Two Years of Broken Promises

Executive Summary

This report represents the findings of an investigator who worked at Catcher Technology in Suqian, China.  The plant manufactures metal casings for a number of consumer electronics companies including Apple, Inc. While at the factory, the investigator worked on parts for the latest iPad[1].  Catcher Technology also produces iPhone 6 parts in its factories in Suqian and Taizhou. The investigator discovered extensive violations of Chinese labor laws, as well as violations of Catcher’s policies and Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which details standards for worker rights and environmental sustainability for any company supplying to Apple.  Many of the violations were similar to those found in a 2013 investigation of the same plant, the results of which were shared with Apple by China Labor Watch. Since 2005, Apple Inc. has promoted a Supplier Code of Conduct that lists extensive labor, human rights, and environmental standards to which Apple’s third-party suppliers should conform. Apple implements internal (first-party) and third-party verification systems to monitor compliance to its Code. Inspection results are often accompanied by timetables for reform, or “corrective action plans,” which often include steps such as reducing working hours, carrying out full payment of insurance, and strengthening hiring systems to prevent underage labor. In recent years, more of this information has been released to the public. Apple’s supplier responsibility standards, inspection reports, corrective action plans, and annual reports look good on paper. Without sufficient transparency regarding actual factory labor conditions, many in the public—including investors, policymakers, and consumers—may assume that Apple invests the resources necessary to carry out the corrective action plans, and ensure its supply-chain factories follow the Supplier Code of Conduct. After all, these are basic legal and human rights standards, and Apple—as the most profitable electronics company in history and the third most profitable company in the world—has the resources to uphold them. Unfortunately, after the inspections are complete and the corrective action plans are handed down to factories from Apple, there are often no fundamental improvements in labor conditions and treatment of workers making Apple products. This report documents the lack of progress in a factory manufacturing components for Apple products, despite clear evidence of persistent violations of Chinese law and the Codes of Conduct of both Apple and its suppliers. While Apple recently announced that it is banning benzene and n-hexane in its 18 final-assembly factories in China, which is an important step forward for the company, the violations documented in this report demonstrate that Apple has a long way to go to ensure workers are laboring under safe and fair conditions.

Apple Supplier Catcher Technology—16 months later, same poor conditions

In 2013, China Labor Watch (CLW) conducted an undercover investigation of a factory called Catcher Technology Co., Ltd. in Suqian City, Jiangsu Province, China (hereafter “Catcher”). The probe uncovered serious labor rights and safety violations, including excessive overtime work, long work shifts while standing, insufficient social insurance, a lack of occupational safety training and heavy dust in the workplace, and a lack of protective equipment—particularly by workers who handle potentially toxic chemicals. CLW shared this information with Apple in April 2013. Apple then conducted a follow-up inspection, after which Apple said that Catcher would carry out reforms, especially those related to occupational safety. However, the results of CLW’s subsequent undercover investigation of Catcher, carried out 16 months later in August 2014 and documented in this report, suggests that Apple and Catcher have done little to ensure that safety standards and other conditions have improved for Catcher’s workers. In fact, the investigator going into the factory in 2014 discovered numerous additional violations that weren’t found in 2013, as well as repeat violations from year to year, suggesting that conditions may actually be getting worse in the factory.

Methodology & Findings

CLW sent an undercover investigator into Catcher’s Suqian factory, assuming the identity of a typical worker and gaining employment on an Apple production line through normal recruitment procedures. Through observation and more than 100 interviews with Catcher employees, CLW’s investigation has revealed 22 labor violations at Catcher, including:


1. Discriminatory hiring policies, including an upper age limit of 40 and a refusal to hire people with tattoos.

 2. Men are made to take off their shirts in public, exposing their upper body, in order to prove that they do not have tattoos.

 3. Workers must wait up to two months after they begin working at Catcher to receive a copy of the factory’s labor contract, violating Article 16 of China’s Labor Contract Law and making it difficult for a worker to prove his/her working relationship with the company if s/he wants to initiate a dispute over labor conditions.

Environment, Health, and Occupational Safety

4. Catcher makes workers fill out documents confirming that they participated in pre-employment training, including safety training, despite not actually receiving any safety training. 

5. The pre-employment training is only 20 minutes long and does not include any safety information. Before beginning production, workers often do not receive any safety education, despite the use of toxic metal-cutting fluids and flammable metal alloy in the factory. Workers know neither the toxicity limits nor the concentration of these chemicals.

6. The labor contract includes rules related to occupational safety and working conditions that Catcher does not comply with in practice, as documented in this report.

7. Despite workers using toxic chemicals, they frequently do not receive protective equipment in a timely manner or at all. Catcher workers have as a result suffered skin and eye irritation (including itchy, swollen, and peeling skin), and are at risk for more serious health problems. 

8. Fire exits and windows are locked shut, and some safety routes are blocked or too narrow, allowing only one person at a time to exit. If there were a fire or explosion, many workers would be trapped in the building. 

