January 16, 2012

Apple has surprising response to new report about Chinese supplier


Last week This American Life broadcast a big program focusing on Apple and its use of Chinese supplier Foxconn. (A story we’ve been following since April 2010, including here, here, and here.) Though the show has pushed a lot of people to start talking about Foxconn, which makes the iPad, iPhone, and Kindle, Apple representatives refused to talk to This American Life for the story—citing, oddly enough, the company’s policy on transparency—and the company also resisted commenting on the finished story.

But, in a surprising move, Apple has just “released a list of companies that build its products around the world” and “in another first” said “that it will allow an independent third party to check on working conditions at those factories, and to make its findings public.”

But according to a This American Life blog post by producer Brian Reed:

While Apple is listing the names of its suppliers, it still does not identify which facilities it found to have work standard violations.

It doesn’t appear that Apple’s partnership with the FLA [the nonprofit Fair Labor Association, which  checks on suppliers for US firms] will increase transparency in this regard either. The FLA will audit 5% of the factories that make Apple products, but like Apple, it will not name which ones it checks or where it finds violations. The president and CEO of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, wasn’t available to talk to me today about why this is, though it’s standard practice for the FLA with all the companies it investigates….

In our show last week we noted that in 2010, Apple found that only 32% of the suppliers it audited followed its rules about excessive working hours. According to the new report, in 2011 things did not get much better – 38% of facilities followed the rules. 37 facilities lacked basic systems to make sure that workers took off at least one day out of seven. In the report, Apple says that the problem of excessive working hours “has been a challenge throughout the history of our program. While this problem is not unique to Apple, we continue to fight it.”


Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.