours and days of rest.
As for the excessive recruitment fees discovered, Apple required suppliers to reimburse fees exceeding set limits. Foreign workers, Apple said, have been reimbursed $2.2 million in recruitment fee overcharges in the past two years.
In 2009, Apple conducted on-site audits of 102 facilities. That included annual audits of all final assembly manufacturers (which assemble products including Macs and iPhones), first-time audits of component and nonproduction suppliers (which deliver goods including LCDs, hard drives, keyboards, as well as office supplies), and 15 repeat audits at facilities where it had earlier found instances of core violations.
"In general," Apple said in the report, "annual audits of final assembly manufacturers show continued performance improvements and better working conditions."
Apple said that, in total, more than 133,000 workers, supervisors, and managers have been trained on matters of workers' rights and management's responsibilities.