With Factory Inspections, Apple Shifts Scrutiny to Supplier
Following increased media scrutiny and tens of thousands of petition signatures, Apple has asked an international labor monitoring organization to inspect the Chinese factories that make its top-selling mobile products.
The move was welcomed as a sign of progress from workers rights organizations.
"Manufacturing issues in China are obviously complicated, but the good news is that Apple is great at solving complicated problems," said Mark Shields of Change.org a grassroots movement that says it has collected more than 200,000 signatures calling for better worker conditions at Apple suppliers. "As an Apple consumer, I'm relieved to hear that [CEO] Tim Cook is taking this seriously and breaking ground in the industry with Fair Labor Association auditing."
But Shields said the computer hardware giant needs to create a broader worker protection plan for new products, such as the coming iPad 3, "so that they're proactively taking care of their workers."
Another organization, SumOfUs, also launched a petition last month calling on Apple to "make the iPhone 5 ethically" after a New York Times report looked into conditions at Foxconn, the supplier where explosions have claimed the lives of four workers and high demand may have led to suicides. The syndicated radio show This American Life also looked at the issue in January.
The iPhone 5 is expected this summer from Apple, whose soaring profits led the company's stock price to hover around a record $500 on Monday.
SumOfUs had 59,212 signatures on its petition as of Monday afternoon.
Apple announced Monday that "special voluntary audits of Apple's final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China," had begun. FLA President Auret van Heerden is leading the inspections.
The non-profit FLA, based in Washington with offices in Geneva and Shanghai, was created in 1999. The organization will publish its findings on its Web site next month.
Apple insists it has always carefully monitored conditions for workers making its products.
"Apple has audited every final assembly factory in its supply chain each year since 2006, including more than 40 audits of Foxconn manufacturing and final assembly facilities," the company said in a Feb. 13 statement. Details of the audits are available at www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility.
'Won't Solve the Problem'
"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," said Cook in a statement.
Technology consultant Rob Enderle said the move by Apple appropriately shifts the scrutiny to the supplier, rather than Apple, since Apple does not make the rules regarding production.
"However, it is still an effort largely focused on just one supplier and one vendor which falls far short of what is needed of these labor practices are to be eliminated not just shifted, with related profits, to other companies," he said. "In the end I don't think pounding on Apple will do any more than drive vendors to more effectively conceal or distance themselves from bad labor practices or shift demand -- due to lower prices -- to offshore companies like Samsung."