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FLA president said other factories in China are much worse, and that Apple's Foxconn plants are "first-class"

After The New York Times released a report on the poor treatment of Apple's suppliers' workers, weeks of Apple bashing ensued. But a new study from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) takes the opposite stance, saying that workers at factories like Foxconn are not being pushed to their limits -- they're just bored.

Auret van Heerden, president of the Fair Labor Association, is currently investigating the conditions of Apple's suppliers' factories in China after Apple recently volunteered for FLA inspection. Van Heerden recently visited one of Apple's main suppliers, Foxconn Technology Group, and found that the working conditions there were better than many other factories in China such as garment factories.

"The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm," said van Heerden. "I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory. So the problems are not the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory. It's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."

Van Heerden explained that many of the workers come from distant rural areas away from their families, and are thrown into an industrial setting that they're not used to with people that they don't know. With this kind of boredom, alienation and homesickness, the young workers require emotional support, and the factories were not aware that this was the case. Van Heerden said that this emotional distress is what led to the suicides at Foxconn, not employees being overworked.

Van Heerden also sided with Apple in the respect that the company decided to join the FLA, which subjects the company to intense monitoring.

"Apple didn't need to join the FLA," said van Heerden. "The FLA system is very tough. It involves unannounced visits, complete access, public reporting. If Apple wanted to take the easy way out, there were a whole host of options available to them. The fact that they joined the FLA shows they were really serious about raising their game."

Last month, The New York Times published a report detailing the harsh conditions that Apple's suppliers' workers must endure. The article listed problems like long hours, exhaustion, lengthy overtime, unsafe working environments (a collection of aluminum dust from polishing iPad cases led to two explosions in two separate Foxconn plants due to poor ventilation), underage employment and crowded living conditions as some of the violations to Apple's supplier code of conduct. Despite violations to this code, which have been brought to Apple's attention repeatedly on an annual basis since 2007, The New York Times wondered why Apple wasn't doing anything to improve it.

Apple CEO Tim Cook fired back about the claims that Apple doesn't care about its supplier's employees overseas. He sent an email to Apple employees stating that the company cares about each and every worker, and that he was outraged by the accusations which stated otherwise.

"As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values," said Cook. "Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are."

About 30 FLA employees will be spending the next three weeks at Chinese Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu to interview 35,000 workers. Each Apple Foxconn worker will be given iPads to complete a survey, which asks them the following series of questions: how were they hired, were they paid a fee, what are the conditions of their dorms/food, were their complaints acted upon, what is their emotional well being, and were they offered/did they sign any contracts and did they understand them.

After collecting this information, the FLA will create a full report of their findings. The report will be available in early March 2012.

Foxconn will not be the only supplier investigated by the FLA. Asian suppliers like Quanta Computer Inc., Wintek Corp. and Pegatron Corp. will be placed under the microscope as well at a later date.

Sources: Reuters, CNET

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RE: Someone is lying
By Reclaimer77 on 2/16/2012 3:15:49 PM , Rating: 1
Factories don't explode from worker boredom. Sorry.

We never have factory fires and explosions here either? Think again! That's anecdotal at best.

I've been to China and seen working conditions first hand. Neither of these stories passes the sniff test. But by far, Apple's story stinks the most. "Normal" working conditions in China are pretty bad.

By what standard? Again, China is China. Judging Foxconn's conditions by Western standards is just nationalism. If China is to improve, it's not Apple that needs to make the changes. It's the Chinese people/government.

Apple should at least admit the issues that it does have and what it is doing to correct them.

Foxconn is an independent contractor. It's not up to Apple to "correct" anything, it's not their problem. This is business.

This just seems like more bleeding heart nationalistic BS. Like everyone is suddenly shocked people aren't treated well in a Communist country? What did you people think?

Every time someone like me criticizes China for being Communist, or brings up their human rights record, we're flamed down and told to shut up. Suddenly when you yuppies realize your iToy's aren't made by unicorns, but an oppressed people, China isn't so great after all?

