An unnamed girl employed by the Shenzhen plant in China, operated by subcontractor Foxconn Technology Group, has become popular overnight after photos of her appeared on an iPhone customer's device.
A British customer reportedly turned on his iPhone last week to find photos of a plant worker posing and making the peace sign. The user posted the photos and this note on the Web: "Not sure if this is or is not the 'norm,' but I just received my brand new iPhone here in the UK and once it had been activated on iTunes I found that the home screen (the screen you can personalize with a photo) already had a photo set against it !!!! It would appear that someone on the production line was having a bit of fun -- has anyone else found this?"
A spokesperson for Foxconn said it was a "beautiful mistake," according to published reports. Some, however, believe it was a publicity stunt to show a happy worker in a clean factory environment after a 2006 investigation by a British newspaper said the plant forced employees to work 15-hour days and live in overcrowded dormitories while earning just more than US$49 a month.
After the British paper's report, Apple sent its own team of auditors to China to conduct random employee interviews, view living conditions, and dispel any allegations of mistreatment, child labor, or substandard living conditions.
In August 2006, Apple released a report of its findings, admitting it found some mistreatment of workers that violated its zero-tolerance labor policy and its supplier code of conduct. That code specifically states that "suppliers may not use any form of forced, bonded, indentured or prison labor," and "all work must be voluntary."
Apple's audit also found that employees were working long hours.
"We found no instances of forced overtime, and employees confirmed in interviews that they could decline overtime requests without penalty," said the report. "We did, however, find that employees worked longer hours than permitted by our code of conduct, which limits normal workweeks to 60 hours and requires at least one day off each week."
Apple also disapproved of the living standards in three off-site dormitories, the report said. "These buildings were converted by the supplier during a period of rapid growth and have served as interim housing," according to the report. "Two of the dormitories, originally built as factories, now contain a large number of beds and lockers in an open space, and from our perspective, felt too impersonal."
To deal with the housing issue, Foxconn acquired additional land and is currently building new dormitories, according to Apple, and will increase the total living space by 46 percent.
Based on its findings, Apple hired Verite, an international company that works with businesses on providing workplace standards.
And in January 2007, 118 employees joined a union, according to the Business & Human Resources Centre, an international, nonprofit group focused on encouraging companies to respect human rights and avoid harm to people.
Apple showed its means business on compliance by saying it will ensure action plans are implemented. And if a supplier's efforts do not meet Apple's expectations, contracts will be terminated, according to the company.