Apple is once again in the crosshairs of a major media outlet over supposed worker rights abuse, this time with supplier Pegatron caught on undercover video questionable treatment of workers at an iPhone 6 factory.
In a hyped exposé aired Thursday night, BBC One reports multiple instances of what it refers to as “poor treatment” of workers on a Pegatron production line tasked with assembling Apple’s latest iPhone 6 handset. The broadcast is the latest in a long line of reports concerning worker rights at factories in Apple’s massive overseas supply chain, most of which saddle Apple with the blame for lacking proper oversight.
The BBC Panorama investigation put embeds with hidden cameras to work at Pegatron’s iPhone factory, who quickly found inconsistencies with Apple’s promised safeguards outlined in its Supplier Responsibility report (PDF download). Undercover reporters discovered numerous infractions, including illegal ID card confiscation, excessive working hours, poor living conditions and underage workers.
From the clips provided, it appears the most egregious breaches involve long working hours. According to Apple standards, overtime is voluntary for workers at its supplier factories, though BBC reporters found extra work was built in to their contracts.
“Every time I got back to the dormitories, I wouldn’t want to move,” said one reporter whose longest shift was 16 hours. “Even if I was hungry I wouldn’t want to get up to eat. I just wanted to lie down and rest. I was unable to sleep at night because of the stress.”
Supplier work-hour compliance according to Apple data.
For its part, Apple championed its ongoing response to labor issues in China, a country known for its dubious treatment of workers as seen through the lens of Westerners.
“We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions,” Apple said in a statement. “We work with suppliers to address shortfalls, and we see continuous and significant improvement, but we know our work is never done.”
Pegatron has been in the news before for allegedly breaking China’s labor regulations. Last year, labor rights watchdog China Labor Group discovered wage and safety violations at multiple plants operated by the iPhone and iPad partner supplier. Like the BBC’s investigation, CLW saw workweeks that often exceed Apple’s specified 60-hour limit, as well as ID card confiscation.
“Worker safety and well-being are our top priorities. We set very high standards, conduct rigorous training for managers and workers, and have external auditors regularly visiting our facilities to find areas for improvement,” a statement said.
Moving south, the BBC visited Bangka island in Indonesia to check on metal ore collectors who gather tin and other minerals to sell to smelters on Apple’s list of suppliers. Children were seen digging out tin ore by hand under unsafe conditions that could potentially lead to deadly landslides.
In a Supplier Responsibility report earlier this year, Apple said it planned to crack down on conflict minerals, especially those sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by releasing a quarterly report (PDF download) listing supplier smelters.
Graphical plot of Apple’s supply chain by region.
As AppleInsider reported in February, the electronics industry as a whole is responsible for over half of the world’s tantalum consumption, but it is not a major consumer of tin, tungsten and gold. Without substantial buying power companies like Apple have little sway with smelters or collectors of those minerals.
“The simplest course of action would be for Apple to unilaterally refuse any tin from Indonesian mines. That would be easy for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism,” Apple said in regard to Bangka. “But that would also be the lazy and cowardly path, since it would do nothing to improve the situation. We have chosen to stay engaged and attempt to drive changes on the ground.”
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Apple has shown interest in combining the use of its Touch ID fingerprint sensor with rotating or moving a user’s fingertip in specific ways, offering even more advanced security on future iPhones and iPads.
The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application credited to Dale R. Setlak, co-founder of AuthenTec, the company acquired by Apple to power its Touch ID fingerprint sensors. Entitled “Electronic Device Switchable to a User-Interface Unlocked Mode Based Upon a Pattern of Input Motions and Related Methods,” the newly published filing describes how the Touch ID sensor could interact with a user interface to allow users to unlock their device.
In one example, a user is shown rotating their finger to move a corresponding digital combination lock displayed on the iPhone screen. In the filing, Apple reveals that its virtual combination lock would be responsible to a pattern of input motions that must be completed by the user to securely unlock the device.
In another example, a traditional “swipe pattern” is displayed on the screen. But instead of interacting with the display, a user drags their finger across the Touch ID home button to securely unlock the device.
The filing only serves to spotlight the fact that the Touch ID home button found on the latest iPhones and iPads can be used for much more than just sensing a user’s fingerprint. The technology acquired by Apple allows for the button to sense movement and motion of a user’s finger, which could allow unique input methods in the future.
This has already been achieved in a subtle way with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, both of which boast a new feature called “Reachability,” allowing the user to tap but not press the home button twice to bring the top portion of the screen down so that it can be reached with one hand.
Because the Touch ID button is always “sensing” in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, touching it alone can keep an iPhone display from going into idle mode and locking — something that doesn’t occur with the smaller iPhone 5s, which lacks Reachability.
The Touch ID fingerprint sensor is powered by the “Smart Sensor” technology that Apple acquired from AuthenTec. The Touch ID predecessor could be used to provide touch-based navigation, offering precise cursor control when editing text, optical joystick emulation, a fast scrolling feature, and more.
Touch ID’s ability to identify different fingerprints could also be utilized to enable users to quickly initiate different tasks, such as launching specific apps or calling a particular contact, by using different fingers.
Setlak’s proposed input motion unlock invention was made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was first filed with the office in June of 2013.
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Apple is gearing up for the global expansion of its tap-to-pay mobile wallet service, Apple Pay, with new hires sought to fill positions avialable around the world, including in China.
This week, Apple began advertising a new position in Shanghai, discovered by AppleInsider, for an “Apple Pay Site Reliability Engineer.” The 40-hour-per-week role will require collaboration with peers in both the U.S. and Europe, in what Apple has identified as a “follow-the-sun team.”
