Apple Inc. announced it will no longer allow foreign contract workers at suppliers’ factories abroad to be charged recruitment fees. The tech company also announced this month it recouped $3.96 million in excessive recruitment fees charged to workers in 2014, according to the company’s publicly released “Supplier Responsibility 2015 Progress Report.”
Such fees have come under fire as potentially creating debt bondage in some cases. Fighting these potential supply chain problems can be good for public relations, and Apple isn’t the only tech firm to prohibit such fees.
“When the labor supply is limited, some suppliers turn to third-party recruiters to secure contract workers,” according to Apple’s report. “These third parties may charge excessive recruitment fees to foreign contract workers in exchange for jobs. Doing so creates an unjust system that places contract workers in debt before they even begin their jobs.”
The company’s no-recruitment fee policy began this year.
“This reduces the allowable fees from one month’s net wages to zero,” according to the report. “And, as always, any supplier who uses bonded labor will have to repay all foreign contract workers in full for any fees paid.”
The International Labour Organization’s “Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) ” prohibits charging of fees to workers by private employment agencies. The convention is recognized as a key international labor standard  to fight forced labor.
John Nurthen, executive director of global research at Staffing Industry Analysts, said it is good Apple recognizes this as a basic right. But one concern is the ability to track compliance. Third-party recruiters can work in remote areas, and workers in need of jobs may still be willing to pay fees.
“It’s all good news,” Nurthen said. “It’s a sensible move by them; the only thing I would be worried about is how well they can effectively police that compliance in a country as large as China.”
Last November, HP took a similar approach . It banned worker-paid recruitment fees for foreign migrant workers in its supply chain. HP also required direct hiring of foreign migrant workers with the company saying it was the first in the IT industry to do so. HP worked with Verité, an international nonprofit that aims to promote safe, fair and legal working conditions.
“Verité’s focused assessments and independent research confirm that workers who are employed by labor agents are more at risk of forced labor than those employed directly,” Verité CEO Dan Viederman said in a statement released at the time of the announcement. “HP’s standard requiring direct hiring will remove a key obstacle to ethical treatment of migrant workers. The standard sets a new bar and will likely result in substantial financial benefit to foreign migrant workers in HP’s supply chain, and we hope other companies will adopt similar policies.”
A separate report by Verité found a third of electronics workers in Malaysia were operation under forced labor .
The tech companies aren’t alone, the US government is also looking at its own supply contracts. The US Government Accountability Office released a report last year  calling for greater oversight of foreign workers in certain areas who are employed through suppliers on government contracts in foreign countries.
“GAO found that some foreign workers — individuals who are not citizens of the United States or the host country — had reported paying for their jobs,” according to the document. “Such recruitment fees can lead to various abuses related to trafficking in persons, such as debt bondage. For example, on the contract employing the largest number of foreign workers in its sample, GAO found that more than 1,900 foreign workers reported paying fees for their jobs, including to recruitment agencies used by a subcontractor.”
In its report last week, Apple also said it recouped $3.96 million in excessive recruitment fees for more than 4,500 factory workers in 2014. It has gotten reimbursements of $20.96 million to more than 30,000 foreign contract workers since its program began in 2008.
The company also limited the workweek for workers to 60 hours (and at least one mandated rest day every seven days) and all overtime is strictly voluntary.