Apple, the market leader for electronics, is currently being audited by the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The technology giant has been opening its doors for inspection of its working conditions after suicides and explosions at the factories of its suppliers. The company hired the Fair Labor Association to independently audit Foxconn and Apple’s other suppliers. “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,” Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook stated when announcing that the FLA will be auditing the company. “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.” The audit will examine suppliers responsible for over 90% of Apple products.
Apple also invited ABC’s Nightline to be the first news agency to have an exclusive inside look at the production line where its famous iPhones and iPads are made.
The Human Cost
Apple was recently the subject of a New York Times Investigation examining the alleged dangers in the factories of its suppliers. In the last year, two workers were killed in an explosion at a plant in Chengdu, there were several suicides at Foxconn, one of Apple’s primary suppliers in China, which prompted the installation of suicide nets, as well as an explosion at the factory of another supplier, Wintek, which left 137 workers injured as a result of poorly ventilated aluminum dust. The investigation went further to highlight cases of under-age workers in factories uncovered during audits by Apple.
Labor rights groups within and outside of China have accused Apple for turning a blind eye towards critical problems in their supply chains which includes health and safety issues, exploitation of underage workers, and forcing overtime. Two weeks before the explosion at the Chengdu plant, an advocacy group in Hong Kong published a report and sent a copy to Apple on unsafe conditions at the plant including issues with aluminum dust. According to the advocacy group, there was no response. Injured workers also explained to the NY Times that Apple had not contacted many of them despite a statement by the company that it would monitor the medical conditions of those workers. The company’s supplier code of conduct outlines standards on labor issues, safety protections, and other topics. The audit, Apple says, is an effort to correct the discovered abuses and address these complaints.
The Impact of Apple’s Response
The first assessment from the audit will be published in the next few weeks on the FLA website, www.fairlabor.org. Apple’s response to the audit will have a significant impact on the industry of electronics by setting the standard of working conditions for laborers in their supply chains.
Consumers have been expressing specific changes from Apple and await Apple’s response to the audit. A petition by Change.org, with 238,994 signatures, asks for the company to release a worker protection strategy and the release the audit with names of the suppliers with violations and explaining what the violations were. A separate petition by SumOfUs with 133,593 signatures demands an ethically made iPhone 5.
The coming months will be crucial for workers not only in factories that create Apple products, but other electronics companies and industries with similarly complex supply chains.