Apple has published new information about working conditions in Chinese supplier factories where many iPhone, iPad and MacBook devices are assembled.
Daring Fireball's John Gruber pointed out on March 20 that the tech giant had updated its Supplier Responsibility page, which can be found on Apple's online store. This new data reflects the results of an investigation launched on February 13 by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to probe factories in Apple's supply chain, including huge facilities owned by Foxconn in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China.
Results from the FLA probe show improvement in compliance with a section of Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct stating that "a work week shall be restricted to 60 hours, including overtime, and workers shall take at least one day off every seven days."
According to Apple, FLA data collected on more than 500,000 workers shows that compliance with the 60-hour work week increased from 84 percent in January 2012 to 89 percent in February 2012. Employees averaged 48 hours of work per week in February, which happened to be the peak production month of Apple's newly released iPad, according to The Verge.
This update is yet another step Apple has taken to keep the public in the loop regarding working conditions in manufacturing plants overseas and to eventually improve the conditions there.
Apple in recent weeks has been the center of a controversy over reportedly grueling working conditions in partners' factories where iDevices are assembled. The firestorm reached a head last week when radio program "This American Life" (TAL) retracted an episode titled "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," which contained excerpts from actor Mike Daisey's one-man show describing his visits to Chinese assembly plants and the alleged exploitation of workers he observed there. TAL announced on March 16 that the episode contained "partially fabricated" incidents, including those about Daisey's meeting underaged, overworked employees and older workers who had been poisoned by chemicals used in production of Apple's devices.
The episode, which aired on January 6 and became the most-downloaded episode in the show's history, inspired a popular Change.org petition demanding that Apple guarantee fair treatment of workers in its supply chain. The New York Times published a critical piece later in January that detailed a deadly explosion at Foxconn's Chengdu plant last year, as well as multiple worker suicides that took place at Foxconn locations between 2009 and 2011.
Apple was admitted to the FLA on January 13 and for the first time ever released a public list of its global suppliers. On February 13 Apple announced that the FLA would conduct an investigation of certain Chinese factories owned by Apple's manufacturing partners.
"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 asses the performance of our largest suppliers," explained Apple CEO Tim Cook in a February 13 press release. "The inspectons 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."
Take a look at Apple's current Supplier Responsibility page.
Do you think Apple has made the right moves so far to improve working conditions in overseas factories? Let us know in the comments below.
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On February 21, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/nightline-apple-supplier-foxconn_n_1293393.html?ref=technology" target="_hplink">ABC aired a "Nightline" segment featuring Bill Weir's visit to a Chinese Foxconn factory</a> responsible for making some of Apple's popular devices. During a tour of the factory, Weir says he "expected more robots" but in fact most of the gadgets at Foxconn are made the old-fashioned way: The high tech parts are put together by hand. For example, iPhones are assembled by hand in 141 steps. One iPad takes five days to assemble and passes through 325 sets of hands.
Two shifts of workers toiling in 12 hour shifts can make 300,000 iPad camera modules in one day, not to mention shape sleek iPads out of "raw hunk[s] of aluminum" at a rate of 10,000 per hour. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>
Many workers live at the factory, where they pay $17.50 per month to live 7 to a room in Foxconn dormitories. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/connieguglielmo/2012/02/22/nightline-goes-inside-apple-factories-in-china/" target="_hplink">The average starting salary is $285 per month,</a> and workers must pay for their food. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>
Workers get two hour-long meal breaks during each 12-hour shift. They eat together in a cafeteria where they pay $.70 a meal. This is about a quarter of their hourly wage. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>
In 2010, after a spate of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzen plant, then COO Tim Cook flew to China to investigate the matter. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">According to Nightline,</a> Cook put together a team of psychiatric experts to examine the issue. It was at that team's suggestion that the infamous nets were installed between the buildings to prevent suicides. There have been 18 worker suicides at Foxconn since 2010. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/15/us-china-apple-idUSTRE81E1FQ20120215" target="_hplink">According to Reuters' interview with Fair Labor Association president Auret van Heerden, the group's initial findings from its audit of Foxconn</a> suggested that the suicides could have been "a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."
Weir said he was surprised to see how young the workers were. He said many were in their late teens and no one looked like they could be over 30. Many had left their hometowns, oftentimes in the countryside, in order to get jobs at Foxconn. Weir also toured Chengdu and spoke with the relatives of workers who had left for jobs at Foxconn. According to Cult of Mac, <a href="http://www.cultofmac.com/147878/foxconn-employees-say-underage-workers-were-hidden-before-fla-inspection/" target="_hplink">Foxconn may have hidden underage employees</a> when the Fair Labor Association conducted its inspections. While Apple allows for workers as young as sixteen to assemble their products, those eighteen and under are afforded "special protections," <a href="http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/02/22/factory_workers_claim_foxconn_hid_under_age_employees_before_fla_inspection.html" target="_hplink">according to Apple Insider.</a> These include not being allowed to perform some tasks and working shorter hours than older workers.
When asked how Foxconn would react if Apple suggested doubling workers' pay, Foxconn executive Louis Woo told Weir that the company would welcome a raise for employees. "Why not?" Woo said. "That would be good for the employees and also definitely good for China and good for us."
Workers have to wear static-proof jackets and take "air showers" to make sure the work area remains dust-free. Even one spec of dust could prove ruinous to the iGadgets' delicate innards. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>