FLA: Apple Working Conditions in China Better Than Norm

Apple in ChinaThe working conditions in a Chinese factory making iPads for Apple is better than the norm, according to some preliminary comments from the Fair Labor Associtation (FLA). The FLA is conducting inspections of Apple’s plants in China as part of the company’s membership in the organization, and the report comes in the wake of criticism Apple has received on its factory working conditions.

Auret van Heerden, president of the FLA, was not offering conclusions on his organization’s inspection of a Foxconn plant, which began on Monday. He did, however, tell Reuters, “The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm.”

He added, “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.”

Mr. van Heerden said that workers in these factories often come directly from rural conditions and find themselves plunked down in the middle of high tech, big-city living. As such, they need emotional support, something that the FLA has been working on since Chinese factory production began its meteoric rise in the 1990s.

Monotony and boredom are more of the problem in the factories Apple is working with, he suggested, rather than extreme working conditions. He said that this has contributed to suicides at some factories in China.

“You have lot of young people, coming from rural areas, away from families for the first time,” Mr. van Heerden 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.”

According to Reuters, there are some 30 FLA staffers conducting unannounced inspections at the one iPad factory visited so far. Those inspections include questioning sessions with many workers at the same time. Those workers anonymously answer their answers onto an iPad, where those answers are uploaded directly to FLA servers.

Questions include whether or not they were paid a fee, how they were hired, if they signed contracts and if so, whether or not they understood them, whether or not their complaints are acted upon, and questions about their emotional well-being.

Lastly, Mr. van Heerden rejected questions from Reuters about whether or not the FLA would paint an artifically rosy picture of Apple’s factories on behalf of the iPhone and iPad maker.

“Apple didn’t need to join the FLA,” he said. “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.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook also spoke passionately about the issue of worker conditions on Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. During his interview/speech at the event, he said:

Now, I realize that the supply chain is complex and I’m sure that you realize this. And the issues surrounding it can be complex, but our commitment is very, very simple: We believe that every worker has the right to a fair and safe work environment, free of discrimination, where they can earn competitive wages and they can voice their concerns freely. And Apple suppliers must live up to this to do business with Apple.

This is echoes earlier comments from Apple when the subject of working conditions in China first arose.