A man looks at the screen of his mobile phone in front of an Apple logo outside its store in Shanghai, China July 30, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song
INTERNATIONAL - Apple Inc. touted major improvements in labor and environmental practices across its vast global supply chain in 2017, as the world’s most valuable company pressured factories to modernize and train workers on their rights.

The iPhone maker’s audit of 756 facilities in 2017 produced a 35 percent increase in suppliers classified as high-performing for their adherence to its code of conduct, according to Apple’s 2018 progress report. More than 3 million workers were trained on their rights last year.

Apple has been criticized for years over its supply chain, a collection of hundreds of companies making components and assembling iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Workers at a Catcher Technology Co. plant in China told Bloomberg News this year how they had to stand for up to 10 hours a day in hot workshops slicing and blasting casings and handle noxious chemicals, sometimes without proper safety equipment.

The U.S. company said in its report that it found 44 “core violations” last year, double the year earlier, though it didn’t name specific suppliers. The measure tracks the most serious breaches of compliance such as child labor and intimidation of workers. Of the audits carried out last year, 197 were initial assessments where Apple visited facilities for the first time.

Core violations in 2017 included 38 cases of work hours being falsified, three bonded-labor situations and two cases of underage workers. The 14 and 15-year-old children were returned home, enrolled in schools of their choice and promised a job when they reach working age.

Apple’s report also said the company made progress on its environmental impact with 5.1 billion gallons of water conserved in 2017 and a 320,000 metric ton reduction in carbon emissions.

While the report is Apple’s 12th annual review of its supply chain, scrutiny of the report has increased since the company attracted worldwide attention in 2010 after a series of suicides at plants run by its main assembler Foxconn Technology Group in China.

- BLOOMBERG