9. Flammable aluminum-magnesium alloy dust and scraps are a byproduct of the production processes of iPad covers. Due to poor ventilation, the dust is dense in some workshops[2], and small alloy scraps are scattered all over. Despite this, some workers smoke in the production facilities, and management does not organize fire drills for workers. 

10. There are no first aid kits in the workshops or dormitories, and workers do not know that there is a kit in the workshop office. 

11. Catcher engages in a number of environmental violations. Hazardous waste and general waste are not separated, and industrial waste, like cutting oils and some metal scraps, are poured into the sewage system and directly into a nearby river.

Working Hours

12. Workers are made to labor for up to 100 hours of overtime per month, nearly three times the limit of 36 hours mandated by Chinese Labor Law. 

13. Workers labor on their feet for over 10 hours per day, six days per week. 

14. Overtime is mandatory.

Wages and Benefits

15. Every month, workers must participate in more than six hours of unpaid overtime in meetings. With 20,000 workers, Catcher may be collectively underpaying its workers more than $290,000 a month. 

16. Catcher management does not pay legally mandated social insurance according to Chinese regulations, and workers are not told how much the company is contributing to their insurance.


17. Workers have difficulty resigning from Catcher because supervisors reject workers’ resignation notifications. According to Chinese Labor Contract Law, an employee does not need permission to resign and must provide notification of resignation only one month in advance. Workers who wish to leave are forced to quit and cannot easily collect unpaid wages. 

18. Factory management is often too harsh and punitive towards workers, with supervisors commonly yelling at workers. The company maintains a list of over 100 worker behaviors that can be punished by warning, demerit, demotion, or dismissal.

Student Labor

19. Catcher employs many student workers (16-18 years old), but these young people labor for the same long hours and under the same intense working conditions as adult workers.

WorkEr Representation and Grievances

20. There is no functional union at Catcher, and workers are discouraged from using the complaint line that is provided to them by the company.

21. The complaint line is not confidential, and workers may suffer retaliation for using it.

Living Conditions

22. In factory dormitories, there are eight people to a room, and workers must pay for the use of showering and drinking water.

Two Year Chart of Violations

It is important to note that all of the same problems at Catcher exposed by CLW 16 months ago still exist today, and some are worse. Moreover, CLW has uncovered many new violations in 2014. These violations include infringements of Chinese law, Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, and Catcher’s policies. It should be noted that both Apple and Catcher commit to compliance with applicable laws and regulations within their Code or policy. The chart below compares labor violations at Catcher between 2013 and 2014, including indicators of violations of law and corporate policies. 

Violations 2013 2014
Discriminatory hiring practices †
Workers must wait up to 2 months to receive their labor contract *
Excessive working hours and overtime * †
Mandated overtime work * †
Unpaid overtime wages * †
Punitive wage deductions †
Long working hours while standing †
Lack of occupational health and safety training * † ©
Fraudulent training verification documents *
Protective equipment not given out in a timely manner (or at all) †
Dense metal dust in workshop (fire and explosion risk) † ©
Lack of safety signs
Fire exits and windows locked shut (emergency risk) † ©
No special protections for underage workers and student workers * †
Workers do not participate in fire drills †
Environmental pollution † ©
No functional union †
Workers need permission to resign *
Social insurance underpaid *
No functioning grievance channel †
Workers required to pay for drinking water and showers in dorms †
No worker health and safety committee †

                                                    * Violation of Chinese legal regulations

                                                    † Violation of Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct

                                                   © Violation of Catcher’s Environmental Safety and Health Policy or Corporate Social Responsibility PolicyThe violations concerning worker health and safety, especially in regard to emergency preparedness, cannot be overstated. Electronics manufacturing, particularly metal cutting as is performed in Catcher, is very chemical intensive and creates significant fire hazards. To address the violations in the Catcher factory, it is imperative that workers receive safety training and protective equipment for handling hazardous substances, and that the factory has controls in place to prevent disasters. Locked safety exits and the failure to conduct fire drills, especially when working with explosive dust (which frequently fills the air), put thousands of workers lives at risk in the case of an emergency. Additionally, Catcher must put procedures in place to handle and dispose of waste materials, including flammable shreddings and toxic cutting fluids. The ongoing and serious labor violations at Catcher bring into question the credibility of Apple’s Code of Conduct. Nearly 10 years have passed since Apple unveiled its list of human rights commitments, yet while Apple has earned hundreds of billions of dollars in profit over this period, the workers making Apple’s valuable gadgets continue to suffer daily human rights and safety violations. CLW and Green America call on Apple to commit the resources necessary to respect legal regulations and truly realize the labor, human rights, and environmental standards to which Apple committed itself in 2005. 

[1] Apple has not officially named the latest iPad which is rumored to be announced later in 2015. News reports refer to it as the iPad 6, the iPad Air 2, or the iPad Pro. In this report, we refer to this device as an iPad generally. The investigator took photographic evidence of the iPad products he worked on but we have elected to omit them from this report to respect Apple’s intellectual property. 

[2] This report often makes reference to a “workshop”, which is the room where a specialized type of production takes place. There are many workshops in a factory like Catcher, each responsible for a different step of the production process.

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