Apple factory conditions called 'first class' by inspectors in China

The New York Times blasted Apple in a report that criticized the working conditions the company benefits from in China. Now the Fair Labor Association, investigating Foxconn and other major Apple suppliers, is offering up its initial impressions.

Foxconn is definitely Apple's most publicized supplier (infamous, even), but the gadget-assembling giant isn't the only one cranking out iProducts. The Fair Labor Association is in China to investigate Apple's eight largest suppliers, which includes Foxconn and a lot of names people probably aren't familiar with: Pegraton, Wintek and Quanta, to name a few. The FLA has 30 inspectors on the ground and is in the barest beginnings of its investigation, but already FLA president Auret van Heerden is offering up his initial impressions.

His preliminary findings were positive, when placed within the context of China's industrial architecture: "The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm." At the same time, there's obviously something going on here, as the discontent, deaths and suicides show at Foxconn's facilities. Van Heerden speculates on this (from Reuters):

"I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory," [van Heerden] said. "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."

He noted that the organization [he represents] has been dealing with suicides in Chinese factories since the 1990s.

"You have lot of young people, coming from rural areas, away from families for the first time," he said. "They're taken from a rural into an industrial lifestyle, often quite an intense one, and that's quite a shock to these young workers… And we find that they often need some kind of emotional support, and they can't get it."

"Tranquil" may sounds nice, but what van Heerden hones in on is key: monotony, boredom, alienation. That lines up with an interview conducted by CNN with "Miss Chen," a woman who worked at Foxconn whose name has been changed to protect her. From CNN:

"It's so boring, I can't bear it anymore. Everyday was like: I get off from work, and I go to bed. I get up in the morning, and I go to work. It became my daily routine and I almost felt like I was some kind of animal," [Miss Chen] says.

Exasperating the situation are the endless reports that are flying around following the exposé by the Times. There's CNN's aforementioned interview with Miss Chen. A report from South Korean news source Korea Daily finds that factory workers in that country make about $34 collectively for every iPad sold, while Chinese factory workers see only $8 per. Motherboard's Alex Pasternack, too, dug a little deeper to find a group of workers maybe more downtrodden than your average Foxconn worker: the Foxconn intern.

Even the FLA has been called out, in a follow-up by The New York Times. See here, in the Times:

"The problem with the F.L.A. is that it lives by rules set up by the companies itself," said Mr. Lezhnev of the Enough Project. "Real transparency will transform the electronics industry. But if it's just a whitewash, I'm not sure how much will change."

And again, in the Times:

"F.L.A. is part of a corporate social responsibility industry that's totally compromised," said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy group for workers. "The auditing has been proven to be weak, and real solutions need a lot more than auditing. It takes empowering workers."

Right now, all we are left with are questions as Apple, Foxconn and the other suppliers, groups such as FLA and the groups watching, and the media at large all race to expose or control the reality behind the supply chain that fuels the world's gadget-hungry economy.

Reuters, via Apple Insider

Additional information from CNN, Motherboard, CNET, NYT and Behind The Wall

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