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Apple Admits Rules Violations At Chinese iPod Plant

Apple scrambles to downplay reports of forced labor at a Chinese iPod factory, but it appears some rules were broken. The company is promising an immediate correction.
Apple Computer said Friday that charges of forced labor at a Chinese iPod factory were unfounded, but admitted that the Longhau plant exceeded the American company's limits on hours and days worked per week.

Apple said it was taking immediate steps with the supplier to remedy all issues.

"We found no instances of forced overtime," Apple said in a report released Friday. "We did, however, find that employees worked longer hours than permitted by our Code of Conduct, which limits normal workweeks to 60 hours and requires at least one day off each week." An audit of the factory's records found that in the past seven months, the hours-per-week limit was exceeded 35 percent of the time, and that employees worked more than the maximum days-per-week 25 percent of the time.

Apple's investigation was prompted by news reports in June that the plant -- which employs a total of 200,000 workers -- paid its workers half of the going rate, forced employees to work 15-hour shifts, and charged them about half their wages for the company-provided room and board.

The report dismissed most of those allegations, Apple said. "Our audit of on-site dormitories found no violations of our Code of Conduct. We were not satisfied, however, with the living conditions of three of the off-site leased dorms that we visited," Apple said Friday. Also, all workers are paid more than the local minimum wage, and more than half make above the minimum wage, which in that part of China is approximately 800 yuan ($100) per month.

During interviews with a cross-section of the workforce, Apple's investigators also found two employees who reported that they'd been made to stand at attention for disciplinary reasons.

"While we did not find this practice to be widespread, Apple has a zero tolerance policy for any instance, isolated or not, of any treatment of workers that could be interpreted as harsh," the company said. The employer has launched a manager and employee training program to quash such behavior.

Apple has hired Verit, an international consultant on workplace standards, to monitor plants where its products are made. "In cases where a supplier's efforts do not meet our expectations, their contracts will be terminated," Apple promised. Most of the 50-plus million iPods that Apple has sold since the portable music player's debut in 2001 were made in China. The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer and electronics maker controls an estimated 77 percent of the digital player market.