Friday, February 17, 2012

FLA president's quick positive comments cast doubt on validity of Foxconn inspections

Quick, nearly immediate comments praising Foxconn for "first-class" facilities, given by Auret van Heerden, president of the Fair Labor Association as the FLA has barely begun its look into Apple's manufacturers have cast a pall of doubt over the veracity of the inspections.

van Heerden has been quoted as saying "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."

These comments are in sharp contrast to earlier reports, and not just one, either. In fact, an earlier New York Times report, nay expose, issued in late January had a decidedly different view of these facilities. Not just the NYT article, but other reports as well as human rights advocates have said previously that Foxconn’s employees are subjected to harsh and sometimes unsafe working conditions, long hours, and coerced overtime.

The company, one of Apple's most critical manufacturing partners, was hit with several suicides at its Shenzhen plant in 2010, and experienced a massive explosion that caused deaths and injuries at its Chengdu plant in 2011.

van Heerden's remarks likely came far sooner than any conclusion should have. For one, he is not a trained auditor, and for another, the FLA said the full investigation will take about three weeks, and involve interviews with 35,000 workers.

As Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium said, "Generally, in a labor rights investigation, the findings come after the evidence is gathered, not the other way around.

“I’m amazed that the F.L.A. would give one of the most notoriously abusive factories in the world a clean bill of health — based, it appears, on nothing more than a guided tour provided by the owner. If the F.L.A. wants to convince people that it can somehow conduct an impartial investigation of Apple, despite being funded by Apple, this is not a good way to start.”

The WRC is a university-backed group that monitors apparel factories worldwide. While Foxconn is not involved in creating clothes, all of these types of factories based on what used to be or still are considered third-world countries are under scrutiny.

Heather White, the founder of Verite, another monitoring group, said Mr. van Heerden’s remarks appeared hasty. “That he would make any comments prior to workers being interviewed off-site in a confidential environment is somewhat premature, to say the least. He doesn’t speak Chinese and he is not a trained auditor qualified to make quick assessments.”

The FLA said an initial report --- not final --- will be released sometime in early March.

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