Apple says death at Pegatron unrelated to working conditions

A woman looks at the screen of her mobile phone in front of an Apple logo outside its store in downtown Shanghai September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song

TAIPEI/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The death of a 15-year-old worker was not caused by working conditions at a Pegatron Corp (TAI:4938) factory, according to medical exports sent to the factory by Apple Inc (NSQ:AAPL).

The boy died of pneumonia, the medical delegation said, after he apparently used someone else's ID to get a job at the Shanghai factory, which makes products for Apple.

Apple has taken various measures in response to questions on whether its products are made in what amount to sweatshops. It acted after about a dozen suicides, starting in 2010, at its assembler Foxconn.

The world's most valuable technology company commissioned an investigation of suppliers' Chinese factories last year by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which in a report on Thursday said working hours at Foxconn now comply with its standard.

"Last month, we sent independent medical experts from the U.S. and China to conduct an investigation of the (Pegatron) factory," Apple said in a statement on Thursday. "While they have found no evidence of any link to working conditions there, we realize that is of little comfort to the families who have lost their loved ones.

"Apple has a long-standing commitment to providing a safe and healthy workplace for every worker in our supply chain, and we have a team working with Pegatron at their facility to ensure that conditions meet our high standards."

The Taiwanese company, which assembles Apple's iPhone and iPad mini, had already concluded the death was not related to work. The employee had only recently joined, and the assembly line environment should not cause pneumonia, Pegatron spokesman Charles Lin said.

The employee used his 21-year-old cousin's identification to apply for the job, so the factory did not know he was underage, Lin also said.

China Labor Watch, a New York-based rights group, said the worker, who died in October, had a pre-employment physical examination on September 4 which showed he was in good health.

"Pegatron has strict measures in place to verify workers' ages before and after they are hired, and we work with health and safety experts to provide a safe working environment for each and every worker," Pegatron said in a statement.

Lin said three other employee deaths this year, in March and April, were caused by various medical conditions unrelated to work at the factory.


Separately, the FLA said in a report released on Thursday that three Chinese factories operated by Foxconn, Apple's largest contract manufacturer, now limit working hours to 60 per week. Foxconn is the holding company for Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd (TAI:2317).

"FLA's expectation is that Apple, working with Foxconn, will continue to rigorously monitor working hours to ensure that they comply with the FLA standard of 60 hours per week but also make progress toward the Chinese legal limit of 49 hours per week," FLA President and Chief Executive Auret van Heerden said in a statement.

Washington-based FLA in March last year set a deadline of July 1 this year to comply with China's weekly limit and 36-hours-per-month overtime cap, but Foxconn said it needed more time.

At that time, the FLA said some of the 170,000 employees at the factories in Longhua, Chengdu and Guanlan worked up to 80 hours of overtime per month. By May this year, the FLA said Foxconn had resolved 98 percent of issues raised in its initial investigation, including cutting working hours and overtime.

Apple said Foxconn had shortened its average work week to 53 hours. "Our suppliers must live up to the toughest standards in the industry if they want to keep doing business with Apple," it said.

Many Foxconn workers - migrants from other parts of China - have said they do not want overtime to be redueced -- they want to make as much money as possible in a short time. (Reporting by Clare Jim in TAIPEI, Paul Carsten in BEIJING and Poornima Gupta in SAN FRANCISCO; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Larry King)