updated 09:55 am EST, Mon February 13, 2012
Apple volunteers for wide audits of factories
Apple on Monday took the step of asking the Fair Labor Association to orchestrate "special voluntary audits" of its last-stage suppliers. The investigations, which include Foxconn plants in Chengdu and Shenzhen, began the same day. They include both interviews with "thousands" of workers over conditions as well as inspections and document reviews.
Suppliers have claimed to be giving unlimited access. Apple CEO Tim Cook argued that the investigation was one of the deepest ever for a technology company and was uncharacteristically specific.
"We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we've asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers," Cook said. "The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports."
First findings would be available as soon as early March. Factories owned by other manufacturers, Pegatron and Quanta, would be given similar treatment in the spring. The Fair Labor Association planned to cover over 90 percent of Apple's production base by the time it was done.
The investigation, while a first, was prompted by a wide-ranging exposé that suggested Apple wasn't doing enough to police its contract suppliers. The American firm was already conducting audits, but it has been accused of not pushing as much as it should for change when it finds problems. Many have also wondered whether audits can be effective, since Foxconn and others may deliberately hide or misrepresent labor abuses during the audit only to bring them back as soon as the outside observers are gone.
Apple isn't the only company that may benefit from the investigation if it catches and forces changes to labor practices that have often included excessive overtime, underaged workers, and unsafe conditions. Foxconn also supplies Dell, HP, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nokia, Sony, and others in the industry.