Apple’s Failed CSR Audit A Report on Catcher Technology Polluting the Environment and Harming the Health of Workers

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Press Release
China labor Watch
Jan 16,2018( New York)

China Labor Watch conducted an in-depth investigation into the working conditions at the Suqian Catcher Factory, a major supplier for Apple’s MacBook and iPhone 8 devices based in Jiangsu, China. CLW’s investigator worked undercover as a regular worker in the factory from October 2017 to January 2018. CLW identified major issues at Catcher related to occupational health and safety, pollution and work schedules.

Founded in 1984 and headquartered in Taiwan, Catcher Technology (Suqian) Co Ltd. is a major manufacturer of notebook computers, digital cameras and disc drives. It has set up a number of mainland branches including Suqian Catcher. During the period of investigation, Suqian Catcher was primarily manufacturing parts for Apple products.

China Labor Watch has previously released a report in 2014 about Suqian Catcher, which detailed a string of rights violations including discriminatory hiring policies, lack of safety training, long work hours, and low wages. This year’s investigation revealed not only do some of these previous violations continue to persist but also a multitude of new rights violations have occurred.

During the investigation, workers at Catcher received a base wage of 1,950 RMB ($301 USD). Adding on overtime pay and relevant bonuses, workers received around 4,000 RMB a month ($619 USD). Official regulations specify an eight hours a day, five days a week schedule, but Catcher workers have a ten hours a day, six days a week schedule. Catcher has also adopted a new scheduling system that allows the factory to not pay double time for workers’ overtime as required by law. A regular schedule should be Monday to Friday with Saturday counted as overtime and paid double time. Yet Catcher has implemented a "seven shifts, six rotations" work schedule for one to two weeks of the month. From Monday to Friday, workers take turns to have a day off, and then make up for it on the weekend. Thus, Saturdays are considered as a make-up for the weekday and not paid double time and Sundays are counted as a regular workday. As a result of this schedule, workers lose around 500 RMB ($76.57 USD) every month of overtime pay.

Besides for long hours and unpaid overtime, it is also extremely difficult for dispatch workers to successfully resign at Catcher. Factory officials do not settle wages on the day of resignation as is legally required. Thus, workers who wish to resign would have to wait till the 5th of the following month to receive their wages, that is, if their resignation application is approved. For dispatch workers, this is rarely the case. They are frequently rebuked by employees at both Catcher and the labor dispatch company, who will usually not agree to a worker’s request to resign.

While Catch workers face unfair treatment from the management, their health and safety also continue to be threatened. There is an excessive amount of loud noise at the workshops of the CNC department, which can cause irreversible damage to workers’ hearing; dorms do not have emergency hallways or fire exits; there are no effective unions and workers are unable to have their opinions heard.

The investigator suffered negative health effects after working in Catcher on the CNC production line for a month. He was responsible for removing and assembling metal parts onto model trays so that the machine could process them. During the manufacturing process, chemical cutting fluids and metal particles would often splash into his eyes. Despite this, Catcher does not provide workers with safety goggles. While working at Catcher, the investigator developed symptoms of reduced vision, eye pain and irritation along with a persistent sensation of foreign substances in his eyes. One month after leaving the factory, the investigator’s eyes remained bloodshot.

On top of these occupational hazards, there was a serious workplace accident on the morning of May 25 2017. 90 workers in Catcher’s A6 workshop were hospitalized after being poisoned by a toxic gas. At least five people were admitted to intensive care units, according to information obtained by CLW. The Administrative Committee of the Suzhou-Suqian Industrial Park, located in Suqian city, Jiangsu Province, had conducted an investigation into the toxic gas incident shortly after it happened and published their results June 2017.

Catcher has been risking the health and safety of its workers as well as the local environment. CLW discovered a significant case of environmental pollution at Catcher. We noticed that the factory was directly dispensing white, foamy wastewater into the public sewage system. The wastewater originated from the factory area where Apple parts were being manufactured. In response to the situation, CLW first consulted with testing companies and experts on water quality assessment. Then, on December 26, we collected a 600 mL sample of the factory's wastewater according to their instructions. The sample was sent to Suzhou Kunhuan Detection Technology Co., Ltd. for testing levels of Chemical Oxygen Demand (CODcr), Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Suspended solids (SS) – three common measures of water quality. On January 4th, results came back, showing that the water sample had well exceeded the acceptable levels for CODcr, BOD and SS as stipulated by the local government. According to the testing results, the wastewater sample had a CODcr level of 278 mg/L, well above Jiangsu's standard of 80-120 mg/L. BOD levels were at 45.8 mg/L, which also exceeds the 20-30 mg/L standard. Jiangsu government’s specific standards regarding water quality can be found here.

CLW’s partner reported the issue of environmental pollution at Catcher to the Suqian Environmental department, and received a response on the afternoon of Tuesday January 16. The department’s response was that, as the wastewater is overflowing onto the ground’s surface, this is a serious violation of regulations. In addition, the department found that Catcher has a system for treating the wastewater. However, as Catcher has large amounts of wastewater, they were unable to treat all of it, which led to the wastewater overflowing onto the sidewalk.

Rights violations at Catcher are countless. When CLW brought up a number of these issues regarding Catcher with Apple, the company claimed that Catcher had been subject to and successfully passed over 50 audits. The disparity between the various labor law violations found by CLW investigators and the audits that Catcher have allegedly passed calls into question the reliability of the audits.

“Apple has recently said they respect Chinese law but Apple has, in reality, been selective about which laws they follow, especially in regards to labor and environmental protection laws. Apple needs to uphold their claim of honoring Chinese law.” said Li Qiang, Executive Director of China Labor Watch.