Chinese workers exploited by U.S.-owned iPhone supplier: An investigation of labor conditions at Jabil Green Point in Wuxi, China

It seems that wherever Apple products are made, labor rights are infringed upon, even if the supplier factory is owned by a U.S.-based company.

Ting, a female worker at the Jabil factory in Wuxi, China, is rushing to finish her lunch. With only five minutes to eat, she has to hurry back to the production facility, where her coworker Han is currently filling in for Ting. Han is waiting to be replaced so that she can have her lunch. Although Jabil workers are technically given a 30-minute lunch break, the amount of time in which they can actually eat their meals is far less.

When Ting leaves for her lunch break, she first needs to pass through security. In a production facility with 300 workers, Ting has to wait in line for three minutes before getting to the check point. After passing security, Ting rushes to the factory cafeteria, which is on the third floor of another building. When she arrives at the cafeteria eight minutes later, she waits another three minutes to get her food. When Ting finally takes a seat to eat her lunch, she has just five minutes to eat before she needs to head back to the production floor in time to replace Han.

This is lunchtime for a worker at Jabil, a publicly-traded U.S.-owned company. There are approximately 30,000 workers at the Jabil factory in Wuxi, China, but the complex only has one cafeteria. Overcrowding, short breaks, and distance between facilities has led to workers’ five-minute meals.

From investigations on the suicides at Foxconn, to the 86 labor rights violations found at Pegatron, to this current report on the infringements of workers’ rights at Jabil, China Labor Watch (CLW) has documented and reported on numerous extensive ethical and legal violations at Apple manufacturing facilities. Apple’s products are manufactured at the expense of Chinese workers, laboring in factories owned by Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and, in the case of Jabil, U.S.-owned companies.

The Jabil Green Point factory in Wuxi (“Jabil Wuxi”) is owned by Jabil Circuit Inc., a U.S.-based company headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida with revenue of $17.2 billion in 2012. This factory produces the rear plastic covers of Apple’s so-called cheap iPhone. CLW’s undercover investigation at Jabil exposed a series of violations of Chinese law as well as Apple’s code of conduct. For example, workers at Jabil stand for 11 and a half hours of work per day, accumulating more than 100 overtime hours per month, three times that permissible by Chinese legal limits. In fact, Jabil forces workers to accept overtime hours, at the same time requiring newly hired workers to sign an agreement indicating that their overtime will be considered voluntary. The company also hires dispatch workers in excess of statutory limits and forces female applicants to accept pregnancy tests.

On its website, Apple claims that 99 percent of its manufacturers comply with Apple’s standard of no more than 60 hours per week, a standard in excess of the Chinese legal limit of 49 hours. However, among the 80 workers CLW interviewed at Jabil Wuxi, more than 80 percent said that they work more than 60 hours per week and 100 overtime hours per month. Actual pay stubs of workers also revealed that Jabil workers labor more than 100 hours of overtime a month, not including an additional 11 hours of unpaid overtime.

At Apple’s supplier factories, workers’ base wages are barely enough to meet subsistence-level needs, forcing workers to rely on overtime wages. At Jabil Wuxi, the typical monthly base wage for a worker is 1,500 RMB ($245), while the average monthly income in Wuxi is 2,890 RMB ($472) for private industry employees and 4,615 RMB $753) for non-private industry employees in 2012.[1] The combined base wages for two adults working at Jabil (3,000 RMB or $490 per month) is insufficient to raise a child in Wuxi, with basic expenses for such a family amounting to 4,110 RMB ($671) per month.

Given this economic reality, workers rely on overtime wages, something that the factory exploits even further by not paying them for some overtime work. CLW’s investigation reveal that Jabil worker are required to accept 11 hours of unpaid overtime work every month, including participating in morning and evening meetings that are not calculated into working hours. This calculates to workers losing out on 142 RMB ($23) per worker per month. With 30,000 workers at the Jabil factory in Wuxi, Jabil is effectively stealing 51 million RMB ($8.3 million) per year from workers’ unpaid overtime hours. As a publicly-traded American company, the gains Jabil makes off this wage theft indirectly benefit Jabil investors.

These are just some of the legal and ethical violations uncovered in this CLW report, which also include illegally inadequate and perfunctory training even on essential health and safety issues; crowded and difficult dorm conditions; excessively intense production schedules; and a lack of effective grievance channels through which workers can rectify these violations.

The Responsibility to Workers

CLW’s July 2013 report on a group of factories belonging to Pegatron Group, a major Apple supplier, revealed that labor conditions in these factories clearly violated Apple’s code of conduct. CLW’s investigation of Jabil Wuxi further demonstrates the systemic nature of the labor rights violations occurring within Apple’s manufacturing supply chain and runs counter to Apple’s Code of Conduct and their self-reporting of conditions at these facilities.

Jabil also publishes its commitments to ethical business conduct, including compliance with the Electronics Industry Business Coalition (EICC) code. This code includes limiting work to 60 hours per week, compensating for overtime, voluntary labor, non-discrimination, and ongoing safety training. CLW’s investigation finds that Jabil has largely disregarded these regulations in its Wuxi plant.

The treatment of workers at Jabil Wuxi also violates a number of Chinese laws. The government has inadequately enforced labor law, in part as a result of local government officials prioritizing business interests over worker interests. The Chinese government must take responsibility for lax law enforcement. At the same time, this is not a justification for Apple and Jabil to exploit workers subject to this environment.

The U.S. government also shares in the responsibility for labor abuses committed by U.S. companies manufacturing in China. It is the duty of national governments to regulate the conduct of their companies abroad. This notion is articulated in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which was unanimously endorsed in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, including the U.S. government. When, for instance, Jabil Circuit does not pay its Chinese production workers for overtime, the U.S. has the obligation to stop it. Rather, the U.S. currently profits through the capital gains tax on earnings Jabil acquires through wage theft of its workers in Wuxi.


[1] Based on statistics provided by the Wuxi City government (Chinese)