Tim Cook Hits Back at Factory Abuse Reports: ‘Apple Cares About Its Workers’

CEO Tim Cook calls underage labor ‘rare’ but ‘abhorrent,’ and says no one in tech field is doing more than Apple to improve working conditions

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook struck back over the fallout from reports of inhumane conditions at the technology giant’s suppliers on Tuesday.

“Our commitment is very, very simple,” Cook said at Goldman Sachs' Technology Conference. “We believe every worker has the right to a fair and safe work environment free of discrimination where they can earn competitive wages and where they can voice their concerns freely.”

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He said that companies that work with Apple must honor that commitment in order to keep their contracts.

The issue is that many of these suppliers reportedly fell far short of those lofty goals. Consequently, Apple has struggled to contain the fallout from a series of devastating reports on NPR and the New York Times on the poor treatment of workers in the factories of its Chinese manufacturing suppliers.

The stories describes factory workers being saddled with excessive hours, chronic low wages and exposure to toxic chemicals.

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Cook acknowledged that problems existed in Apple’s supply chain of foreign manufacturers, but said that the company is working hard to rectify the situation. In particular he cited the reported use of child labor.

"We think the use of underage labor is abhorrent,” Cook said. “It is extremely rare in our supply chain, but we have worked to eliminate it entirely. Hiring underage labor is a firing offense."

To that end, Cook said that Apple is working hard to identify and eliminate problems and abuses. He said that he and other top managers routinely visit Apple’s factories across the globe and routinely audit their performance. He cited the company’s decision to begin allowing labor inspectors with the Fair Labor Association into its facilities as evidence of Apple’s commitment.

“No one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple,” Cook said.

Cook also maintained that the company has invested heavily in providing educational opportunities for its workers, believing them to be the “great equalizer.” He said that over 65,000 employees had attended classes in everything from computer skills to English with many going on to earn Associate’s Degrees.

“Whether workers are in Europe, or Asia or in the United States, we care about every worker,” Cook said.