Is Apple cleaning up its act on labour rights

Is Apple cleaning up its act on labour rights - .Duncan ,

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Is Apple cleaning up its act on labour rights?  Tough production schedules and slim margins lead to poor labour conditions in the electronics industry.  Duncan  Jefferies  asks if progress is being made  For electronics companies, the decision to outsource manufacturing operations to the developing world isn't just about  cost-cutting. The speed and flexibility of the vast Asian workforce, assembled to build slick, shiny gadgets for western  consumers, allows for unprecedented turnaround times on new products. And by outsourcing production to China, the  world's electronics giants – Dell, Sony, Microsoft,  Apple , Samsung and others – are closer to the hundreds of component manufacturers, engineers and material eco-systems that their products depend upon. It's a business model that's highly profitable – particularly for Apple, which recently announced a $13.4bn profit for the  first quarter of 2014. But there's a human cost to outsourcing to countries with lax or non-existent labour laws. Suppliers often hire and fire  thousands of people at a moment's notice to meet production quotas, press them to work excessive overtime that leaves  workers exhausted and clinically depressed, and skirt around health, safety and environmental concerns. All of which  leaves an ugly stain on the corporate social responsibility credentials of the companies that use their services. In the clothing sector, these issues have been part of public and corporate consciousness since the mid-1990s, when  brands such as Nike were condemned for their use of sweatshops in the developing world. Then in 2010 the electronics  industry suffered its own sweatshop scandal when  18 workers at Foxconn facilities  in China, where most of the world's  gadgets are produced, attempted suicide. Fourteen died. Almost four years on, have electronics suppliers in the developing world cleaned up their act? Peter McAllister, director  of the  Ethical Trading Initiative , says: "We are seeing some positive signs in China, such as increases in the minimum  wage as a result of worker protests and chronic labour shortages. But the labour rights challenges should not be  underestimated. [We see] high levels of bribery and corruption, audit fraud and a poor health and safety culture.  Freedom of association is also severely restricted. These issues are rife in many sectors and pose real challenges for  companies committed to trading ethically." Another concern is the widespread use of student labour: young people aged 16-18 are often drafted into factory  positions under the guise of  work experience placements , so that suppliers can meet production schedules. Apple's latest 
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