Hope for reforms after audit on Apple

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am


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Labour rights activists are hoping that Apple will push for sweeping structural reforms at the factories of its mainland contract manufacturers, following initial independent audits at its largest supplier.

Apple has given the green light to independent inspectors from the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to start audits this week at the mainland plants of Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry, its principal contractor whose electronics manufacturing subsidiaries are collectively known under the trade name of Foxconn Technology Group.

'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 chief executive Timothy Cook said.

A team of labour rights experts led by FLA president Auret van Heerden began the first inspections on Monday at the facility, which assembles iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen known as 'Foxconn City', where a string of worker suicides had occurred in 2010.

These independent third-party audits will also be conducted at the iPad manufacturing site of Foxconn in Chengdu, where an explosion in May last year killed four employees and injured 18 others.

Similar inspections will be done later this spring at the mainland manufacturing facilities run by Quanta Computer and Pegatron, suppliers which are also based in Taiwan. Fifty-nine workers were injured in an explosion in December at the iPad assembly site in Shanghai of Ri-Teng Computer Accessory, a subsidiary of Pegatron.

Carolyn Wu, Apple's spokeswoman in Beijing, said FLA's assessment would cover facilities where more than 90 per cent of Apple products were assembled. Initial findings would be released early next month.

The Hong Kong-based advocacy group Students & Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) yesterday described Apple's firm resolve as 'crucial' to push for structural reforms at its suppliers' plants and dispel any doubt about the company's concern for the welfare of workers who assemble its products.

'Apple knows the problems because it has regularly conducted inspections on the production line,' Sacom spokeswoman Debby Chan Sze-wan said.

Chan alleged that the use of student workers at Foxconn factories, for example, remains unchecked. 'Vocational students who study education, tourism, pharmacy, journalism or English end up doing internships at Foxconn plants in Chengdu and Zhengzhou,' she said. 'If they don't work at Foxconn, they may not receive graduate certificates.'

According to Apple's latest supplier responsibility progress report, the company conducted 229 audits throughout its supply chain last year. This marked an 80 per cent increase from 2010 and included 100 first-time audits. Apple has audited every final assembly factory in its supply chain each year since 2006.

Cook assured that the inspections now under way 'are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope'.