Friday, February 17, 2012

FLA chief surprised, says Foxconn sites 'above the norm' in quality

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) has begun its inspections of Apple's third-party manufacturers in China, and so far, so good. Apple and Foxconn came under fire following a New York Times story detailing the conditions at the manufacturers of the cheap electronics that Westerners love.

Foxconn is widely-known to be one of Apple's key manufacturing partners, although it has others. In addition, Foxconn, a division of Hon Hai Precision Industry, manufactures goods for other companies, not just for Apple, although the two are viewed almost as a "matching set," at times.

FLA will also inspect other Apple manufacturers, including Wintek, Quanta, Pegatron, and others.

The inspections are being conducted at two Foxconn sites: Chengdu, site of a horrific explosion last year, and Shenzhen, where numerous suicides occurred in the year 2010. Many attribute those suicides to poor conditions and stress. It's expected the inspections will take about three weeks to complete, but Auret van Heerden, president of the FLA, has been favorably surprised thus far.

"The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm. 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."

In terms of the suicides, he added,

"You have lot of young people, coming from rural areas, away from families for the first time. 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.

"And we find that they often need some kind of emotional support, and they can't get it. Factories initially didn't realize those workers needed emotional support."

What van Heerden has related thus far is 180 degrees opposed to the New York Times expose, which contained quotes such as “We’re trying really hard to make things better. But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from," from a former Apple executive.

It also runs counter to a SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour) report from 2011. That report, issued just weeks ahead of the Chengdu blast, not only detailed poor conditions there, but pointed out issues that might cause such an explosion.

Both the Chengdu and Foxconn sites have more than 100,000 workers, but not all work on Apple products. 30 FLA representatives will interview some 35,000 employees in groups of about 30 at a time, asking questions and entering the results, ironically, on their own iPads. These questions include:
  • how the workers were hired
  • if they were paid a fee
  • if they were offered and signed contracts and whether they understood them
  • the condition of their dorm rooms and food
  • if complaints are acted upon
  • their emotional well being
An interim --- not final --- report will be issued in early March.

It's unclear if this one report will be focused solely on Foxconn or will include the other Apple manufacturers the FLA intends to inspect.

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