Firm Reviews Plants Where Apple Products Are Made

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Apple has hired an independent labor association to audit working conditions at supplier assembly plants. Apple is responding to criticism about working conditions at factories in China operated by its manufacturing partners.


China is at the heart of a rare public relations crisis for the company Apple and its new CEO, Tim Cook. Cook is dealing with allegations of worker mistreatment at Chinese plants where Apple products are made.

NPR's Steve Henn has more.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Merrie Spaeth says Apple has a big problem.

MARY SPAETH: Short-term, what they need to convince us that they care.

HENN: She specializes in crisis communications.

SPAETH: Now, that may not have been Steve Jobs' MO, but it certainly needs to be Mr. Cook's.

HENN: Last month, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association. And this week, the FLA began auditing one of Apple's largest suppliers: Foxconn.

AURET VAN HEERDEN: We're looking at three sites.

HENN: Auret Van Heerden is president of the FLA.

HEERDEN: Each one is over 100,000 workers.

HENN: Van Heerden's auditors plan to interview tens of thousands of workers at these plants. Apple will pay for it.

SCOTT NOVA: That can be of some value, but it is misleading to the public to present that as a process of independent investigation.

HENN: Scott Nova is executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, which does its own audits in China. He's critical of the FLA approach.

NOVA: They talk to workers in the factory or in the dorms, and the result, for obvious reasons, is that workers are often not comfortable speaking candidly, and so critical issues can be missed.

HENN: Van Heerden differs.

HEERDEN: Workers are very outspoken, and they're not intimidated at all.

HENN: Van Heerden says the Fair Labor Association's report will draw back the curtain on Foxconn, no matter what the auditors find.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

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