Was it the segment on The Daily Show, one of the iTunes store’s bestselling TV shows? Or the eye-opening investigative report from the New York Times, prominently featured in every other Apple commercial? Or that episode of one of the most downloaded podcasts/radio shows in the country, This American Life? Or—after weeks of silence—Apple’s most famous fanboy, David Pogue, finally weighing in?
Whatever it was, Apple is now blessing and participating in the Fair Labor Association’s “unprecedented” inspection of Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer whose negligence towards human rights has been opened to the world in recent months.
Apple released an announcement today explaining that the Fair Labor Association will be conducting an independent audit that is “unprecedented in size and scale” in the electronics industry. As part of it, they contend that they’ll be interviewing thousands of Foxconn employees, and that the FLA will be taking the “unusual” step of identifying the individual factories audited in their report.
Apple also noted that their suppliers will be fully participating with the audit, that the results will begin to show up in March, and that inspections following Foxconn will include Quanta and Pegatron—two other suppliers—which will eventually cover ninety percent of their manufacturers.
Interestingly, the release strikes a slightly defensive note:
Apple has audited every final assembly factory in its supply chain each year since 2006, including more than 40 audits of Foxconn manufacturing and final assembly facilities. Details of Apple’s supplier responsibility program, including the results of more than 500 factory audits led by Apple throughout its supply chain over the past five years, are available at http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility.
It reads like a defection of blame, kind of like an “at least we tried” clause. Whether or not these audits’ good intentions will be carried out dutifully—with the required amount of intense, microscopic scrutiny—it’s hard to say: Wired once sent an investigative reporter out to Foxconn, and the company put on a blitzkrieg-style PR campaign to obfuscate the truth of working conditions at the city-sized manufacturer: backbreaking, dehumanizing, and generally miserable. They could do the same here.
At the urging of their biggest business partner, the opposite could also happen.
Mike Daisey—the monologuist who personally investigated Foxconn and reported his depressing findings in his one-man show at New York City’s Public Theater, efforts that trumped most actual reporters’ looks into the company at that point—wrote today about the announcement on his blog, explaining:
We will have to see how those reports turn out, but this is a welcome change from their position that they were simply furious—they are instead starting the process of stepping up, and this is a testament to so many who have made their voices heard.
He’s right. If this results in Apple deciding their profit margins are high enough to sacrifice a sliver in order to make life better for the people making their products—and to ease the first-world guilt of those buying them, of course—or Apple throwing the costs of betting working conditions on their customers: Nobody knows. If anything, it’s most certainly an interesting development, and far less a big day for Apple than those who worked to report on the conditions under which their products are made.
Hopefully, it’s an even bigger day for those who spend their lives making them.
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