Child labor

I read with interest the recent articles (couple of them here and here) about Apple’s announcement that some of their suppliers had used child labor in the past.

What I found most interesting was the “child” part – when I was 15 I would have slugged anyone who called me a child. During the summer of my 15th year, I was working in our metal stamping plant where the highest temperature reached 103 F (40 C). I had my first factory job when I was 14 turning wheels on a lathe. My Father never read child-labor laws, and thank God for that. It was an invaluable experience that I am sad to say I won’t be able to give to my son.

I can remember in 1998 visiting a factory for a major automotive supplier in Taiwan. There were 14 year old boys working on the lines making seat belt assemblies. I asked about it and found that they were students at the local technical school. They worked half a shift on the line and spent the rest of the day in class studying engineering. Today, 12 years later, they would be around 26 with degrees in mechanical engineering and over a decade of hands-on experience. I imagine some of them are running plants in China now.

I’ve written about The Wiffle Ball Life before, a term coined by P.J. O’Rourke to denote the rather pathetic American obsession with safety, self-esteem, and never doing anything the slightest bit risky – especially if it might also be fun.

I understand that Apple is worried about its image, and I acknowledge that those eleven 15 year olds may not have wanted to be there. But there is a big difference between a 15 year old farm kid fibbing about his age to get a good factory job to help support his family and using 6 year old slave labor in an illegal fireworks factory in Sichuan. It would be nice if the amazingly flexible English language had a concise way of stating the difference. I think “under-aged labor” is more reflective of the reality of the situation.

Should you need to verify that your suppliers are not using “under-aged labor”, our friends at China Quality Focus can perform a Corporate Social Audit for €376 + travel expenses, a small price to pay to avoid the kind of (undeserved) bad publicity Apple is experiencing.PassageMaker can also help our clients, under the auspices of a Vendor Coordination contract, draft supplier agreements to reflect the social norms of their home country or industry.

A better solution would be to have PassageMaker perform the Assembly-Inspection-Packaging functions in our 100% US-owned and -operated Assembly Center. We will warrant that we meet the necessary social compliance metrics.

Give us a call before you write the press release or talk to the New York Times.

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