It's difficult to know whether this is going to annoy 250,000 people or pacify them. The recent public pressure on Apple to improve conditions at the Foxconn factories in China which make most of their products has led to their appointing an independent firm to audit those very conditions.
The first report we've got from those auditors is that the Foxconn factories are just great, vastly better than the other factories surrounding them in China.
Huliq reported on the campaign for these audits here. There's been concern for some years now about the wages and working conditions of the Foxconn factories. Reports of suicide clusters, of forced over time, even of under age child labor. That concern has risen with Apple's seemingly irrepressible profits and share price and led to the delivery of a 250,000 signature petition just this last week, demanding that conditions be checked and if necessary improved.
Apple joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and asked it to audit the conditions in those factories. The first reports of the findings were
After his first visits to Foxconn, van Heerden said, "The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm."
He spent the past several days visiting Foxconn plants to prepare for the study.
"I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory," he said. "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."
It's difficult to know whether this will pacify those 250,000 people or simply enrage them even more. For there's a very human problem here. Having had their outrage stirred up enough to sign the petition, what will be the reaction to "Don't worry about it, it's all fine?" It could be anything from "Hey, nothing to worry about, I don't know what I was getting upset about" through to "I bet they're lying to me".
My own opinion is that for many of those complaining there's a basic ignorance about the world at work here. Repetitive manual labor for 60 hours a week, maybe $6,000 a year for it, doesn't sound like a good deal to us. But that's because we've rather lost contact with what poverty actually is: and yes, China still does have a lot of poverty in it. And that $6,000 a year is well above average wages for China. It's well above average wages for manufacturing in China as well. By Chinese standards these are very good jobs in fact: which is why 1 million people voluntarily work for the company.
What we are hearing from this first report is that working for Apple in China is better than working for pretty much anyone else in China. It's still not great by our standards, this is true, but that's because China is still a poor place.
The most interesting part of all of this is going to be the reaction from the campaigning groups. Once the full report is out in March and assuming that it carries on in the same vein, what is going to be the reaction of those hundreds of thousands of outraged people? An admission that they were wrong? Or will they ignore the results of the investigation they have been demanding?
Image source of Chinese workers at Apple’s Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Photo courtesy Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn
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