Which is it?

RE: Someone is lying
By mcnabney on 2/16/2012 5:04:17 PM , Rating: 2
According to you there is no reason for conditions to ever improve in China.

The consumers don't care. They are just following standard rules of capitalism by desiring a more feature-full product at a lower price.

The brands (Apple, Samsung, Old Navy) don't care. They have to compete in the market and deliver the most value to their shareholders. The lower the price they can get for products the more they can cut prices (to improve market share) or increase profits (to appease stockholders).

The OEMs (Foxconn) don't care. They also compete against other manufacturers for export contracts. If they can't deliver ever-lower prices, the importers will find someone else.

The Chinese government doesn't care. They promised jobs to their population, not worker safety. The more they can make the world dependent on their products, the more power they can wield on the global stage.

The workers actually don't care. Really, life in a relatively clean factory that doesn't seem to be toxic or dangerous is a lot better than dirt-farming in western China. If they work a lot of extra hours they can earn enough money to get married, have a child, and maybe help that child get an advantage that allows him/her to work in a skyscrapper on the coast.

Nobody cares. Isn't capitalism great?

RE: Someone is lying
By Reclaimer77 on 2/16/2012 5:32:54 PM , Rating: 2
Nobody cares. Isn't capitalism great?

You realize since China started to adopt more Capitalistic principles, prosperity has exploded right? Look at their economy.

It's not perfect. Hell it's still a Communist country. But in what warped mindset does the idea that Capitalism caused China's problems come from? Public School?

China has gone through more changes in the past 10 years than I ever thought I would see in my lifetime. What the hell do you want, overnight turnaround?

Change, as always, will probably come from within. Like this.

Not from people across the ocean flapping their cakeholes over the Internet.

RE: Someone is lying
By homebredcorgi on 2/16/2012 5:25:37 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not even sure where you actually stand on this issue.

I fail to see how contracting work out skirts all responsibility of worker conditions. Given comments by Apple's CEO, it is plainly obvious that they choose Chinese contractors because of their low cost due to these abhorrent working conditions - conditions that they know would be illegal in the US. Apple (or any other company) is not blind to what goes on with their contractors and ignoring these issues because its not your company and in a different country doesn't make it right.

We should not be supporting countries that use de facto slave labor and ignore environmental laws. We have these laws in our country for a reason. Yet we have incentivized our economic system in a way that rewards US corporations that avoid our own laws and use labor from countries like China. Even if it isn't our problem, we have the power to stop it by providing less financial incentive for our own corporations.

Deeming it "not our problem" when US companies and US consumers take advantage of these poor conditions completely dismisses the moral issues and skirts all responsibility. Just because you may think it isn't our problem doesn't mean we don't have the power (and moral obligation) to change it.

Not to mention these policies that have incentivized outsourcing have completely hollowed out our own manufacturing capabilities.

RE: Someone is lying
By Reclaimer77 on 2/16/12, Rating: -1
RE: Someone is lying
By someguy123 on 2/16/2012 7:10:25 PM , Rating: 3
I sort of agree with you here in that worker standards vary greatly depending on territory, but at the same time, apple is "supporting" this inspection and trying to use it to improve their image. They're also using their market position and substantial stockpile of money as leverage to push foxconn into contracting factories at razor thin margins. Foxconn could play hardball but Apple has a massive dedicated market and could easily take a hit (or pass costs to the consumer) by producing elsewhere considering their already staggering profit margins per unit, or they could use their savings to create their own production facilities. They're both in the wrong here but foxconn has no leverage.

In the developed areas of china the facility conditions aren't as bad as people assume. The factory designs are piecemeal and awkward, and they may look slummy, but they're not all that dangerous nor hazardous. It's much more convenient to not have your employees dying and just having a constant stream of income, unless you're desperate to squeeze profits out of an underpaying contract.

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