Are Apple’s factories full of children making 17 cents/hour?

September 28, 2015, 1:28 PM UTC
Cook, in yellow, visits a Foxconn facility in Henan Province, China, where iPhones are produced.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, in yellow, visits a Foxconn facility in Henan Province, China, where iPhones are produced.
Photograph by Apple—Reuters

68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press RoomSorkinPhotograph by Kevin Winter — Getty Images

“If you’ve got a factory full of children in China assembling phones for 17 cents an hour, you’ve got a lot of nerve calling someone else opportunistic.”

That was Aaron Sorkin, Hollywood’s most celebrated screenwriter, sticking it to Apple CEO Tim Cook for seeming to call Sorkin’s latest effort—Steve Jobs, opening Oct. 9—”opportunistic”.

It was a classic Sorkinesque retort—snappy, specific—and the Hollywood press ate it up.

“Stinging”—Hollywood Reporter
“Damning”—Vanity Fair
“Scorching… the real Sorkin magic”—Entertainment Weekly

It was also totally off base, although you would never guess that from how it was handled in most news reports. Children making iPhones for pennies is what reporters like to call a fact too good to check.

But let’s give it a whirl, one fact at a time:

  • 17 cents an hour. This is apparently a misreading of a Pulitzer-prize winning series in the New York Times, which reported in 2011 that iPhone assembly workers were making “less than $17 a day” including overtime. According China Labor Watch, hardly a friend of Apple, the base monthly pay at Foxconn before overtime is now $370, well over China’s minimum wage of $270.
  • Children making iPhones. In 2014 Apple conducted 633 audits covering 1.6 million workers and discovered 16 cases of underage labor in six facilities, a child-labor rate of 0.001%. No audit is foolproof, of course. but you can’t say Apple isn’t trying.


The fact is, Apple has worked hard—perhaps harder than any major U.S. company doing business in Asia—to clean up its act and its supply chain.

Here’s what Apple’s 2015 Supplier Responsibility report says about children in the factories that make its products:

Underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain. If we find it, we put a stop to it. And suppliers found violating our zero tolerance policy are put on probation. Our Underage Labor Remediation Program requires that any supplier found hiring underage workers fund the worker’s safe return home. Suppliers also have to fully finance the worker’s education at a school chosen by the worker and his or her family, continue to pay the worker’s wages, and offer the worker a job when he or she reaches the legal age.

Sorkin has since apologized to Cook, conceding that he’d probably gone “a little too far.”

You think?

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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