China: Apple acknowledges human rights issue; labour audits to begin

Updated On: Feb 14, 2012

Apple, the company responsible for producing the likes of iPhones and iPads, announced today that labour audits of its Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China, have begun. After largely controversial reports which detail the terrible working conditions of factory workers involved in the production of Apple products made news in the New York Times, the company has finally decided to enlist the help of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate its facilities.

Apple is the first technology company to become a member of the FLA, a non-profit labour rights organization which was established in 1999 with the mission to “end sweatshop labor and improve working conditions worldwide.” The results of the first and current round of audits are expected to go up on FLA’s site next month.

Although Apple has previously published its own audit reports yearly, most of which have shown that at least one aspect of the company’s supplier code of conduct has been violated, the step it has taken to “provide greater transparency into [their] supply chain” could possibly mean that other technology companies may soon be pressured to follow suit. Foxconn’s plants in China also build goods for other major electronic companies, including Dell, Nokia, IBM and Toshiba. 

Some of the allegations made against Apple include having workers work overtime and live in overcrowded dormitories. At least 18 suicides have been reported at the factories.

Last week, US Vice President Joe Biden met human rights advocates to discuss the situation in China. According to the White House, “they discussed the deterioration of China’s human rights situation, prospects for reform, and recommendations for US policy”. Human rights is an issue which will supposedly be discussed during China Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also reported that his recent week –long trip to China was “very successful”. One of the subjects discussed during a private meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao was China’s human rights issues. During his visit, Mr. Harper stressed that Canadians expects that their foreign business partners adhere to “fundamental national values” which includes the freedom of expression and other human rights.

Report: Apple admits it has a human rights problem [The Independent UK, 14 February 2012]

Report: Apple asks outside group to inspect factories where the bulk of iPhones, iPads and other Apple products are built [The Economic Times, 14 February 2012]

Report: Biden meets human rights advocates on China [Reuters, 9 February 2012]

Report: PM: China visit ‘very successful’ [Toronto Sun, 11 February 2012]

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