Deaths at Apple supplier in China concern labor group

The Shanghai factory builds the iPhone 5C handset, according to China Labor Watch

A workers' rights group is demanding Apple investigate the recent deaths of several workers at an iPhone factory in China, one of whom was a 15-year-old who died of pneumonia after working at the facility for a month.

The factory, located in Shanghai, is run by Taiwanese manufacturing firm Pegatron, a listed Apple supplier. In recent months, several workers at the facility have died of different illnesses, a Pegatron spokeswoman said on Tuesday, declining to specify the exact number of deaths. The employees, however, all worked in different factory departments.

"We are paying attention to the working conditions," the spokeswoman said. The factory and local authorities have found no problems with the working or living conditions, she added.

15-year-old Shi Zhaokun was among the workers who died, according to New York-based China Labor Watch. On Tuesday, the workers' rights group said it was concerned that poor working conditions at the factory may have caused the deaths.

"While Shi worked at Pegatron making Apple products, the factory demanded workers to work for 12 hours each day," the group said in a statement, adding, "The factory has denied fault in Shi's death, as well as the other deaths, and has refused to conduct in-depth investigations."

Chinese labor laws prohibit factories from hiring workers under the age of 16, a regulation Pegatron said it strictly follows by verifying the age of workers before employment. But in this case, the 15-year-old worker presented an identity document that indicated he was older, the company spokeswoman said. After his death, Pegatron found the document to be fake.

The company does not know what led the worker to contract pneumonia, only that doctors found it to be a non-contagious form of the disease, the spokeswoman added.

China Labor Watch claims that Pegatron's factory in Shanghai builds the iPhone 5C.

The facility had 70,000 to 80,000 workers at the end of September, according to Pegatron. The factory's production usually ramps up in the second half of the year. "We have workers coming from many different backgrounds," said the Pegatron spokeswoman. "There have been similar illness-related cases before, but I've never heard of a pattern emerging."

China Labor Watch is asking for donations to help Shi's family pay for an autopsy of his body.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

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