Apple has been asked to behave like an industry leader and has responded in kind. On Feb. 13, the iPhone maker announced that, at Apple's request, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) will conduct voluntary audits of Apple's assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China. The first inspections began the same morning, at "Foxconn City" in Shenzhen.
"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 Tim Cook said in a statement. "The inspections now under way 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 announcement follows a number of reports--coming just weeks before the iPad 3's expected introduction--revealing harsh worker conditions at the Foxconn factories, which have led to petitions asking Apple to make changes and to be more transparent.
"Apple has announced that the Fair Labor Association will be monitoring its suppliers. Awesome step. Please publish the results of FLA's monitoring, including the names of the suppliers found to have violations and what those violations are, so that there is transparency around the monitoring effort," Mark Shields wrote in a Change.org petition signed by more than 200,000 people.
The FLA findings and recommendations from the assessments will be posted in early March on the FLA Website, according to Apple. The company added that its suppliers have "pledged their full cooperation with the FLA," and the assessments will include interviews with thousands of employees about "working and living conditions including health and safety, compensation, working hours and communication with management."
In January, The New York Times, "This American Life" and CBS News, among other news outlets, ran lengthy exposes on the Foxconn factories.
The CBS piece gave considerable air time to New York performance artist Mike Daisey, whose one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," focuses on the conditions at Foxconn, where he says more than half the world's electronics are made.
Daisey traveled to one of the factories, where outside its gates he met workers as young as 12-years-old and viewed netting the company had strung around employee dormitories, to dissuade suicide attempts. At least 17 employees have killed themselves since 2010, according to a number of different estimates.
Most recently, in a Feb. 13 post on his blog, Daisey takes New York Times reporter David Pogue to task for his response to the situation, which included writing that "if Apple can pressure Foxconn to clean up its act, it should."
The 'if' is troubling. If? Apple is one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world, with $100 billion dollars sitting in the bank right now. Is there really a question that they might not be able to make their supplier come into compliance with local labor laws? If we can't expect Apple to obey the law and do the right thing, if it is actually impossible ... what should our expectations be for any corporation?
Apple, in its statement, added that in January it became the first technology company admitted to the FLA, and that the results of its more than 500 factory audits over the last five years are available on its Web site at www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility.
This article was originally published on 02-14-2012