Rotten Apple

Rotten Apple

By Gregg Bayes-Brown


Bowing to growing consumer pressure, tech giant Apple have finally agreed to send in the inspectors to their heavily criticised suppliers, following mass suicides, alleged human rights abuses, and plant explosions. However, many are scratching their heads over Apple’s choice of auditor.

The Fair Labor Association will inspect factories, examine employment practises, and interview thousands of staff (conducting the interviews on, with no sense of irony, iPads). The FLA will investigate Quanta and Pegatron, owners of one of the afore mentioned exploding plants, but first they will drop in on the infamous Foxconn.

Foxconn, who makes Apple's gadgets, have drawn worldwide criticism following allegations of human rights abuses, a deadly plant explosion, and an appalling worker suicide rate. Working conditions have led to Foxconn installing suicide nets on many of their factories, but this did not stop 150 workers from threatening to jump to their deaths in January.

"We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal," said one of the protesting workers to The Telegraph. "The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it."

Customer protests and pressure groups have led to Apple asking the FLA to investigate their factories, but questions are being asked about whether the FLA can deliver an accurate and unbiased audit.

First and foremost is the question of experience, of which the FLA has none. According to Private Eye, the FLA have never investigated the electronics industry, and all but one of the reports that the FLA has delivered in the past three years all focused on clothing and footwear production.

In addition, the FLA do not appear to do much investigating in their investigations. Whilst investigating a Nike supplier, the FLA failed to uncover that 600,000 hours of overtime (worth $950,000) accumulated over a 2 year period and owed to 4,500 workers had gone unpaid. In a separate incident, T-shirt manufacturer Gildan fired dozens of workers after they tried to form a trade union. As a follow up, Gildan then closed the plant entirely. The FLA recognised that Gildan’s actions were illegal, yet allowed them to stay as an affiliated member of the FLA.

Many are now asking is the FLA incompetent, or has their impartiality gone out the window?

Scott Nova, executive director of the university-backed factory monitoring group Worker Rights Consortium, said, “The F.L.A. does some good work, but we don’t think it’s appropriate for them to call themselves independent investigators because they’re in part funded by companies.”

Created in 1999 to investigate human rights abuses in factories, the FLA is largely funded by companies such as Nike, Adidas, Syngenta, and, since January 2012, Apple.

“Independent monitoring means you’re generally independent of the companies,” said Nova.

While the investigation is yet to get underway, there are already signs that the investigation will be impotent at best following FLA's president and CEO Auret van Heerden whistle-stop tour of Foxconn’s facilities.

Auret van Heerden, who has an annual base salary of $259,359, said that “Foxconn is really not a sweatshop,” and described the facilities as “first-class”.

He even went as far as to speculate that the real killer is not the working conditions, but tedium.

“I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory,” he told Reuters. “It's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps.”

In response, Scott Nova said “I’m amazed that the F.L.A. would give one of the most notoriously abusive factories in the world a clean bill of health — based, it appears, on nothing more than a guided tour provided by the owner.”

He added, “If the F.L.A. wants to convince people that it can somehow conduct an impartial investigation of Apple, despite being funded by Apple, this is not a good way to start.”

Teresa Cheng, of the United Students Against Sweatshops, said to Fox News, “Attributing the suicides of sweatshop workers who make iPhones to mere boredom is insulting and the FLA's most creative argument to date for defending its corporate funders.”

Relevant Links
More Apple Sauce? (Private Eye)
1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who's to Blame? (Wired)
Critics Question Record of Monitor Selected by Apple (New York Times)