Labor and Employment

Brought to You by Child Labor: iPhones and iPods

By Susan M. Brazas, Attorney

Not too long ago, a famous TV celebrity was ashamed that her clothing line was made by children in sweatshops overseas. Computer giant Apple admitted that child labor was used in three supplier factories in 2009 to build iPhones, iPods and Macintosh computers.

Child Labor Is Allowed - But Not in the US

Many books have been written which shed light on horrible working conditions in countries where children are forced to work in factories to create cheap goods for sale in the US.

Apple released a report, entitled "Supplier Responsibility," outlining 17 violations where its overseas supplier factories violated Apple's standards for suppliers. Among the violations were using child labor and falsifying records.

Three factories were found to have hired 15-year-olds to work in countries where the minimum working age is 16. A total of 11 workers were hired before reaching the legal age to work. The report explained some factories falsified records which showed a history of hiring underage workers.

Report Findings

Among the findings were that workers were required to work excessive hours, seven days per week without a break. And the facility managers falsified records to try to conceal this, even after being caught the year before for the same problem. Apple claims it has ended its relationship with the factory.

Apple's audit also found miscalculated overtime wages and workers were underpaid for overtime work. It also found many workers were paid less than the required minimum wage for regular working hours.

Apple didn't reveal where these violations were found. Its audit was done on factories in many countries including China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the Czech Republic, the Philippines and the US.

Many third-world countries have no minimum age for working. Or they turn a blind eye to violations of their employment age laws. It may be hard for locals to understand why their children can't work to help the family survive. In many countries, schools are non-existent and schooling is not required.

Child Labor Is Illegal in the US

In the US, state and federal laws regulate the employment and education of children. Federal agencies such as the Department of Labor and the Department of Education oversee laws and regulations in these areas. There are also corresponding state agencies.

Generally, children under 16 aren't allowed to work, except in certain areas such as restaurants, recreation (such as lifeguarding and golf caddying), and agriculture (such as seasonal field work). Many states require workers 16 to obtain a permit which is often available at schools. These permits usually require the parents' permission and signature.

Jon and Kate Gosselin, the parents of twins and sextuplets and whose show follows their lives, were taken to task by the Department of Labor for not having work permits for their children to be on the show. No further legal action was taken, but permits will be needed for any future filming and the money will go into a trust fund for the children.

Subjecting children to factory work or other manual labor is prohibited. Although it was commonly allowed in the 1800s and the early 1900s. The Library of Congress web site has striking photographs from that era, showing small children working alongside large, dangerous machinery.

Companies Can Have Their Own Regulations

In today's global economy, countless companies now have their products made in countries where labor is cheap and where workplace laws are scarce or commonly ignored. To avoid public outcry from their US customers, many companies monitor their supplier factories in other countries, and have rules and standards which are stricter than in those countries.

The companies can require that their rules be followed, and can choose to stop buying from those factories if they aren't. The challenge for these companies is to find out the truth about the working conditions, and to follow through on penalizing violations.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I have a claim against a company that uses child labor?
  • What is the best way to prevent US companies from using child labor?
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