Supply Chain of Apple Watch Under Investigation for Illegal Student Labor

November 1, 2018 • Shannon Flynn


Apple fans wait eagerly for the latest products from the brand. But, people often don’t think about what happens before those products reach store shelves. News broke recently about Apple Watch under investigation for allegations that a Chinese supplier depended on illegal student labor to make its Series 4 watch.

Details About the Claims

Many consumers expect a well-respected brand like Apple to make its products as responsibly as possible, including keeping tabs on its suppliers. That’s why putting the Apple Watch under investigation was a priority for the company after the allegations came to light.

A group called Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) recently raised the alarm and published a report.

The group says teenaged students were forced to work in a factory located in Chongqing operated by Quanta Computer. That company made all the models of the Apple Watch so far and was listed as a “major manufacturer” of the Series 3. This recent development at the company made the Apple Watch under investigation.

The people investigating these labor allegations say that teachers told students they would not graduate unless they completed their shifts, and the activity was presented as an “internship.”

However, interviews conducted with numerous participants revealed that the majority of them were not studying anything related to electronics, yet their work involved assembling Apple’s watches.

Many of the students also declared that they were forced to work an average of two to three hours of overtime per day, plus take part in a weekend shift. They brought up specific working hours that were too long to be legal under China’s labor laws, as well.

When many people think about what they expected from the Apple Series 4 Watch, most arguably did not ponder the possibility that students were slaving away to make the devices.

Quantas Is a Major Electronics Supplier

Quanta Computer was established in Taipei, Taiwan in 1988, and its customers include HP, Dell, LG, Verizon Wireless and numerous others besides Apple. In short, if you own a gadget from a major brand, there’s a chance that workers at this company may have assembled it.

According to the brand’s official website, all of the top ten computing companies work with Quantas as a supplier, and one of out of every three laptops were made in a Quantas factory, though not necessarily at its Chongqing location.

Not the First Allegations of This Kind

In the autumn of 2017, almost identical allegations arose about the Chongqing location. Undercover interviews took place at that Quanta Computer factory beginning in mid-2016.

Investigators learned that despite laws that only ten percent of a factory’s workforce should be comprised of interns, more than 60 percent of the workforce at that Quantas factory were interns according to a manager. And, the reliance on interns has become standard practice at Chinese tech factories.

Many of the computing brands associated with the student labor practices did not respond to requests for comments. However, in a piece published in The Guardian in October 2017, Apple told the publication it “does not have any operations” at the Chongqing Quantas factory. That feedback contradicts other reports published around the same time, though.

Other Tech Companies Also Under Fire

The questionable labor practices within its supply chain isn’t a matter Apple would bring up at its keynote announcements. And, indeed, it’s a matter the company needs to get to the bottom of and take corrective action when required. But, it’s worth pointing out that Apple is not the only brand caught up in problems at Chinese factories.

In 2014, Samsung found dozens of labor violations at its Chinese suppliers, including issues with improper safety gear and requiring workers to put in too many overtime hours.

Then, in June 2018, Amazon made the news for harsh working conditions at a Foxconn factory in China that puts together Echo Dot speakers and Kindle devices for Amazon. Notably, Foxconn allegedly participated in illegal student internships while making the iPhone X for Apple in 2017.

These labor problems don’t only occur outside the U.S., either. In-depth reports mention how Silicon Valley companies and tech brands in other parts of the country depend on undocumented immigrants in their supply chains. They know those people will be less likely to complain and more tolerant of subpar conditions than employees with papers.

A Sobering Side Effect of the Demand for Gadgets

These possible labor violations are inexcusable and should not continue. But, it could easily be argued that the public’s demand for the newest, improved tech gear fueled this trend.

People must hold brands accountable to not merely investigate claims but stop working with the companies that continually engage in poor practices.