Apple's FLA Audit Just For Show

Anyone who knows me will know I have a special place in my Hatred Bottle for Apple.  Putting my general opinion of their products aside, I can't stand an American company that chooses to outsource their manufacturing to a company in China that is essentially known for two things; sweatshop conditions and high suicide rates.

Evidently I'm not the only one because the pressure on Apple was evident in their press release February 13th. It stated that they were having the FLA (Fair Labor Association) open up inspections of the Foxxconn plants that their products are made in. At first I had mixed feelings. I was further angered that Apple is fully aware about what has been going on and yet still chooses to use them, and happy that maybe something would be done about the situation.

I decided to look a little further than the 'hey, Apple isn't evil because they're doing this' articles, and really figure out what the FLA could do.  Imagine my surprise when it seems that they don't do much of anything other than give companies a way to say 'hey, there can't be anything wrong with our company because the FLA says so'.

The FLA doesn't have a great track record. The director of a labor rights group (Press for Change) stated, "The Fair Labor Association is largely a fig leaf," and goes on to mentioning that often it's about forcing the prices down rather than fixing the real problems. I'm not saying that's what Apple is trying to do here, I'm just making the point that if you look at other groups trying to fight for labor rights, you'll see they are usually against the FLA. On the other hand, the group China Labor Watch wrote to Timothy Cook, CEO of Apple, stating that what Apple pays to have their products produced is so low that there's pretty much no room for profit by the companies, resulting the current work environment in order to meet Apple's production requirements at such a low cost.

The FLA also gets flack for not protecting employee privacy during the audits. Essentially, the employees can be intimidated by management into not giving accurate information.  Also the FLA receives funding by its members, i.e. Apple, and that usually raises the conflict-of-interest red flag.

On top of that, you can find past audits done on Apple. Granted,  while looking at one might make you feel hopeful when reading Apple's solutions, when compared to the previous year, there's very little change.  For example here's a summarized look:

The numbers are the percentages of practices in compliance, and I went ahead and translated to letter grades:

Apple Factory Audits
  2010 2011
Labor and Human Rights 72% C 74% C
Health and Safety 72% C 76% C
Environmental Impact 80% B 79% C
Ethics 95% A 95% A
Management Commitment 64% D/F 68% D/F


I feel I need to bring up that under the Labor and Human Rights, there was a subcategory of Hours, which was only 32% in compliance in 2010 and 38% in 2011. I should also mention that the Ethics section includes such subcategories as Disclosure of Information and Protection of Intellectual Property.  Also in that category, the notable problems brought up were falsifying payroll and hour records as well as obstructing the inspectors from seeing the records.

So, what does that mean for THIS audit? I don't know about you, but it doesn't mean much to me.  I'm not even sure why Apple announced it unless they're just wanting to make themselves look better. It also makes me a little suspicious as to how much I can trust the information that will be revealed. And that's not Apple specific. I would question this situation from any company.

As I stated before, I don't like Apple.  I don't feel that this is anything more than some PR stunt.  Obviously they aren't in it for the benefit of the workers, that much shows in how much improvement occurred between audits. I get that these work conditions are common in China and other countries, but it infuriates me when an American company has knowingly chosen to pay to have this done.  We have laws in place here to prevent such treatment, and Apple has instead decided that it's okay with the way the workers in Foxxconn are treated. I believe they're only concerned with their reputation, and now that they're being put under a microscope and people are being enlightened to their practices, Apple suddenly wants to pretend to care.

To be honest, I don't care too much about outsourcing. I don't think it's great, but it's a company's business who they employ, and it isn't Apple's job to give Joe Shmoe a job just because he's American. In that same breath though, I really think that's the only way Apple would ever have their product produced in a fair labor environment. Americans are quick to sue for anything, and wouldn't hesitate if they were mistreated. Bonus points for creating jobs and improving the economy. But that's a whole other topic.




I found it... and you. I am humbled.

I still have my thoughts and hopes that someone will make a difference if enough people pay attention but your points are valid.

See you on the mat!  ;)

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