Child Labour Issues on Apple’s Chinese Suppliers

In Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Report 2011, Apple discovered that 91 children under the age of 16 working illegally at 10 Chinese factories making Apple products. Also, Apple also finally admits its supplier was responsible for this.

International Standards

The main international and legal instruments related to child labour are the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The ILO convention no. 138 requires that ratifying countries establish and pursue policies to effectively abolish child labour. For hazardous work, such as factory work , the minimum age of workers is generally 18 years old, and 16 years old under certain strict conditions. Convention no. 182 also defines that child labour at its worst form, i.e. forced labour should be eliminated regardless of age.

Also, Article 32 of the UNCRC also urged states parties to protect children from hazardous work. Minimum age for admission to employment; appropriate regulation of hours and conditions of employment; appropriate effective and enforcement of the present article are also needed.

The issue of child labour

In developing countries, due to economic constraints, children have to go to work in order to support the finance of the family. It is inevitable. Especially in China, although China’s economy is flourishing, there is still a large portion of population living in the rural area, seeking opportunity to find a job in the city. With limited education, factory worker seems to be only suitable occupation. It is the economic circumstances which gives rise to child labour.

While many agree that exposing children in hazardous working environment is highly undesirable, I would like to bring up an alternate view on child labour bought up by Olowski. Many may think that child labour is forced out of school to work. However in reality, there is hardly a choice between school and work. If out of work, children may then be forced to work in black markets, which working conditions could be more dangerous.

Of course, here I am not proposing a point that child labour should not be eliminated. It should be eliminated, but not only through factories banning recruitment of child labour, government‘s efforts in providing better welfare and schooling are also crucial here.

Apple’s action

While admitting responsibility, Apple in its Report also claimed that it has been aggressive in helping both active and historical underage workers return to their families and get back to school. They require supplier to pay educational expenses, living stipends, and lost wages for those workers. Apple also claimed to provide individual assistance to them. To prevent further firing of underage workers, Apple launched a training initiative in China to improve awareness of the suppliers on the issue.

If what claimed is true, it is very positive that Apple starts picking up this responsibility. Again, child labour should not be simply kicked out of factory, what they need is a better alternative.

Janice Cheung 



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