Sunday, February 19, 2012

Apple grants ABC News access to Foxconn facilities, as its PR blitz continues

First Apple, which has been under fire since a recently published New York Times expose of the harsh conditions at its Chinese manufacturing partners, asked the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to inspect those plants. Now the electronics giant has gone further, granting ABC's "Nightline" show full access to its supply chain.

The move is interesting in a couple of ways. First, it shows the amount of power that Apple has over its manufacturing partners, as these are contractors, separate companies that don't have to show their inner workings to an American TV network if they don't want to. Second, it shows just how seriously Apple is taking the New York Times report and the negative PR that washed over the iDevice maker after its publication.

It's hard to see it any other way, frankly. As a former Apple executive said to the NYT in that article, "We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. Why? Because the system works for us."

Despite knowing about the abuses "for years," Apple did nothing, until the New York Times published its article. Then suddenly, things changed rapidly. Apple joined the FLA, the first tech firm to do so, and rapidly began what could only be termed a massive PR campaign to distance itself from any issues at Foxconn and any other supply chain and manufacturing partners.

It's true that all of these Chinese manufacturers produce goods for other companies, as well as Apple. But Apple's place as the No. 1 valued company in the world in terms of market capitalization, as well as its iPad and iPhone products, makes it No. 1 in another way: the No. 1 target for human rights activists --- and rightly so.

As that same former Apple exec told the NYT: "Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice."

Target Apple, and things could --- not necessarily will --- change, overnight.

ABC's report on the conditions in Apple's supply chain will air on more than just "Nightline." The coverage will be spread out across "Good Morning America," "World News with Diane Sawyer,", ABC News Radio and ABC Newsone, as well.

According to the ABC News blurb on the upcoming reports,

" ... it was fascinating to wander the iphone and iPod production lines, meet the people who build them and see how they live ... After this trip, I'll never see an Apple product the same way again."

It's unclear if that's a positive or negative statement. After all, the best way to perform a report like this would be undercover, so that you could get the "real" story, rather than something cleaned up by your "hosts." That's how Dateline NBC covered garment factory abuses years ago, masquerading as people wanting to use the factory resources.

We're hoping we're got a valid and truthful report.  If instead, he says things are "first class," we know the wool was pulled over his eyes, just as it seems to have been based on the first comments from FLA president Auret van Heerden (who has since changed his tune).

Weir's report will air on a special edition of "Nightline" on Tuesday, February 21 at 11:35 p.m. EST on ABC.

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