Apple says independent group will inspect partner Foxconn’s plants

Feb 14, 2012
Tech

Apple has announced that an independent organization called the Fair Labor Association is conducting inspections of plants in China where Apple devices are manufactured. This is in response to controversy over working conditions that kicked up in the last few weeks. The inspectors headed to plants operated by Taiwanese company Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturing partner and […]

Apple has announced that an independent organization called the Fair Labor Association is conducting inspections of plants in China where Apple devices are manufactured. This is in response to controversy over working conditions that kicked up in the last few weeks.

The inspectors headed to plants operated by Taiwanese company Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturing partner and a huge employer of workers in China, as Wired reports. Inspections began Monday, with the inspectors conducting interviews with thousands of employees to try to accurately gauge working conditions, compensation, safety and working hours at the plants, among other issues.

The inspections follow Apple’s own audits of Foxconn and its other manufacturing partners, as well as controversy stemming primarily from a New York Times article that exposed some rough, dangerous working conditions at the plants. Foxconn and Pegatron, another manufacturing partner of Apple’s in China, have been the scenes of explosions and suicides in the last two years, with lax safety controls and working conditions often pointed to as the cause.

Last week, Apple saw protests at some of its stores, as CNN reports, although none of the protests ever got very large. An online petition at Change.org also received some 50,000 signatures of Apple customers demanding the company move toward making an “ethical” iPhone. Even so, the protests underscore an issue that the way Apple makes its popular products like the iPhone and iPad often seems to be dangerous or deadly for the people charged with constructing them.

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Wired reports that the FLA audits are being conducted by “a team of labor experts” from “two accredited service providers”: INFACT and Openview. They’ve started with the Foxconn facility in Shenzen, China, this week and will be moving on to another Foxconn facility in Chengdu, China, after that. Meanwhile, a story from Bloomberg suggests that Pegatron hasn’t been notified of any new inspections set to happen at its plants, despite Apple’s comments on increasing oversight for its partners.

At least one advocacy group Wired talked to expressed misgivings at the quality of the FLA’s investigations, however, although most people seem positive on the forward step the audits represent. Whether there truly will be improvement for Chinese workers creating Apple’s iOS devices remains to be seen: We may yet see an ethical iPhone, although there are still concerns that simple inspections on the biggest of Apple’s partners are too little an effort to effectively deal with the larger problems for workers all over the world.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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