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December 13, 2013

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4 deaths at city plant run by Apple supplier

The deaths of four workers at an iPhone plant in Shanghai, including a 15-year-old boy, has again focused attention on conditions at Apple contractors in China.

The Wall Street Journal said teenager Shi Zhaokun started work at the Taiwan-based Pegatron Corp plant in the Pudong New Area in September.

He died of pneumonia a month later, though a pre-employment medical check showed he was in good health, China Labor Watch, a US-based non-profit group that monitors Chinese factories, said.

The newspaper said Shi’s identity card said he was 20. The minimum age for work in China is 16.

Pegatron confirmed that four workers died of illnesses recently at the Shanghai plant, which employs about 100,000 people.

It said strict measures were in place to verify workers’ ages.

“Unfortunately, the official ID which was presented when this individual was hired had been wrongly issued,” it said.

In response to Shi’s death, Apple last month sent independent medical experts to the factory, Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu said.

“While they have found no evidence of any link to working conditions there, we realize that is of little comfort to the families who have lost their loved ones,” Wu told the newspaper.

Apple declined to comment on the employment of underage workers.

Pegatron Chief Financial Officer Charles Lin told the newspaper the company had doctors on site, but a lot of young people didn’t realize when they might be very sick.

Lin said it was difficult to monitor tens of thousands of workers and the company was thinking of how to improve its orientation program.

Shi’s mother said her son had called to say he had a cold. When he was told to come home, Shi said he had to stay and get his paycheck.

12-hour shifts

The next call came five days later when a company representative said Shi was very ill. By the time the family arrived in Shanghai, Shi had died.

The family told the newspaper that Shi worked 12-hour shifts, based on his time sheets.

Pegatron is said to have offered Shi’s family around 90,000 yuan (US$14,820) but it was declined as too low.

Pegatron and Apple told the newspaper their investigations indicated none of the deaths was linked to working conditions.

Ge Yulong, a 19-year-old worker at the Pudong plant, told Shanghai Daily turnover was very high due to long hours.

“There are many young workers, teenagers I mean. Some just graduated from middle schools but I’m not sure if there are any child workers,” Ge said.

He was attracted by a salary which could be up to 6,000 yuan a month though he had to work more than 10 hours a day.

Wu Kuaidong, who had worked on the iPhone 5c assembly line, told Shanghai Daily the working environment was not ideal.

“The air is blown by equipment into the workshop and is not natural, so the workshop is poorly ventilated,” Wu said.

A US labor group monitoring three Chinese factories making iPhones and other Apple products says once-oppressive working conditions have improved in the past 18 months, but more needed to be done to reduce overtime work.

Reports depicting Foxconn plants as inhumane sweatshops prompted Apple to join the Fair Labor Association last year as part of a commitment to improve the situation.

The association’s report said Foxconn factories in Longhua, Chengdu and Guanlan had reached virtually all the goals set out in a plan adopted last year. But excessively long hours of overtime remained a problem.


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