Apple Pay debuted in the U.S. in October, and currently the NFC-based contactless payment service remains exclusive to America. But a series of new hires suggest that Apple could be gearing up for a quick global expansion of the fledgling service.
In addition to the Shanghai-based engineer position, another Apple Pay job listing was spotted this week for a London-based intern. That advertisement disclosed Apple’s plans to also launch Apple Pay across Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa.
The Shanghai job will focus not only on the “front line customer experience,” as Apple calls it, but also back-end integration of systems with network and banking partners.
“As a member of the Apple Pay SRE team, you’re expected to not just find the issues, but to write code and fix them,” the position description reads. “You’ll be in all phases and layers of the application, and you’ll have a direct impact on the experience of millions of customers.”
The job requires candidates with a minimum of five years hands-on engineering in Java or another object oriented language, as well as five years with relational databases and no-SQL. Candidates must have a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science or equivalent industry experience.
Though it is gearing up behind the scenes for an international debut of its mobile payments system, Apple has not given a timeframe for when and where Apple Pay could launch outside of the U.S. Much of the attention has focused on China, where Alibaba Chief Executive Jack Ma has been pushing for a partnership between Apple Pay and his company’s AliPay service.
Because Apple Pay relies on established near-field communication technology, users have found that they can already use the capability at some NFC terminals internationally. However, users have found that the tap-to-pay functionality found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is only operational if the device is set up properly with American credit cards.
But the fact that Apple Pay is already compatible with global systems highlights the fact that the international roll-out of Apple’s mobile payments service is not hampered by technology or point-of-sale systems. Rather. Apple must forge agreements with banks and credit card issuers to ensure compatibility around the world.
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The Federal Court of Canada on Wednesday said it will order Apple to release documents to the country’s Competition Bureau as part of an ongoing investigation into possible anticompetitive practices regarding iPhone partner carrier contracts.
DIX30 Apple Store in Brossard, Quebec. | Source: Apple
According to Reuters, Chief Justice Paul Crampton agreed to sign an order compelling Apple’s Canadian subsidiary to hand over documents pertinent to the investigation, including contracts with cellular providers.
The probe, announced last week by Canada’s Competition Bureau, is an attempt to assess whether Apple illegally leveraged the iPhone’s substantial market sway to force wireless carriers into raising service prices for competing handsets. Alternatively, Apple may have inked agreements that dissuaded partners from lowering prices of other smartphones.
In the U.S. and beyond, Apple is known to wield the iPhone as a considerable bargaining chip in landing favorable deals with providers eager to sell the popular device. Last year, the European Commission scrutinized Apple’s iPhone sales strategies after receiving complaints from mobile operators.
Derek Leschinsky, a lawyer with the bureau, said California-based Apple is considering a constitutional challenge of the order to compel production of sensitive business documents through its wholly owned foreign subsidiary.
Apple has 90 days to hand over the documents, or in lieu of such action, lodge a challenge with Canada’s federal court system. As noted by Leschinsky, however, no party has been successful in arguing the Competition Act as unconstitutional.
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According to an Apple corporate job listing discovered on Wednesday, the tech giant is seeking an intern to assist in Apple Pay’s EMEIA rollout, suggesting an expansion of the mobile payments solution is coming soon.
It appears Apple has already set up a core Apple Pay team for EMEIA operations and is now looking for support with more routine legal aspects of the venture. The advertisement notes “specifically to support execution of multiple NDAs and contracts with third party partners.”
Whoever snags the job will work with internal and external Apple Pay partners, including issuing banks, international payment networks and European merchants, the listing reads.
Apple has not released official numbers regarding Apple Pay’s performance since it launched in the U.S. in October, but circumstantial evidence suggests the fledgling payments service is off to a good start. Last month, for example, participating retailers like Whole Foods, McDonalds and Walgreens all saw significant consumer interest and a pointed increase in touchless transactions.
In addition, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently announced more than one million credit and debit cards were registered with Apple Pay within the service’s first 72 hours of operation. That number is more than the combined total of cards registered with competing solutions like Google Wallet.
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In an email sent out to iTunes Connect members on Wednesday, Apple reminded developers of an upcoming value-added tax (VAT) rate policy change that will see customers pay fees based on their country of residence rather than other EU locales with lower taxes.
As seen in Apple’s email, provided by AppleInsider reader Gregg, VAT rates for apps are slated to change in all European Union territories starting Jan. 1, 2015, with the new policy potentially upping prices for customers living in high tax countries like the UK. App Store customers are currently charged a flat VAT across the EU.
The move comes after British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Second Lord of the Treasury George Osborne announced new laws in March targeting tax loopholes that allowed Apple to sell app downloads via low-VAT countries. For example, UK App Store customers are currently able to bypass a 20 percent VAT through Apple’s routing of purchases through countries like Luxembourg, which has a 3 percent tax rate.
From a UK budget document released at the time:
“As announced at budget 2013, the government will legislate to change the rules for the taxation of intra-EU business to consumer supplies of telecommunications, broadcasting and e-services. From 1 January 2015 these services will be taxed in the member state in which the consumer is located, ensuring these are taxed fairly and helping to protect revenue.”
It is unclear if Apple intends to apply the new tax rule to all iTunes purchases, including music, movies and e-books, though UK budget laws set for enactment cover all digital downloads.
Apple’s note also points out that while App Store prices will change to reflect appropriate VAT rates, developer proceeds are to remain constant as they are calculated without tax.
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