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Apple and Foxconn Efforts to Improve Labor Conditions Starting to Show Results

Apple and Foxconn Efforts to Improve Labor Conditions Starting to Show Results

The New York Times took a look at the advances made by Apple and Foxconn to improve working conditions at the Chinese factories turning out Apple products.  The report details changes such as shorter hours and more pay, but also takes a behind-the-scenes look.


The report shares details on a meeting between Apple and Foxconn executives and representatives of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which began independent monitoring of working conditions earlier this year. At the meeting, FLA president Auret van Heerden outlined a number of shortcomings found in Foxconn’s facilities.

“The world is watching!” [Foxconn chairman Terry] Gou yelled, according to multiple people. “We are going to fix this, right here!”

The FLA president also had words for the only Apple executive in the room, the senior vice president for operations, Jeff Williams. Apple needed to change as well, the inspector said. Apple, to its credit, had been working for years to improve conditions in overseas factories, but the company was treating such problems too much like engineering puzzles, the inspector said.

“Long-term solutions require a messier, more human approach,” said van Heerden. Instead of concentrating on writing more policies, Apple needed to listen better to workers’ complaints and advocacy groups’ recommendations.

Williams was reported to be surprised by the suggestions, but upon his return to California, both he, and Apple moved quickly to address the issues. The company reached out to advocacy groups, and instituted additional changes.

Among them, say people with firsthand knowledge, was the hiring of roughly 30 professionals into Apple’s social responsibility unit in the last year, which tripled the size of that division and brought high-profile corporate activists into the company. Two widely respected former Apple executives — Jacky Haynes and Bob Bainbridge — were recruited back to help lead the unit, reporting ultimately to Mr. Williams and the chief executive, Timothy D. Cook.

“Everyone knows Bob and Jacky,” said a former Apple executive. “It sends a message that Jeff and Tim expect everyone to get on board.”

Even though the changes by Apple do appear to be making an impact, advocates say Apple could do more. The company’s cloak of secrecy hinders industry-wide sharing of knowledge to help root out non-compliant suppliers.

The report does note that the changes by Apple and Foxconn are prompting other industry giants such as Hewlett Packard to make changes similar to those employed in Apple’s supply chain.