A new report from Bloomberg Businessweek gives insight into the workings of Apple’s supply chain, while focusing on the story of one man’s journey to work for Apple supplier Flextronics on the iPhone 5 camera. The report claims such jobs are “so coveted that they’re not merely offered, they’re sold,” detailing how recruiters charge fees from families that are often paid back with loans. Though Flextronics offered to pay the brokers so workers wouldn’t be charged, brokers said the company “demanded so many men so quickly that there was no way to do it without tapping the country’s network of subagents” — Apple itself has noted the subagents “always charge.”
The article tells the story of Bibek Dhong, a 27-year-old Nepalese man who had to pay three recruiters, leaving him more than $1,000 in debt before starting work at Flextronics’ Bukit Raja facility near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Dhong was told not to mention the fees, because he would be “charged and punished.” The report follows Dhong during his work at Flextronics, including a time when Apple was “rejecting about 7 out of every 10 cameras.” A shutdown production left Dhong and fellow workers waiting in their living quarters for more than 20 days before the jobs were eliminated. Dhong and other workers were left stranded in Malaysia, as managers kept the workers’ passports — after a long, harrowing period, Dhong returned home more than two months after he last worked.
Apple spokesman Chris Gaither reiterated Apple’s commitment to ethical treatment of its workers. Gaither said the company aggressively investigates claims of bonded labor, and the company “is continuously auditing deeper into the supply chain,” while noting that “Flextronics’ Bukit Raja facility is no longer in Apple’s supply chain.”