Mobile

Sadly, Apple holds the high ground in electronics manufacturing

Updated 4/9/2012 with information about Dell’s work with Foxconn.

Apple has been rightly criticized for the labor conditions in the factories that make its iPhones, iPads and Macs.

When Apple joined the Fair Labor Association, the group investigated the factories Apple uses, the most famous of which is Foxconn. The report found cases of excessive overtime, unsafe working conditions, and instances when workers weren’t paid the wages due to them. Apple has vowed to fix those problems.

But other manufacturers have done far less. As I wrote in February, Motorola, Nokia, and many other electronics manufacturers also use the same factories, at Foxconn and elsewhere, but have done nothing publicly regarding working conditions there. Toshiba, HP, Dell, and Sony all use factories the New York Times reports as “bleak.” And today, the Times’ Nick Bilton reports on his efforts to get Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Microsoft, Dell, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lenovo to provide statements on the conditions in the factories they employ. With one exception, their responses can be summed up in two words: No comment.

Most of the manufacturers contacted by Bilton provided little to no relevant information about work conditions in the overseas manufacturing factories they employ. Dell said that it had conducted audits and walkthroughs of the Foxconn factory within the last 60 days, and said that it was working with Foxconn to improve the health and welfare of Foxconn employees.

“Although some technology companies share some information about their audits, none go into detail about the violations they find or what they are doing to fix problems,” Bilton writes. None of them have joined the Fair Labor Association, though some of them said they belong to the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, a group that has made little material difference to the electronics supply chain since its founding in 2004, a source interviewed by Bilton claims.

Actually, the Fair Labor Association, which was formed by shoe and clothing manufacturers to audit alleged sweatshop conditions in their own factories, has been accused of being the same kind of public relations fig leaf. Say what you will about the FLA, though, its report on Foxconn was not sugar-coated. The FLA made the report public and Apple responded publicly, vowing to improve conditions. Apple chief executive Tim Cook even let himself be photographed touring Foxconn in March (see photo above).

For a company that’s famously secretive, that’s an astounding level of openness. Why aren’t other manufacturers following suit?

Read the full story: While Apple Is Criticized for Foxconn, Other Companies Are Silent

Photo credit: Tim Cook touring Foxconn. Photo courtesy Apple.


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